A More Sustainable Thanksgiving Without Giving Up Our Turkey!
Working in a spring garden.

I love scouring the internet for ideas on how to live more sustainably, and I love sharing the things I’ve found with the people in our community. Recently I shared a post about how to have a greener Halloween from “Keep America Beautiful” that instantly drew questions. It was a poster showing things you should swap in order to help the environment, and one was single use candy for sustainable candy. SINGLE USE CANDY??? What in the world is THAT? After more than a few chuckles and a little explanation, (all candy is single use, it has to do with the packaging) we sorted it all out. But while researching some ideas for Thanksgiving, I started to realize that some of the ideas I was seeing seemed just as ridiculous! Even if these suggestions would technically help the environment, most people would find them difficult to follow.

Thanksgiving Changes That May Be Hard to Swallow

  1. Going Meatless on Thanksgiving– I don’t know about your family, but our family is still all about the turkey. We even send messages when the bird hits the fridge to thaw and post pictures when it enters the oven! The turkey is the center of most American Thanksgiving celebrations, and although it is well documented that livestock production does contribute to greenhouse gas production, so do landfills. Composting Thanksgiving leftovers, and preparing less to reduce waste seems like a more doable plan.
  2. Cutting Dairy from the Thanksgiving Meal– Again, good in theory, but not very practical for someone trying to make a pumpkin pie. Yes, I DO know there are items that can be substituted for eggs, milk, and butter, but I’m not having Great Grandma Turner haunt me over a messed up recipe!
  3. Staying Home for Thanksgiving– Holiday travel definitely contributes to transport emissions, and with Thanksgiving being one of the heaviest travel days of the year, this would appear to be an easy one. But Thanksgiving is also a holiday usually spent with family, and with families spread across wider areas, traveling is just part of it for most Americans.

Does this mean I am against any of these options? Not at all, and if you can incorporate them into your holiday, then I definitely commend you! But I also know that sometimes looking at these “lists” on how to be sustainable can leave a person discouraged. When the tasks seem impossible or impractical, most people give up.

This is where we come to the point of my article. It is hard to do everything perfectly, and one person doing everything perfectly is rarely as effective as large groups of people who make small permanent changes! Let that sink in! If you can find one or two small changes that you can stick with, then you’re helping more than if you don’t do anything at all. And I promise, you don’t necessarily have to give up your turkey to make a difference! Let’s look at a few:

Small Changes Have a Big Impact!

  1. Skip the Disposable and Chose Reusable- Instead of plastic ware, paper plates, foam or paper cups, all of which are hard to recycle and contribute to our landfills, chose washable dishes, glass storage containers for leftovers, and real silverware. Yes, it means dishes to wash, but some of my favorite memories are of my mom, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother doing assembly line dishes and splashing each other with soap bubbles! And modern day dishwashers are designed to use less water and electricity than ever before.
  2. Make less food- Ok, nothing beats a leftover turkey sandwich the next day.  And some dishes are great for another meal, but let’s face it, a lot of food is wasted around the holidays. We make way too much or we make dishes out of tradition that aren’t as popular as they use to be. If no one eats Uncle Jim’s carrot salad or Aunt Jane’s giblet gravy, it will just end up in the trash. Try to make only what you will eat and actually plan your leftovers.
  3. Compost Food Scraps- My grandma use to ask if my eyes were bigger than my belly when I didn’t clean my plate, and let’s face it, our eyes can get pretty big at Thanksgiving! Food scraps shouldn’t go in the trash or the land fill, and this is the perfect time to compost. Just remember to be careful not to put meat in your composter.
  4. Skip the Plastic Drink Containers- Plastic, single use, water bottles are one of the least recycled items in our waste stream.  Americans alone throw away 35 BILLION empty water bottles a year and only 12% of those are actually recycled. Instead, try serving filtered tap water over ice with lemon. If you are going offer soft drinks, chose aluminum cans which are easily recyclable, instead of plastic two liter bottles.

Any of these four changes are easy to implement on Thanksgiving, and every day of the year. Start small and make a permanent change. Then, make another. Pretty soon, you will be looking for other things you can do. Sustainable living isn’t hard, it just requires us to make thoughtful choices and develop new habits.


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