10 Tips for a Sustainable Thanksgiving

Nov 17, 2010
Exec. Prod. of Franchises & Series. He previously reported for HuffPost, L.A. Daily Journal, and Biloxi Sun-Herald.
Nothing here will end up in a landfill. (Photo: Getty Images).

It's the week before Thanksgiving, which means it's time for TakePart's annual guide to celebrating Turkey Day sustainably. [You can check out our '09 and '08 guides written by Sarah Newman here and here.]

With all of the things you have to worry about when planning a Thanksgiving meal, the path of least resistance (i.e. heading to your local chain supermarket and loading up on one of everything from the Thanksgiving display), can look like the best option.

But a bit of advance planning can mean the difference between feeding your guests conventional, possibly pesticide- and hormone-laden food and a meal that supports local farmers, promotes our nation's traditional crops, and doesn't rely on exploitative work practices.

We know: that sounds a little preachy. But trust us: Your Thanksgiving meal could be the tastiest ever.

1. Banish the Butterball

Most turkeys raised for the American commercial market are of the Broad Breasted White breed. Factory farms pack these birds in tightly, pump 'em full of antibiotics and hormones (to fatten up their breast meat—which is favored by U.S. consumers) and frequently inject them with oils and flavorings. Their breasts are so big, they can't reproduce naturally. The Broad Breasted White would become extinct in one generation if humans didn't artificially inseminate them. Rather than Broad Breasted, grab a heritage turkey. Heritage birds are the breeds that roamed free from sea-to-shining-sea before factory farming took over. They have names like "Narragannsett" and "Jersey Buff," roam free on their turkey farms, are fed a natural diet, and aren't pumped full of oils and fillers and drugs. If it's too late for you to find a heritage turkey, then opt for an organic or free-range bird.

2. Go Organic

Organic crops are grown with natural fertilizers and pesticides, and are managed to promote biodiversity and better soil. Organic food animals are not treated with hormones, have access to the outdoors, and eat organic feed that does not contain animal byproducts or antibiotics. Organic food is chemical-free, and is often grown by smaller farms that treat their employees better. Local Harvest can help you locate an organic farmer near you.

3. Hit the Farmers Market

Organic food is so popular these days that you can find it in most major grocery stores. By supporting your local farmers market, you can also support local farmers, rather than a large agribusiness that has decided to market an organic line. Of course, we realize that in many parts of the country farmers markets have shuttered for the winter. Use Local Harvest to see if your closest farmers market is still open. 

4. Roast What You'll Eat

The big beautiful roasted bird is THE symbol of Thanksgiving. But let's be honest: who ever eats an entire bird at one meal? Find a delicious turkey breast recipe, buy some individual breasts at the supermarket, and just cook enough to serve your guests. 

5. Boot the Bottled Water

Pour your guests some cool, tasty tap water. Bottled water creates mountains of waste, isn't safer than tap water, costs millions to produce, and is often just tap water put in a bottle. If you're really that concerned about your tap water's quality, get a purifier from Target while you're out getting the Thanksgiving supplies.

6. Save Your Scraps

By creating your own compost bin, you can ensure that all of your produce scraps won't end up in a landfill, and you then have some compost to add nutrients to your—or your friend's—garden. 

7. Put Away the Paper and Plastic Products

We get it: a bunch of peeps are coming over for Thanksgiving. After slaving away all day to feed 'em, the last thing you want to do is wash all those dishes. So paper plates and plastic forks will save you a bunch of time. Sure they will. They'll also clog up our landfills. Opt for the real plates and silverware and chalk up the cleaning as part of being a good host. Or turn the dishes into a game. Make up some sort of Thanksgiving bet and the losers have to do the dishes. 

8. Learn to Love Leftovers

Almost everyone we've ever met at TakePart HQ has been at a meal where the host just cooked too much damn food. As you can see from above, we're big advocates of things NOT ending up in landfills. And food waste is a huge problem in America. So why not learn how to do some creative stuff with that leftover grub (we agree that turkey sandwiches for a week can get dull). Lifehacker has a great guide on how to Iron Chef Your Leftovers

9. Invest in Tupperware

Aluminum foil, wax paper, plastic wrap. We read those words and just see "waste, waste, waste." When you're stocking up on the groceries for the meal, grab some cheap reusable plastic containers. Most stores now sell variety packs with various shapes and sizes; so you can be sure to accommodate almost any leftover food. And the best part: you can use them year-round.

10. Eat Endangered Foods

We're not talking bluefin tuna or some exotic jungle animal here. We're talking heirloom potatoes and other great American crops that are in danger of dying out. These are parts of our nation's culinary heritage that need to be protected. Slow Food USA has developed its Ark of Taste to celebrate rare and regional foods that are worthy of saving. Check out its guide to a Slow Food Thanksgiving.

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