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5 Ways to Have a Sustainable Thanksgiving

It’s just a matter of days now until the United States celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday. The Fiscal Times reported last year that 46 million turkeys are consumed on Thanksgiving, and 95 percent of Americans spend the holiday feasting with family.

On such an important food day, how can you enjoy the season while also being mindful of the planet? Here are five tips from our experts for having a more sustainable holiday feast:

1) Finish Off Your Leftovers with Friends.

In the United States, food is the single-largest component of waste ending up in landfills, making landfills the third-largest source of methane emissions in the country. In total, some 133 billion tons of food is lost or wasted every year.

Craig Hanson, Global Director for Food, Forests and Water:

"Invite friends over on the Friday to eat re-heated leftovers. Face it, you think you will still be eating leftovers on Sunday, but by then you will be sick of turkey. Don’t fool yourself! Bring friends over and finish off the leftovers. Oh, and buy a turkey one-third smaller than you originally thought you would need."

2) Turn Your Scraps into Soup.

In developed countries like the United States, households are major contributors of food waste. Groups like NRDC and the Ad Council are developing campaigns like SavetheFood.com to help individuals find recipes for putting together creative dishes and avoiding food waste.

Lauren Zelin, Media Manager:

"I have started turning my vegetable scraps into scrap soup. Why buy vegetable broth when you have all the ingredients going into your trash, especially around Thanksgiving when each of us probably generates enough scraps to make a full pot of soup? Carrot and potato peels, onion tops, celery fronds and garlic skins are perfect for soup. All you have to do is rinse the veggies well and keep trimmings in a gallon bag in the freezer until you reach two full bags, then dump them in a big pot, cover with one to two inches of water, add a tablespoon of salt and boil for 1-2 hours. You can use what you need and freeze the rest in large takeout containers for future use."

3) Eat the Rainbow.

In many American households, turkey and gravy will be Thanksgiving staples—meat is, after all, a part of holiday traditions around the world. But what will be on the rest of your plate? The U.S. Dietary Guidelines advise Americans across the board to eat more fruits and vegetables. Not only are fruits and veggies good for you, but the wide array of colorful options are also less resource-intensive to produce.

Richard Waite, Associate, Food Program:

"Thanksgiving is my favorite meal of the year just because of how varied it is. Every family has their own traditions, and some of the best Thanksgivings I’ve had have been potlucks where everyone brought a treasured side dish from their childhood. Just think about the spread – the red cranberry sauce, orange squash and sweet potatoes, yellow and green bean dishes, dark leafy greens and a colorful fruit salad. If you have kids, I bet you can get them to eat something new that’s not only delicious – but looks great and is good for them and the planet!"

4) Use Your Freezer.

Data in the United Kingdom shows that more than 50 percent of avoidable household waste is caused by people buying too much and not using the food before it expires. In the United States, where there’s no regulation on date labels, consumers often see a variety of misleading labels, including ‘sell by’ dates or ‘display until’ dates. These labels are purely for stores' internal stock control, but they nevertheless contribute to people needlessly wasting food.

Liz Goodwin, Senior Fellow and Director, Food Loss and Waste:

"At the holidays, we have a tendency to buy more than we actually end up needing. Remember to use your freezer. It means you don’t need to waste food – put things in single portions or amounts that you can use easily. The freezer is particularly good for keeping foods like meat and fish, which spoil quicker, fresher for longer. So if you end up with food that looks like it’s about to go bad or the date label says it’s coming up on expiration, the freezer can ensure you will be able to enjoy it for longer.

Like Lauren, we use every bit of scrapped vegetable in our home. We love to chop up all the leftover vegetables — and include meat like leftover turkey — and then fry the mix in a pan. It’s basically a hash. Put a poached egg on top. It’s very flexible as you can make some for vegetarians and some for those who want meat. It's basically what we call here in England Bubble and Squeak, and it’s delicious."

5) Rethink Your Plate.

The average American could cut their diet’s environmental impacts in half just by eating less meat and dairy. Turkey and other poultry require less land and have lower associated greenhouse gas emissions than beef or lamb, making them a better family option than the holiday beef roast. WRI’s Protein Scorecard can help you assess a food’s environmental impact.

Daniel Vennard, Director, Better Buying Lab:

"Turkey is a favorite part of my family’s celebrations, but this year we plan to get a smaller bird and have vegetables as the center of the show. The Protein Scorecard shows that plant-based protein sources like lentils, chickpeas and beans create less than half the environmental impact of poultry. This year our turkey will be more of a condiment. With all the great spices and herbs that adorn our dishes, we’re looking forward a varied, tasty extravaganza."

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