Happy Sustainable Thanksgiving

Delicious meals. Celebrations large and small. Warm moments with those we love. Those are some of the pleasures most of us anticipate (or long for) as the holiday season begins. But the holidays also can be a particularly unsustainable time of year, increasing our impact on carbon emissions, pollution and waste while often producing a bit more stress than enjoyment.

This year, why not take a few simple steps to make Thanksgiving ….and the holidays that follow… a bit more sustainable?

Getting sustainable on Thanksgiving

Consider some or all of the following ideas.

  1.  Make the meal local and organic. Whether you’re hosting this year’s celebration or just bringing a dish to someone else’s home, try keeping the ingredients local and organic to support the local economy and everyone’s health. You can find the remains of the fall harvest’s bounty at local farmers’ markets, which usually have at least one organic vendor. Produce choices are abundant, including  lettuce and other cold-weather greens (spinach, kale, bok choy), all types of squash (acorn, butternut varieties, yellow and green zucchini) and fresh herbs. Organically raised turkeys  also are increasingly available.
  2. Set a non-disposable table. Waste increases about 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. As that waste piles up in landfill, it contributes to air and water pollution and releases the potent greenhouse gas methane. Landfill sites also take up acreage that might otherwise be preserved as open space. We can reduce our contribution to holiday waste by using cloth table coverings and napkins as well as washable plates and cutlery.
  3. Avoid food waste. We also can reduce our impact on landfill waste by preparing just enough food for everyone at the table and composting organic waste, such as eggshells and fruit and vegetable scraps.
  4. Decorate naturally. One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories from childhood was looking for something pretty in the garden to add to my mother’s “centerpiece.” Even at this time of year, you may find treasures in your yard or garden, such as dried hydrangea blooms or a few final rosebuds. With a little creativity, even acorns and twigs may be transformed into natural, biodegradable decorations.
  5. Carpool. If you’re traveling to someone else’s home, you may be able to reduce expenses and your carbon footprint by sharing the ride.
  6. Embrace “slow.” Holiday meals with family members are often noisy, stressful and hectic. If possible, try setting a tone more in line with the Slow Food Movement, which encourages us to make each meal a social and epicurean experience.
  7. Remember both the “thanks” and the “giving.” Sentimental as it may sound, it really can be helpful to focus on the point of this holiday. Whatever you are thankful for, try to take a moment to acknowledge that joy to yourself. Since so many people remain food insecure during the holidays, it’s also an important time to give back by donating food or helping to ensure that others get a nutritious meal.

Seven tips may be pushing it. But, depending on our circumstances and preferences, we can each make a small difference by keeping sustainable choices in mind at this special time of year.