10 Tips for a Sustainable Thanksgiving


Since I wrote last year about tips for a sustainable thanksgiving meal, much has transpired in the food movement. We now have a First Family that regularly toils in their backyard to grow and harvest organic produce. The hit documentary, Food, Inc. was released this past year and is now in the running for an Academy Award. I had the pleasure of working on the Social Action campaign for the film which has given me the privilege of learning much from amazing food activists who are working daily in fields, offices, schools and boardrooms daily to help to build a more just and sustainable food system.

Preparing a sustainable meal can be a selfish endeavor; I guarantee you that it will be more fun, tastier and make for a good conversation at your table. However, it’s also about our global community; you’ll help to prevent the emission of greenhouse gas emissions, the slaughter of animals living under inhumane conditions, meet local farmers and help to foster the establishment of a more equitable food system through your creation of the biggest American meal of the year.

1. Buy organic. Organic produce and products are so commonplace now that Coca-Cola and Doritos are practically getting pushed off shelves to make extra space for these hot items. Try to purchase from a small, local farmer, but if you can’t find one, then you can stock up on your Thanksgiving goods at any major retailer. By choosing organic foods, you are helping to prevent the usage of millions of pounds of poisonous pesticides and fertilizers and emission of greenhouse gas emissions. Best of all, organic foods taste better.

2. Save a turkey. Choose the most humane option that will significantly lighten your environmental impact by having a meat-free meal. You can make your centerpiece a hearty, fall-themed vegetarian dish or opt for a tofurkey. Either way, you’ll be saying no to our industrial food system, reducing your global warming contribution and saying yes to a healthy, happy meal. You can also make a turkey happy by adopting it. Yes, you read correctly, save a turkey from the chopping block and give it the gift of a happy home at Farm Sanctuary. For those of you who roll their eyes at my incredible suggestion in tip two of going meat-free on Thanksgiving. If you fall into that camp, I’d suggest you opt for a humanely-raised turkey.

3. Get down and dirty with your food by starting a garden in your yard, porch, window sill or community garden. While the crops won’t be ready for this year’s feast, start now to grow and harvest a bountiful collection of herbs and produce for 2010.

4. Save your scraps. Start your own compost bin with all of your fruit and veggie scraps. By composting, you prevent useful food scraps from ending up buried in landfills and you’ll be able to apply your nutrient-dense soil to your new garden.

5. Dig chicks. I share my small backyard with neighbors in Los Angeles, who are generally tolerant of my outdoor clothes drying, composting and gardening, but I know bringing chickens home would push our respectful relationship over the edge. However, for millions of Americans with their own, private backyards, raising your own chickens is a reasonable feat. Imagine collecting eggs early Thanksgiving morning to enjoy while preparing a pie or soufflé for the big meal. You can learn about how to do this from my 12-year old friend Orren Fox who raises his own backyard chickens.

6. Read labels. When purchasing Thanksgiving items at the market, choose items whose labels you can read. I’m not referring to the font size, which can sometimes make you feel like you’re doing an ad-hoc eye exam at the store. Rather, choose products with five ingredients or less and with words that make sense. If it’s unpronounceable to your mouth, imagine how disagreeable it will be to your stomach.

7. Go union. Millions of workers toil daily in fields across the country to bring foods to your table. Look for a union label when buying for your meal to ensure that you’re foods harvested by people who are the backbone of our country.

8. Celebrate diversity. By eating endangered foods, you’re actually helping their survival. I’m not referring to a Gray Whale or African Elephant but to things like a Sierra Beauty Apple, Bull Nose large Bell Pepper, Sheboygan Tomato and Sea Island Red Peas. Eat these beauties to help keep our food sources diverse, support farmers keeping these varieties alive and enjoy consuming new foods (how can you not love something called Bull Nose?).

9. Go paperless. I’m not referring to getting your bank statements via email but forsaking paper products and opting instead for reusable cutlery, napkins, plates and glasses. Add extra beauty to your table by collecting leaves and other outside goodies as centerpieces.

10. Drink (tap) water. Skip wasteful, unregulated bottled water in favor of tasty, reliable zero-calorie tap water. If you’re concerned about the quality of H2O from your kitchen faucet, invest in a water purifier. Drinking tap water might not make you look like Jennifer Aniston but you’ll definitely look a lot smarter than her with a plastic bottle.

I’ve yet to reach the lofty 100 tips a la New York Times food writer Mark Bittman. While my list is only 10 tips, there’s many more that could be included. Please share your ideas for how to have a more sustainable Thanksgiving. Happy eating.

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