It is almost time for the beginning of what Americans tend to call the "holiday season", when traditional holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are celebrated. Thanksgiving, that Thursday in November when we all celebrate the harvest season, or, more likely nowadays, whatever it is we feel thankful for, is nigh. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving meals of today are a great deal more stressful for our environment than the celebration upon which they are based. What was initially a local and organic meal now tends to include turkeys raised on crowded factory farms eating grain and antibiotics rather than local grasses and bugs, canned or boxed side dishes whose origins may be even more suspect, and produce trucked in from all over the globe. While it is a blessing that we can obtain goods from nearly anywhere, this blessing has taken, and continues to take an enormous toll on the earth, not to mention our health.
Why not give thanks for the harvest (and everything else you have to be thankful for, of course) with items that actually were just harvested in the area? Buying local foods not only reduces energy use from transportation, but also helps you get foods while they are fresh and still contain their valuable nutrients. Going green for Thanksgiving could mean the usual turkey, supplemented with local and/or organic dishes; a turkey-substitute; a smaller, organic, free-range turkey; or even abandoning turkey altogether in favor of other foods. Give yourself a challenge by trying for a 100-Mile Thanksgiving. Thousands of people across the country have created innovative 100-Mile meals already, and you can read their stories and get recipes from 100milediet.org, TreeHugger, and any number of others.
Though it can take a lot of work to do an entire 100-Mile feast, and may not even be possible without a lot of advance preparation, every little step counts. Buying an organic, local, and/or free-range turkey is one of many things you can do. Though there are loopholes in "free-range" labeling rules that could mean your turkey didn't have a much better life than its factory farm counterparts, organic and local birds are sure to be better, and if you go local, you can find out what conditions were like straight from the farmer who raised them! Local Harvest, an organization dedicated to helping people access local foods, has a directory of farms and stores who offer local produce. You can search the site by locations or even by specific foods. Check out their page about turkey at http://www.localharvest.org/organic-turkey.jsp.
Though the Lakewood Farmer's Market and Lakewood Earth & Food Community (LEAF)'s LEAF Nights are over for the season, you can still get local produce from the associated Farmer's Markets at Crocker Park (Saturdays from 9am-1pm) and Shaker Square (Saturday from 8am-noon) through December 13th. In addition, you can look for organic fruits and veggies at stores like Giant Eagle, Heinen's, and Nature's Bin. If you're looking to try a Tofurky this year (more information available at tofurky.com), they are available at Trader Joe's stores
When shopping, try to buy items in as little packaging as possible, and in the largest size that you'll use. When packaging is unavoidable, choose materials that are recyclable or contain recycled content (or both). Rather than contributing to the billions of pounds of food thrown away every year, try to purchase and cook only what you'll be able to eat before it spoils. Though it is always difficult to estimate, keep past years in mind and think back to all those leftover turkey sandwiches you've had to force down when that turkey just never seemed to end. Rather than buying an entire turkey, you could just get a breast, or only thighs and wings, or even stick with the entire turkey, but downgrade a few pounds.
When serving the meal, the best way is to use dishes you already own. However, if washing all those dishes at the end is giving you nightmares, consider purchasing disposable dishes and utensils that are biodegradable (materials include sugarcane and potato scraps) or paper plates that have been made using recycled fibers.
There is, of course, more to Thanksgiving than food. Millions of Americans will travel even more millions of miles this holiday season to spend time with their loved ones. If you are among these millions and are travelling by car, get a tune-up before you go to be sure that you get optimal gas mileage on the road. Better yet, take a train or bus to your destination, if the option is available. When getting the house decorated to warmly greet your friends and family, reuse decorations you've kept from past years, or buy decorations that you will be able to reuse in the future. As an alternative, try making decorations yourself. This will not only have money-saving potential, but can be a fun and creative activity for the whole family that can become a lasting part of your holiday traditions.
No matter what steps you take toward making your festivities sustainable, take satisfaction in them and enjoy your holiday.