When I think of Thanksgiving I think of food. LOTS and LOTS of food. But nowadays the greenie in me tends to look around after large dinners like Thanksgiving and think about the mass amount of waste created. And my family is just one of millions celebrating this holiday! According to Earth911.com, our household waste increases by 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year's.
We all like to focus on all the wonderful and happy things that surround a holiday (especially in our Tryptophan-induced food comas), but sometimes I just can't help but think of the actual impact holidays like Thanksgiving have on our planet. From our shopping choices to how you send leftovers home, there are little things you can do to make your Thanksgiving more earth-friendly and give back a bit in the process.
1) Be a smart shopper!
There are many things you can do when planning your trip to the grocery store to help curb the impact your dinner will have on the planet. Here are just a couple:
- Plan out your dinner, make one large grocery list and just head to the store once.
- Come prepared to the store - bring your reusable bags and if shopping in bulk, bring your own boxes to take items home in.
- Buy in bulk if you can, and save any boxes or containers to send leftovers home in.
- Choose local and organic items when possible.
- Consider hitting up your local farmer's markets in advance of the holiday to stock-up. Chicago's Green City Market has moved indoors for the season and is holding their market on Saturday, November 20th at The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
- Check out the Eat Well Guide, which offers a free online directory of thousands of stores, farms, bakeries, restaurants and other outlets that offer sustainably farmed meat, poultry, and dairy products as well as flower products in the US and Canada.
2) Exercise portion control for you and your guests.
I am sure I don't have the only Mom in the world that makes four times the amount of food necessary to feed the guests. Don't get me wrong, I love leftovers and all, but by day #2 post-Thanksgiving I can't even look at the congealed items that have been lunch or dinner for the past couple of days.
We already waste about 100 pounds of edible food a year, so try to portion out your dinner preparations, allowing for a nice meal for your guests and a small portion of leftovers if you think your guests will want to take them home. The website UseLessWaste.com has come up with a handy guide of appropriate portions per person which you can view here.
If you do have loads of leftovers, consider donating them to a local community center or shelter.
3) Buy a better turkey.
Opt for a turkey that was raised without the use of antibiotics and hormones. Choose a turkey that was also pasture-raised, which means that it was allowed to roam free as opposed to being crowded in a barn without any room to roam, and in many cases, given enough room to even turn around.
Today's traditional turkey that you find at most grocery stores is the "Broadbreasted White," which are most times raised in extremely crowded conditions and fed an unnatural diet which includes antibiotics. They are also unable to reproduce naturally and require artificial insemination by humans to procreate. Sound appetizing to you???
This year order a Heritage turkey or choose an organic and/or sustainable bird, which you can find at your local Whole Foods Market. A turkey labeled organic must be raised under strict guidelines - no antibiotics, no growth enhancers, only organic feed, and the animals must be given access to outdoors.
4) Set your table with the planet in mind.
When setting your table this year, or when you are planning appetizer or dessert service, choose reusable over disposable. Make sure your appetizer and dessert plates are of the reusable variety, and the same goes with your silverware. Add some holiday color to your dinner by using cloth napkins in fall colors as opposed to disposable napkins. If you must use disposable items, choose brands that are biodegradable and use less raw materials, like the Bare by Solo brand, which is now readily available at your local Target and Jewel food stores.
5) Consciously clean-up.
When cleaning up after your guests on Thanksgiving, think of ways that you can lighten your impact on the planet and waste less. Studies show that the dishwasher actually uses less water than hand-washing dishes, so opt for a quick (cold water) rinse in the sink and then put the dishes in the dishwasher. Try to use rags and towels to clean up with as opposed to paper towels that end up in the trash.
Recycle or compost anything that you can as well. Think about recycling when unpacking your groceries and preparing your dinner, as so many foods now come in recyclable packaging. If you serve soft drinks or other beverages in aluminum, glass or plastic be sure your guests know to recycle these items as opposed to throwing them in the trash. Have two garbage cans (or 3 if you compost) which are clearly labeled so guests throw items away in the right place.
6) Think of at least one way you can give back this Thanksgiving.
If I don't focus too much about how history has distorted the Thanksgiving story a bit, I can get all warm & fuzzy about the holiday. It is a festive holiday all about family and being together, and it is a time where I often reflect about how lucky I am to have the family and friends that I do. But it is also a time to give back to those who are less fortunate, those who don't have a warm home or overflowing Thanksgiving feasts to celebrate with.
Thinking about the planet and hosting a more sustainable feast is one way to give back, but there are many others. Give your time this holiday season by volunteering or serving a holiday dinner at a shelter or community center. Donate food to a local food depository, shelter or community center in advance of the holiday so that more people will get to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner (you can drop-off food for the local Chicago Food Depository at all Dominick's food stores). You can also donate money to Feeding America, as 1 in 6 Americans struggles with hunger. Just $1 can help provide 7 meals to needy families.
Another way to give back is by purchasing a pie for my Thanksgiving Pie Fundraiser which benefits a local Chicago Public Charter School, The Academy for Global Citizenship (you can read all about The AGC and why I was so motivated to help them raise funds here). All proceeds from the pie sales go directly to the school and will not only help them purchase basic necessities like supplies & uniforms, but will also go towards expanding their after school program so that they can serve a larger portion of their community. You can learn all about the fundraiser and purchase your Red Hen Bread handmade pies here.
I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!