Environment Food

Going Green this Thanksgiving

Green Thanksgiving
Written by Dana Adams

Thanksgiving is literally here. Family, friends, hours of cooking, and the dreaded after-dinner chores are creeping up on us this week. While we are making our final lap of 2016, going green this Thanksgiving (and throughout the rest of the year) can help bring your clan and kinsmen together while doing something good for the environment.

With all the stress that comes with the holidays, going green won’t add any more. It may seem intimidating at first to tamper with the sacred food line-up that has been tried and tested through the generations, but why not find some new traditions to pass on this year. The concept of a green Thanksgiving is simply adjusting your traditions to be more environmentally conscious and to think about how things can be reused or recycled post-holiday.

Eat More Greens

Food production has a huge carbon footprint, which is the sum of the entire process from raising livestock to the table it’s served on. Agriculture is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gases emitted each year worldwide. Animal agriculture makes up the majority of all food related emissions. As our diets have evolved to include more meats, greenhouse gases and deforestation are only expected to increase. As far as meats go, turkey is one of the lowest greenhouse gas emitting options in comparison to chicken or beef (with six times higher emissions than chicken). The carbon foot print of just one serving of turkey (3.5 ounces) is 2.4 pounds of carbon dioxide.

The beloved mashed potatoes are not innocent either. Potatoes have one of the higher carbon footprints when it comes to vegetables. Growing them is relatively low, but transportation and cooking our most loved spuds adds up to 1.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted per cup.

Just one serving of turkey and a cup of mashed potatoes equals 3.9 pounds of carbon dioxide. That’s equivalent to driving just under five miles. Doubling down on turkey and mashed potatoes, as we are all guilty of doing, would be equal to a 10 mile drive.

Other vegetables have a much smaller carbon footprint. An 8 ounce serving of broccoli is only equivalent to .4 pounds of carbon dioxide. You would need to eat two servings of broccoli to be equivalent to a mile of driving. Swapping out some meaty side dishes for veggies, or even experimenting with a vegetarian menu, will not only contribute to a smaller carbon footprint this week, but if you maintain this habit you could decrease your food-related carbon emissions by up to at least one half, annually.

Carbon Intensity of Eating

Image: shrinkthatfootprint.com

Buy Local

Continuing along the same vein, buying your foods from local farms can have a multitude of benefits. You’re connected to your source of food, you’re giving back to your local economy, and most importantly, you are also drastically decreasing the amount of fossil fuels used in transporting your food. Because your vegetables or turkey came from a local farm, you are cutting down on the carbon emission related to regional or cross country transportation.

Stay Local or Travel Smart

Thanksgiving weekend is one of the largest “traveling holidays” for Americans. By reducing the amount that we drive this weekend, we can cut down on air pollution and limit our carbon emissions. Staying home is one way to limit the environmental impact of our holiday travel.

If you still have to do some driving, carpooling is also another great choice. Make sure that your tires are inflated correctly. Vehicles require more gas to move when tire pressure is low.

Reduce Food Waste and Donate

Thanksgiving leftovers are a miracle in their own right. It is really the gift that keeps on giving. Some people aren’t that studious about eating leftovers. In fact, this Thanksgiving, we are expected to throw out 200 million pounds of turkey. Wasted turkey also includes the water wasted in producing it, which is about 105 billion gallons this season. Overall, we are expected to waste $277 million of food this holiday.

One avenue of action to reduce waste is to be more conscious of how much food you actually need. The money you save by limiting your food purchases can be donated to a local shelter. Likewise, while you cannot donate cooked food to food banks, you can donate other packaged items that did not get used. Feeding America is a great resource to guide you in giving this Thanksgiving. On their site they can connect you to local food banks and charities in your area.

For the cooked foods you cannot donate, consider asking dinner guests to bring containers for leftovers. When you’re left with fewer leftovers, you will have fewer items that could go rotten. You can also use turkey bones to make turkey stock and freeze any leftover fruits or vegetables for soups or smoothies.

Compost Food Scraps

Whatever foods don’t get reused or donated can be composted. Composting creates a wonderful natural fertilizer that can replace nutrients in the soil. It reduces methane-creating landfill waste and doing it at homes eliminates the need for fossil fuels that would otherwise be used in commercial composting. If you don’t have a compost bin started, they are quite easy. If you live in an apartment, there are also some methods you can use to begin composting with limited space.

Meats and bones cannot be composted, so they are best to be frozen or used in soups, stews, or stocks.

Breads can be composted, but they should be buried. Although, if your bread is just stale, you can also make croutons or French toast too.

Fruits and vegetables are great for composting because they are nitrogen-rich and nitrogen is a necessary ingredient in composting; alongside oxygen, carbon-rich material, and water. If you’re composting tubers, make sure to bury them as well.

Coffee grounds (and the filter) are also good for composting because they are considered nitrogen-rich enough for a good mix.

Paper products and some cardboard can also be composted. Damp, shredded paper towels and paper plates will breakdown. Plain, uncoated cardboard boxes, even greasy ones, can be composted. If they are coated though, it is best to recycle.


Recycling the packaging that your dinner ingredients come in is the easiest way to go green. Gather some bins together and ask your guests to join in on keeping your material waste out of the landfills. Bottles, cans, box board, and cardboard minus food scraps can all be recycled through local recycling services.

All Things Considered, Thanksgiving Isn’t Just a Holiday

Thanksgiving is an opportunity to start new, environmentally healthy traditions and educate your friends and family about why it’s important to be green. We often forget to be thankful for the air we breathe, clean water we drink, and the beauty of the world around us. Loving these things is motivation enough to be greener together.

About the author

Dana Adams

Dana is a vegetarian, class-rock loving city girl hailing from the the Great Lakes state. She strives to live her passions everyday and support causes such animal welfare and human rights. When she isn't working, she can often be found painting in her studio or neck deep in a cup of coffee and a good book.

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