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4 Tips For A More Sustainable Thanksgiving Holiday

By Sharon Chen
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Every Thanksgiving, Americans celebrate thankfulness and abundance. While we are celebrating family, friends, health, and happiness, let’s not forget to show some appreciation for our earth, too, by incorporating some new earth-friendly holiday traditions.

The Smithsonian offers the following tips for a more sustainable Thanksgiving holiday:

1. Keep it local. An estimated 24.5 million Americans travel by plane for Thanskgiving, consuming a huge amount of energy and fuel. Much of our Thanksgiving staples (cranberries, potatoes, and turkeys) travel thousands of miles from the farm to get to our table – consider buying local.

2. Think about the food chain. The higher you go on the food chain, like eating birds that eat grains rather than the grains themselves, the more resources you consume. If you have to have turkey on Thanksgiving, consider eating less meat throughout the year, and try to buy humanely- and sustainably-raised turkeys.

3. Waste not, want not. What happens to Thanksgiving leftovers? The U.S. sends 35 billion tons of food waste to landfills every year, making our food waste the third largest carbon emitter, after the U.S. and China. Consider making less side dishes (one potato dish instead of three), and commit to consuming all the leftovers.

4. Paper, plastic, or china? Dishwashers use fewer resources than hand-washing, and if you have to go disposable, choose biodegradable paper plates that can be composted.

How to Have the Most Sustainable Thanksgiving Ever

Whitney Pipkin |  The Smithsonian | November 11, 2015

You’ve been trying to up your Thanksgiving game every year, adding essence of cardamom to your grandmother’s sweet potato casserole and latticing bacon across your bird. But have you thought about how to ensure that this annual meal is one Earth can keep providing for generations

It’s the sort of topic some people love to think about, actually, honing in to improve each of the American meal’s iconic ingredients—including the turkey that 88 percent of Americans eat that day, according to a National Turkey Federation survey.

Before we even get to the Thanksgiving table, Jeremy Kranowitz, executive director of the nonprofit Sustainable America, encourages us to consider celebrating the meal closer to home (and tuning in for a Skype session with faraway family for dessert). An estimated 24.5 million Americans traveled by plane around the Thanksgiving holiday last year, according to industry group Airlines for America.

Travel to and from holiday gatherings consumes “a huge amount of energy and fuel,” especially if the food you eat there traveled cross-country as well, Kranowitz says.

Cranberries, potatoes and turkeys for the Thanksgiving table often travel 1,500 to 2,500 miles from the farm, according to the Worldwatch Institute, three times as far as the average American guest and 25 percent farther than they did two decades ago. These so-called “food miles” are one consideration when conserving the resources, namely fuel, that go into making a meal.

So, is a 100-mile Thanksgiving, with ingredients sourced from within 100 miles of your dinner table, still the hallmark of a sustainable meal? Not for all ingredients.

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