How to Create a Sustainable Thanksgiving Feast

Amy Arani

Show Your Gratitude for the Earth and All Its Creatures

In the modern era, the holidays are as much about waste as they are about celebration. Between Thanksgiving and New Years, we generate 25% more trash than we do during the rest of the year. That’s an extra 1 million tons per week. For reference, Boeing 757 aircraft weigh 100 tons each, and every season, we create the trash equivalent of 250 thousand of them. 

Much of that waste comes from food. Each Thanksgiving, we throw away 204 million pounds of turkey. According to the National Resources Defence Council (NRDC), raising them required as much water as New Yorkers use in 100 days. And the emissions waste? Enough to drive across country 800 thousand times.

Luckily, it only takes a few minor adjustments to make your celebration as earth-friendly as it is delicious, and BUHO has you covered. Read on to get our top 10 tips for a sustainable Thanksgiving feast.

1. Just Say No to Disposables

 We know, doing dishes is not the most riveting activity in the world. And who has enough flatware or plates for 20 people? Here are a few ways to overcome these obstacles. 

You could visit your local thrift store and purchase what you need for your celebration. You won’t spend much. If used plates and forks make you cringe, call on your community. Ask every guest to bring a place setting (and serving utensils if it’s a potluck). Tell them you’re giving thanks to the earth by watching your waste! Unfortunately, you’ll have to have to suck it up and do the dishes. Your dishwasher uses less water and energy than handwashing, so at least you can feel good about that! 

If neither of those options sounds appealing, choose compostable disposables. Visit Leafware or Susty Party for chic pieces that will help you create the Pinterest-worthy table you’ve been dreaming about. Just make sure you purchase items that you can compost in your home bin or city’s collection program. Food-contaminated items (think pizza boxes) can’t be recycled. And don’t forget the reusable linens

2. Buy and Make Less Food

Here’s a tip that’s as friendly to your wallet as it is to the earth. Remember those food waste statistics from earlier? They don’t just apply to turkeys. Visualize your refrigerator a week after Thanksgiving. Can you see the moldy green beans and funny film covering the mashed potatoes? If you buy less, you’ll waste less — it’s simple math. 

Due to our generosity and desire to give people a fantastic time, we often make more food than necessary. One way you can solve this problem is to take one or two people out of your food equation. If you’re having 15 people, cook for 13. Assume everyone will eat less than you think because they probably will. Order a smaller turkey and serve smaller portions. Your guests’ waistlines will be grateful, too! 

3. Buy Locally-Grown Produce and Create a Seasonal Menu

Yes, being a locavore is ambitious and not possible for everyone. However, with a little effort, you can add more locally-grown foods to your Thanksgiving spread. Visit a farmers’ market, or if you have a co-op near you, make a pilgrimage. They tend to have local foods on their shelves, and you’ll be able to stock up on fruits, veggies, and possibly even a heritage turkey. 

Another option is to support your local CSA. CSAs sell what’s in season, but you’ll know what’s coming ahead of time. Perhaps your box will serve as inspiration for a highly curated seasonal menu that your guests will never forget. Although not a CSA, Imperfect Foods collects food waste, and you can customize your order, which makes menu planning easier. Just remember to order a larger box so that you have enough!

If none of these options is on the table, do your best. It’s ok to start small — small changes add up to big differences.

4. Give Your Leftovers Away

Share the beautiful bounty you’re bound to have in spite of your best efforts. If you want to give guests a memento that they can reuse, create mason jar party favors. You layer these just like mason jar salad — put sauces and veggies on the bottom and then arrange the rest of your meal in a pleasing way.
If you don’t have extra mason jars laying around and don’t want to buy any, ask your friends and family to bring containers and allow them to fill up to their hearts’ content. Or, you could share your leftovers with people who don’t have a home. Contact your local shelter or go on a post-feast drive and provide warm meals to people in need.

5. Stay Close to Home

This one can be hard. If you live far away from your family, you’ll want to see them. But it’s still true that one of the most significant things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is to fly less. If you do choose to travel, make your trip eco-friendly. We’ve rounded up some tips for you here

6. Buy a Local, Humanely Raised Turkey or Go Vegan

The good news is that you don’t have to give up turkey to support a more humane, sustainable food system. You’ll just have to do a little more legwork and patronize companies who care about animal welfare. Check out Heritage FoodsMary’s Turkeys, and U.S. Wellness Meats. And look for the Certified Humane label — just because a brand claims to treat their animals humanely doesn’t mean that they do. 

If you want to learn more about what you can do to help farm animals, visit Farm Forward. Their work helped create tier-5 and tier-5+ for turkeys at the Global Animal Partnership, which are the strictest in the world. And, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can always go vegan this Thanksgiving. Upwards of 46 million turkeys are slaughtered each year on Thanksgiving, and most of those didn’t live in tier-5 conditions. Why not create a new tradition and adopt a turkey at the Farm Sanctuary? For $35, you can sponsor a former factory farm animal’s new lease on life.  

7. Skip the Plastic

Yes, plastic is everywhere. But it doesn’t have to be a part of your Thanksgiving celebration. You’ve already ditched plastic plates and cutlery — now it’s time to get all the plastic out of your kitchen and off your table. Start by chucking the disposable water bottles. Use a water filter and offer your guests water in glasses or compostables. You could also serve water in a carafe with cut up lemons and pomegranates for a refreshing fall treat. Next on the chopping block is plastic wrap and plastic bags. Give those the boot and choose sustainable options such as beeswax wrapreusable silicone bags, mason jars, and wax paper. 

9. Choose Local, Sustainable Spirits

It seems like craft beer is everywhere these days, so if you’re a beer drinker, you won’t have a hard time finding a local gem that could end up being your new favorite. Depending on where you live, however, the other spirits could be hard to find. Source your alcohol as close to home as possible, and support companies with sustainable practices. 

If you like wine, check out Wine Country’s 2018 round-up of sustainable U.S. wineries or look for Certified Sustainable wines. As far as the harder libations are concerned — go organic and look for craft distilleries near your city or town. 

10. Create a New Ritual for Giving Back

Despite Thanksgiving’s suspicious origin story, it has turned into a holiday centered on gratitude. And what better way to give thanks for your belly full of expensive, heritage turkey and organic cranberry sauce than to feed the less fortunate? Gather your friends and family and go out there and make a difference. Whether you want to donate to your favorite charity, create a sock and blanket drive, feed the homeless, or help out at a battered women’s shelter, give your gratitude some weight. 

However you choose to celebrate the holiday, we wish you a delicious, loving Thanksgiving!