How To Host A Sustainable Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and with it comes so many wonderful memories (and meals!) shared with friends and family. While I know that the holidays can be a stressful time for a lot of people, they are honestly my favorite 45 days of the year, and so I try to always keep my stress in perspective. This is where self-care practices can really come in handy — and prioritizing sleep. I am so much more patient when I have gotten enough sleep.
But with Thanksgiving coming about I wanted to talk about how to host a sustainable Thanksgiving, because it is entirely possible. When I asked most people what they seemed to struggle with the most the most common questions I got were:
How should I source my food?
What are some vegetarian options?
What plates/cups/utensils to use?
How to avoid food waste?
What are the most sustainable drink options?
These are all great questions, and even better they all have pretty easy solutions to help make Thanksgiving a more sustainable holiday. You even can do this without becoming the sustainability police, which no one wants to be (or hear about) on Thanksgiving.
Which is why the tips I am going to share with you are the kind that can easily fly under the radar of your friends and family. The goal isn’t to have everyone show up at your house and announce that this Thanksgiving is going to be a sustainable, zero waste, etc. event. Instead you want to show by example how this Thanksgiving with a few changes can be just as wonderful, and a whole lot better for the planet.
Food is at the top of everyone’s mind on Thanksgiving, and it also is the part of the holiday that can be the most wasteful. Luckily though Thanksgiving is a holiday where almost all of the main ingredients are seasonal and for the most part can be sourced locally. So when it comes to making your Thanksgiving meal more sustainable I want you to think about these things below when preparing your grocery list.
Make From Scratch: Thanksgiving tends to be a holiday where most people opt to make things from scratch, but there may be a few items that you still buy and could make from scratch this year. By making more things from scratch you are most likely going to save money, and you also are able to have better control over where your ingredients are coming from.
Take pumpkin puree for example, this is something that is so easy to make and is much more cost effective. Here is a great tutorial for how to make pumpkin puree, and as an added bonus you get to roast a bunch of pumpkin seeds for snacking and salad toppings.
Similar options that you may be able to make from scratch that you typically buy are: boxed stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, pie, and biscuits.
Purchase Locally: Purchasing locally is one of the most sustainable things you can do for your Thanksgiving meal, and luckily many of the things you will want to serve can be found locally. Sourcing as much as you can locally is going to help reduce the carbon footprint of your food and will also help support your local farmers as they head into what can be the most difficult time of year.
For instance you should be able to source: local pasture raised Turkey, local dairy/cheese/eggs, pumpkins, squash, kale, bread for stuffing, cranberries (if you are from New England), delicata squash for roasting, potatoes, etc. You even may be able to find local grains depending on where you live. Here in New England Maine Grains is a great company for sourcing local grains.
Buy Fair Trade And Organic: One area that most people don’t think twice about is the baking ingredients they use when baking/cooking. This year I want you to think about what you usually need for all your baking/cooking needs and see if you can purchase a fair trade/organic option.
For instance, we purchase organic sugar from Wholesome Sweet, local honey and maple syrup from our local honey/maple farmer, cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and nutmeg from Curio Spices in Boston, and cocoa powder and chocolate from Equal Exchange. Now that we have so many of these ingredients on hand we notice a minimal difference in price, and feel so much better about our cooking/baking knowing that every ingredient was sourced in a way that supported an ethical and sustainable food system.
Save Veggie and Meat Scraps For Broth: This is one of my favorite things to do around Thanksgiving because the end result is a wonderful veggie/chicken/beef broth, and it greatly reduces your food waste.
As you are prepping the ingredients for you Thanksgiving meal keep a big bowl or bag on the counter that you can throw your scraps in. I would recommend moving the trash can to somewhere that you don’t normally use it so you remember not to put the scraps in the trash. Once you are done prepping you can throw everything in a pot with water on the stove to simmer into a stock, or you can store the scraps in the freezer for to make broth later.
Limit Food Waste: To help reduce food waste I would highly recommend you send an email out to everyone coming to your Thanksgiving and ask them to bring a reusable tupperware container. This way at the end of the day you can divide the left over food out between all your guests and can eliminate food waste.
What would a Thanksgiving holiday be without some fun drinks. Whether you are keeping it alcohol free, or are looking for more sustainably sourced alcoholic options I’ve got you covered.
Opt For Glass: So many drinks come in plastic these days so if you are going to be purchasing things like soda water, juice, etc. opt for glass.
Look For Biodynamic/Sustainable/Organic Wines: Wine is an agricultural food product friends, so we need to start thinking of it the same way we do our regular table grapes. There are some amazing wine companies out there doing really amazing work when it comes to managing their water, using solar for their facilities, and using organic/biodynamic processes that are supporting the land and surrounding areas where their grapes are grown.
Shop Local: If you live in California — choose Californian Wine. If you live in Vermont, choose Vermont Beer. Basically if there is the option to buy something locally do it. Not only are you supporting your local community, you are significantly reducing the transportation related carbon associated with your wine, beer, liquor.
Choose Fair Trade/Direct Trade/Organic Coffee: I have talked a lot about why sourcing sustainably produced coffee is so important, but if you want more details you can check out this post. Since coffee is usually served on Thanksgiving with dessert try switching to an ethical coffee this year. Equal Exchange is absolutely delicious and one of the best companies out there working to positively impact the global coffee industry.
This may not be the most popular recommendation but when it comes to serving ware my best advice is to switch to ceramics that you can use year after year. My family is huge, like big-fat ITALIAN wedding huge, and we have always used reusable serving ware. From the plates to the forks, knives, and glasses.
In my mind the “my family is too big to use reusable” excuse is just that — an excuse. The more people, the more dishwashers to help clean up. While I know that getting enough serving ware for everyone can be an undertaking at first, you also could ask everyone who comes each year to pitch in 10-15 dollars and you quickly would have what you need to go and buy serving ware that you can use year after year.
That goes from the napkins too — thrift stores are going to be your new best friend! When looking for serving ware to purchase for Thanksgiving I would highly recommend hitting up thrift stores. You can find plates and glasses for $1 and your table will look amazing with all the mismatched vintage pieces.
Over time you will also save a ton of money, and will be doing the very best you can to reduce waste during the holidays. So this is a friendly nudge to open your mind to the idea of using non-disposables.
I hope that these tips have helped you see how Thanksgiving can in fact be a very eco-friendly and sustainable holiday. Please share any photos from your sustainable Thanksgiving by tagging me over on instagram @thewellessentials, or send me a good old fashioned email to megan [@] thewellessentials.com I would LOVE to see how you made this day a little more sustainable.