When you think about it, Thanksgiving is really the original Earth Day and the Pilgrims, the first American environmentalists. This is the time of the year when we reflect and give thanks for the abundance our land provides. So get ready to reclaim the green roots of Thanksgiving!
When choosing what delectable delights will grace your Thanksgiving dinner table, there are two main green attributes to look for: locally produced and organically grown foods. Locally grown produce and meat cuts down on the fuel-intensive and greenhouse gas-emitting long haul transport necessary to bring your meal from farm to table. Organic foods keep chemical pesticides and fertilizers off your food and out of soil and waterways.
Meatless beats local
For a new twist on the traditional with maximum eco-perks, try cooking Thanksgiving dinner sans the big bird. A study by Carnegie Mellon University scientists concluded that eating less meat will reduce carbon emissions even more than purchasing food locally. The study found that transporting food is responsible for only 4 percent of food-associated greenhouse gas emissions (1 percent for meat emissions), while production contributes 83 percent. Researchers say that means that buying all local food is like driving nearly 1,000 fewer miles in your car annually. In fact, a 2006 report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization found that livestock production—including land-use changes for pasture and crop production—contributes more to global warming than every single car, train, and plane on the planet.
Why is meat-eating more problematic than driving a car or purchasing far-flung food? The production of meat and dairy products creates a high amount of nitrous oxide and methane emissions, from fertilizers, manure management, and animal digestion. Methane, which is much more potent than carbon dioxide, is produced both during digestion as well as during the anaerobic decomposition of livestock manure. Nitrous oxide results from the nitrification and denitrification of nitrogen in livestock (most commonly of cattle) manure and urine. Stats like these have led to questions like: "Can going vegan do more to slow global climate change than shopping my local farmer's market?"
Setting the table
Make your own natural centerpiece, table cloth, place mats, and other table decor using natural items. You'll create less waste and decrease the demand for materials to create decorations from petroleum-based plastic and other synthetic materials.
And, opt for reusable plates, cups, and napkins instead of plastic or paper to keep trash out of the landfill. Americans toss out about 25 billion polystyrene cups per year, and plastic and paper trash makes up 11 percent and 35 percent (respectively) of municipal solid waste in the US. If you do buy disposable, choose items made from recycled materials that are biodegradable. Biodegradable dinnerware, as well as any leftover food your family won't take with them, can be composted to reduce waste as well.
The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year, with the number of trips Americans take to and from destinations of 50 miles or more away increasing by 54 percent during the six days surrounding the holiday. Ninety-one percent of this long-distance holiday travel is made in personal vehicles, such as cars. Every gallon of gasoline burned by a car releases 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, making the transportation sector responsible for about a quarter of overall US carbon dioxide emissions. Five to six percent of holiday trips are made by by plane, while 2 to 3 percent are by bus, train, ship, or other mode.
Shopping on Black Friday
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. In 2007, it was estimated that 1 in 4 Americans—or more than 76 million people—would partake in the festivities. This year, turn Black Friday green by choosing the greenest products available—whether you're buying clothes, electronics, or appliances, green options do exist! For more simple, green shopping, choose products that are made from recycled or eco-friendly materials, cut down on driving from store-to-store, and bring you own bags.