Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to celebrate everything we’re thankful for. Oh, and put on our stretchy pants and eat a lot of great food. What you may not realize, though, is between the food waste and travel emissions, Thanksgiving is one of the least sustainable holidays.
Each year, about 40% of food in the United States goes to waste. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans throw away 25% more trash than the rest of the year. On Thanksgiving week alone, that’s 200 million pounds of turkey, over 160 million pounds of veggies (including potatoes and green beans), and 14 million pounds of dinner rolls.
The good news is you don’t have to sacrifice your holiday fun. In the latest episode of Good Together, Laura and Liza shared their top tips for making Thanksgiving a little more eco-friendly. Here’s everything you need to know this holiday season.
How to Have an Eco-Friendly Thanksgiving
1. Utilize Your Freezer
Utilizing your freezer space is one of the easiest ways to keep food out of the trash. The freezer is also a great money-saver: Having something delicious to thaw and reheat can save you from extra trips to the grocery store or another pricey takeout order.
During your Thanksgiving meal prep, save the stems of any vegetables in a freezer bag for later. These scraps are the perfect way to add richness to chicken or vegetable broth. You can also freeze leftovers in small, easily-thawed portion sizes—especially if you live alone or with one other person. That way, you can just defrost what you need, and extra leftovers won’t go to waste.
2. Get Creative with Leftovers
You don’t have to repeat your Thanksgiving meal as-is for days on end—get creative! You can use your Thanksgiving leftovers to make new recipes, like one-pot turkey parmesan pasta or a sandwich layered with leftovers. You could even make it a fun challenge for the entire family, seeing who can come up with the best dishes.
3. Plan Your Meal With Care
Meal planning can feel like a chore, but it has a positive impact on the planet and your wallet. For an eco-friendly Thanksgiving feast, it’s even more critical to plan ahead so you don’t have to rush to the grocery store last minute or throw away mountains of leftovers.
It can be challenging to estimate how much food to make for Thanksgiving—especially if you have guests coming over. First, be sure that you get a firm RSVP from everyone on your guest list to have a general idea of how much food you’ll need.
Next, try a Thanksgiving food calculator, like the Guest-imator from the Natural Resources Defense Council. The calculator will tell you exactly how much of each dish to make, and it accounts for different appetites and how many leftover meals you want. You can even check out meal planning apps to get a better understanding of how meal planning works in your day-to-day routine.
During your recipe selection, keep in mind you can cut most recipes in half. Try adding “small batch” or “two-person” in front of the item you want to make during your Google search.
4. Buy an Organic Turkey
While a decorated tree symbolizes Christmas, a turkey represents Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the average 16-pound Thanksgiving turkey generates about 32 pounds of carbon dioxide. Thankfully, there are a couple of ways to reduce the environmental impact of your Thanksgiving bird.
First, try to purchase a turkey locally—especially if you have a high-quality farm or butcher shop in your town. If that’s not an option, look for an organic, humanely raised turkey. Organic turkeys are fed a vegetarian, non-GMO diet free of chemical pesticides and herbicides. They must have access to the outdoors and are not treated with antibiotics or hormones. In terms of price, organic turkeys run about $2 more per pound than non-organic turkeys.
If you have the budget for it, there are also heirloom and heritage varieties of turkey. These turkeys are raised with unlimited access to the outdoors, and because of this, they have a varied diet that makes the meat richer. Heritage and heirloom turkeys run a pretty penny, though. While the average turkey costs about $1 per pound, heritage and heirloom turkeys can be between $4 to $6 per pound.
Not everyone has access to a butcher shop or even a grocery store that carries more humane, eco-friendly options. If that’s the case for you, we recommend ButcherBox. Their meat is always humanely-raised, free of antibiotics and hormones, and mostly organic.
5. Eat Turkey Alternatives
If you’re pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, or just won’t be able to polish off a whole turkey with a smaller Thanksgiving gathering, there are plenty of other options for your show-stopping dinner spread.
Fish is an excellent option for a smaller group; you can prepare a whole fish, a pile of tuna steaks, or some tasty grilled salmon. For plant-based folks, try making vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes or vegan Thanksgiving recipes for your centerpiece, like portobello steaks or cauliflower “turkey.”
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