Friday, November 24, 2023

Thanksgiving: A Feast for Us, A Famine for the Planet

You read the title. Yep, I'm going to ruin yet another cherished family holiday (don't forget to bring the politics amiright). In all seriousness, this is not meant to discourage or ruin Thanksgiving, but merely to suggest a better way that we as a nation could celebrate, especially as the environment is a growing concern (at least it should be) for everyone. 

Thanksgiving is a special time of the year when we get together with our family and friends and share our appreciation for each other and the blessings in our lives. However, it’s also a time when we need to be aware of how our actions affect the environment. The traditional Thanksgiving meal, especially the turkey, can have a big impact on carbon emissions. According to a study by Carnegie Mellon University, a 16-pound turkey produces about 34.2 pounds of CO2, which is more than the emissions of several other dishes combined. Moreover, the food waste that we generate during the holiday season can create more greenhouse gas emissions as it rots in landfills.

We can do our part to reduce the environmental impact of our Thanksgiving celebrations by following some simple steps:

  1. Opt for Plant-Based Alternatives: Instead of the usual turkey, why not try some plant-based alternatives like tofu, seitan, or mushrooms? These foods have a much lower carbon footprint than animal products, especially red meat. By choosing a plant-based meal, you can help the environment and also surprise your guests with some new and tasty dishes.

  2. Buy Local: When shopping for ingredients, look for those that are locally grown or produced. This way, you can cut down on the carbon emissions that come from transporting food over long distances. Also, avoid buying ingredients that are exotic or not in season, as they require more energy to transport.

  3. Cook from Scratch: As much as you can, make your dishes from scratch rather than buying pre-packaged or processed foods. This can help you reduce the amount of packaging waste and the use of preservatives that can harm the environment.

  4. Plan Portions and Coordinate with Guests: To prevent food waste, plan your portions carefully and coordinate with your guests. This can help you ensure that you have a variety of dishes without having too much food left over.

  5. Use Reusable Items: Choose reusable dishes and utensils over disposable ones. This can make a big difference in the amount of waste that you create from your celebration.

  6. Compost Food Scraps: Compost any food scraps that you cannot eat or donate. Composting not only reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfills, but also helps improve the quality of the soil in your garden.

Remember, Thanksgiving is not just about the food on the table; it’s about showing gratitude and building a sense of community. By making these small changes, we can enjoy our Thanksgiving feast while also being mindful of our planet.

Besides these steps, we can also apply our eco-friendly habits to other parts of our celebration:

  1. Minimize Energy Use: Be conscious of your energy use. Try to use natural light during the day and turn off lights in rooms that are not in use. When cooking, try to use the oven efficiently by baking multiple dishes at once.

  2. Choose Eco-Friendly Decorations: Pick decorations that are made from natural or recycled materials. Avoid using decorations that are disposable and consider using items that you already have. After the celebration, store reusable decorations for future use.

  3. Encourage Guests to Carpool or Use Public Transportation: If your guests live nearby, encourage them to carpool or use public transportation. This can help reduce the carbon emissions that come from travel.

  4. Educate Your Guests: Use this opportunity to educate your guests about the importance of sustainable practices. Share with them why you decided to go for a plant-based meal, buy local produce, or use reusable dishes.

By following these practices, we can make a positive impact on our environment. It allows us to celebrate the holiday in a way that reflects our values of sustainability and mindfulness. After all, what better way to show our gratitude for the Earth than by taking steps to protect and preserve it?


  • Emanuelli, A, (2019, November 20), The Environmental Impact Of Your Thanksgiving Dinner: HuffPost
  • Earth Institute, (2019, November 20), 16 Ideas For a More Sustainable Thanksgiving and Black Friday: Columbia University