Waste Not: Wildlife-friendly Holiday Celebrations

Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks — and to reflect on how the holiday season came to be about overconsumption

The meaning of Thanksgiving has always hovered between the sanitized myth of pilgrims coming together with natives for a feast and the true heart of Thanksgiving: practicing gratitude. But in practice, the holiday season — from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day — has sadly become about gluttony, waste and overconsumption.

If there’s anything we should be giving thanks for, it’s this incredible planet that sustains us. Yet the holiday season wreaks havoc on the world around us.

In the United States, we generate an extra 5 million tons of household food waste each year between Thanksgiving and the New Year, which is three times as much food waste as at other times of the year. And that’s just food waste. The holiday season also brings more energy waste, more garbage, and more stress on the environment.

It’s also a season that can be emotionally stressful. Many people are stressing out about hosting a party they can’t really afford. Or they don’t have anywhere to go and feel like they have to do something. The holidays have a way of bringing family stress to the table.

Still, most of us will celebrate Thanksgiving, so here are some tips to help you serve up an environmentally friendly experience, while lowering the pressure around meal-planning and being gentler on your wallet.

  1. Serve wildlife-friendly food

It’s possible and painless to host Thanksgiving with more wildlife-friendly foods and a little less meat. Meat production, including the 45 million turkeys slaughtered for Thanksgiving alone, is one of the most environmentally destructive industries on the planet.

In the U.S., meat production accounts for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, counting all the cars, trucks, planes, trains, and buses combined. Eating less meat can lighten your holiday carbon footprint substantially.

You can start by serving smaller portions of meat options and larger portions of plant-based options. Or you can skip the turkey altogether and load up on delicious, plant-based main courses.

Here are a few wildlife-friendly recipe ideas:

· Physician-recommended plant-based Thanksgiving recipes

· Yum Universe’s hearty recommendations for Thanksgiving foods

· More plant-based options from Forks Over Knives

· 41 Vegan Recipes for Thanksgiving

2. Fight food waste

Next, make sure all the delicious food you’ve made doesn’t go to waste, especially any meat items. Americans throw away about $277 million of uneaten food during Thanksgiving. That includes about 200 million pounds of turkey, adding up to 6 million turkeys — and all the resources that went into raising them — to our waste stream.

Since Thanksgiving is traditionally and unfortunately a time for gorging, you can help protect the planet by redirecting the holiday back toward gratitude, gifting, and love for the planet. The Center for Biological Diversity’s recent Beat Food Waste Challenge is chock full of ideas for fighting food waste year-round, including a fridge guide, a shopping guide, and a cooking guide. You can still enjoy Thanksgiving without the extra waste using these tips:

· Use realistic meal planning for your guests. Are your guests really going to eat a pound of mashed potatoes each? Use this handy portion-planner or this awesome Guestimator tool to buy only what you really need.

· Check out clearance sections in your grocery store for food that is likely to go to waste.

· Give imperfect produce some love. It’s beautiful on the inside.

· Send guests home with leftovers in eco-friendly containers*.

· Stuck with too much food? Check out all the creative ways you can use Thanksgiving extras without getting tired of leftovers.

*Bonus points if you cut other kinds of waste by using reusable containers and skipping plastic bottles and disposable plates on your holiday table. Bring nature inside when decorating and enjoy a low-waste wildlife-friendly feast.

3. Shop local and organic

It might take a little planning, but cutting down the miles your food has to travel takes a huge bite out of Thanksgiving carbon footprints. While eating plant-based foods and local foods is more effective than just eating locally, making sure your grocery list is sourced from local producers does help the environment and your community.

More than 90 percent of waterways and fish in the U.S. are contaminated with pesticides. Endangered species like the California condor, green sturgeon, Tehachapi slender salamander, and polar bear are further threatened by the billions of pounds of pesticides polluting our fresh water sources.

So make your ingredients organic when possible. Here are ways to get the local, organic goods year-round:

· Grow your own veggies and herbs.

· Support local farmers by shopping at farmers markets or community collectives.

· Buy food that is in season.

· Shop in the organic produce section if possible and look for organic options beyond the produce aisles.

4. Stay local

Although many of us would love to be home for the holidays with the entire family, it isn’t always possible. Sometimes family lives far away, travel is expensive, or other commitments are keeping you local this week. And that’s okay.

· Have a smaller gathering with local friends who are like family.

· Enjoy the extra time with those who are nearby without the chaos of large gatherings.

· Know that skipping long lines and the hassles of flying helps lower your environmental footprint..

5. Opt outside

Black Friday is one of the most extravagant examples of overconsumption all year. Instead of joining the shopping madness, be thankful for wilderness and wildlife. Go outside.

· Nature is everywhere. Whether you can go for a hike with your loved ones in a national or state forest, or simply around the block or to a local park, time in nature is good for the soul.

· Take actions to help protect clean oceans and waterways, public lands and endangered species.

Create new holiday traditions that waste less, stay local, take extinction off your plate, and appreciate the outdoors. Whether you’re dining solo or feeding an army of hungry eaters, every single meal counts when it comes to the impact we have on the planet.

Each of these actions can make the holidays more meaningful from this day forward. You can reclaim the holidays as a time of gratitude and giving back, then carry these tips beyond this season and into your New Year’s resolutions.