8 Green Thanksgiving Ideas: Tips for an earth-friendly feast

If you’re looking for green Thanksgiving ideas, you already know there’s no better way to give thanks for the abundance of our beautiful planet than to lessen your impact upon it. And mealtime is the perfect place to do so, as at least ten percent of the energy used annually in the United States comes from the food industry.

In fact, one estimate shows that from production to table, Thanksgiving turkeys alone require over 900,000 barrels of oil! So feast your eyes on these green Thanksgiving tips to learn what you can do about it:

  1. First, charge your mind with a morning trip outdoors: Yes, that’s right. Before you even attempt to put food in the oven, how about a quick jaunt through a nearby  trail or open space? Peaceful time in nature will put the world into perspective and give you the extra motivation to keep Thanksgiving day green, not to mention a head-start on combating the afternoon’s calories.
  2. Start with raw, whole foods. More energy is used to process, package and sell foods than on the entire farming process, so simply buying fresh produce and grains in bulk really helps. If you do take some short cuts, purchase items that come in recyclable containers like cans or bottles. By taking this green Thanksgiving step, you’ll also avoid unhealthy additives.
  3. As much as possible, try to go meatless or meat-light. For every one calorie of turkey you eat, it takes thirteen calories of fossil fuel energy from farm to plate! If you cannot resist the traditional bird, then look for natural, organic, vegetarian-fed, free-range, and/or pasture-raised ones for a lighter impact on the environment. Or if you’re hosting a large crowd, consider serving only one turkey plus several vegetarian dishes. Otherwise, keep in mind that meat is so energy intensive that shifting from a meat to a plant based diet has been compared to trading an SUV in for a hybrid car. Lessening your meat intake reduces both your carbon and water footprints, and allows you to reap numerous health benefits.
  4. Make it an organic Thanksgiving. The fertilizers and pesticides that go into growing conventional foods not only require massive amounts of fossil fuel, they erode the soil and pollute the water, which is particularly unfortunate for both people and animals living downstream. Try cooking with as many organic ingredients as you can, like organic cranberries, organic sweet potatoes, and organic pumpkin for pies, and definitely avoid the dirty dozen—fruits and vegetables with the worst pesticide residue. Big Thanksgiving crops like potatoes, spinach, celery and apples have especially high levels of pesticide residue. There are many other reasons that organic foods are worth your investment.

  5. Look for indoor farmer’s markets. If you’re not big on growing and canning your own garden items, then support farmers in your community. In a challenging economy, it is important to recognize the economic and social benefits of this effort in addition to the environmental ones. Although the season for farmers markets has ended in most places, many large cities now have some indoors. Find out how to green your Thanksgiving by finding food sources near your home.
  6. Reduce waste. For most families, it goes without saying that part of Thanksgiving is also several days’ worth of leftovers. But what about your cooking scraps or those three extra pies that you don’t know what to do with? The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has reported that an average of 200 pounds of food per person per year is wasted in developed countries like the U.S., contributing to the global annual loss of one third of total global food production. So, Thanksgiving may be the perfect time to start composting.
  7. Save energy by minimizing the use of electric appliances. “Our kitchens consume far more energy than our farms,” says Michael Bomford, a fellow at Post Carbon Institute. Do your mixing and chopping by hand to savor the simple pleasures of cooking. Also, cook more than one dish at a time in your oven if you can, and if you are able, use a gas stove instead of a microwave. Simple steps like this will go a long way towards your green Thanksgiving.
  8. Finally, say no to disposable plates. Instead of using disposables, ask your family and friends to bring dishes with them. Save water by filling one sink with hot soapy water for washing, and another for rinsing. In my family, this chore was just as valuable as the meal for it allowed us to continue to spend time together (and it makes the workload more manageable).  If you do choose to use a machine dishwasher, open it after the cleaning cycle so that they can air dry.

If you liked these tips, you're sure to enjoy our holiday tips, as well. And as always, add your own tips below in the comments.