Show gratitude to the earth this Thanksgiving

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Pumpkin soup among autumn leaves on a wooden table

Image: Shutterstock/Malyugin

On the first Thanksgiving, pilgrims and Native Americans harvested the food for their meal. There was no waste, as they used every scrap of every item. Everyone shared and there was enough to go around. Plastic, aluminum foil and Ziploc bags were not an option. In today’s world, it might seem a little unrealistic to go back to their lifestyle. What should not be unrealistic, however, is being green on this holiday. Remember to give thanks not only for the food, but where it came from. Here are some practical, manageable ways to be eco-friendly on Thanksgiving.

  1. Shop locally. Local products are better than packaged, sealed and flown goods. Without the transportation needed to get them to you, they’re healthier for you and for the environment. Local foods are picked sooner, so they’re fresher. Your local produce stand or market is the place to go for your ripe vegetables and organic turkeys.
  2. Don’t use paper or plastic dishes. It’s a holiday. It’s okay to use the real dishes. Even if you have a crowd of people and the paper plates seem appealing, it’s better to use regular ones. It will reduce waste (paper plates are not recyclable). You can also use cloth napkins and a real tablecloth.
  3. Consider a vegetarian Thanksgiving. Turkey is not the worst meat out there when considering its global footprint. However, vegetables are the best option for low impact. Fill your table with delectable vegetarian side dishes, casseroles or pumpkin soup. You could also try a Tofurky (tofu instead of turkey). Pinterest is full of recipes for those who are unsure where to begin, but by the end, your guests will forget the turkey was ever considered.
  4. Be aware of how much power you are utilizing. Depending on what climate you live in, there are some options for cutting back. Southerners can turn off their heating and cooling system and instead open their windows. With the house full of guests, a nice, crisp breeze will hit the spot. Northerners, who do not have this option, can shut off their lights (or at least dim them) and resort to candles. It will set up a lovely ambiance, and there can be a crackling fire in the next room. Listen to the football game on the radio instead of using the TV.
  5. Carpool. All of you are going to the same house anyway! You can certainly fill the vehicles and pretend like you like each other. That’s what holidays are about, right? If you’re going to somewhere in your neighborhood (and you live in the appropriate climate), take your bike. Not only does it help the environment, but it will also help you burn off the Thanksgiving calories on your way home.
  6. Donate. Demonstrate your gratitude for the bounty by sharing with others. Visit your local homeless shelter or food pantry and donate some supplies. You probably will buy too many things during Black Friday shopping, so give the extra toaster, coffeemaker or food items away. On the day after Thanksgiving, don’t throw out the leftovers. Give them away to your neighbors, or take the sweets into the office to share with your coworkers.
  7. Clean green. Set up clearly marked containers for your guests to dispose of their trash after the meal is over. Make sure there’s a bin for trash and a bin for recyclable products. When cleaning off the table, use a rag instead of paper towels. Turn off the water faucet in-between filling up the sink or rinsing the rag. Use eco-friendly cleaning products (there will be a mark on the label). Create your own compost heap with the vegetable and fruit scraps. If you used an organic turkey, the carcass can be made into a soup stock. Simply put it in a gallon of water, add celery leaves and carrot tops, and you’re on your way! Add other leftover veggies for additional flavor.
  8. Use nature as your decor. You don’t need to go out and buy plastic vegetables and little pilgrim men that will get thrown out as soon as the party is over. Plus, everyone’s decorations are store-bought: be unique. Not to mention thrifty. Go outside and find some pretty leaves, full pine cones, and tree branches to decorate the table. Make a garland out of the leaves, or use the pine cones as place settings by sticking a name card in each. Ripe fruits and vegetables will also add appeal in a glass or ceramic bowl, even if they’re not for eating.

Kaitlyn is a graduate from Lee University and is a staff editor for R.H. Boyd Publishing. She enjoys travel, books and penguins. When she's not working, she dreams of seeing the world.

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