Tips to have a sustainable Thanksgiving

Camille Grant, Staffer

Thanksgiving deserves the title of America’s strangest holiday. To celebrate our gratitude, we turn to gluttony — eating in excess to remember the cold, hungry, deadly winters in early America. 

Still, the tradition has been imbued with meaning over time. Thanksgiving is close to the heart; celebrated inside our homes, eating meals cooked with love, alongside those we are closest to. For many, Thanksgiving is the designated time to feel grateful for togetherness. 

Somehow, our gratitude for the Earth becomes overshadowed. Each year, Thanksgiving produces a massive amount of waste and carbon emissions, tarnishing the ecosystem and thinning the ozone layer. 

As a high school student, you aren’t expected to flip established traditions in your family. But you can still try to make little changes. I have listed some here, placing an emphasis on waste reduction.

Reduce amount of recipes. While you may not be able to write your Thanksgiving menu, you can still give feedback. If nobody likes your mom’s tuna casserole, tactfully suggest an alternative. Even reducing your menu by one item has a meaningful impact. Thanksgiving aims for excess, but excess is meaningless. Serve what makes you and your family happy.

Serve food people will eat. Vegan food is fantastic for the environment! Unfortunately, some people find it inedible. If it will be totally consumed, it is far better to serve organic mac and cheese than to discard a vegan one. You can’t guarantee that a dish will be eaten, so you should remember last Thanksgiving, read recipe reviews, and use common sense.

Be mindful of your serving size. Picture this: a huge dish of enticing mac and cheese. You dollop some onto your plate. But after eating your turkey, you realize you took way too much. The mac and cheese ends up in the landfill. This is a big problem at Thanksgiving: people’s eyes tend to be much bigger than their stomachs. Don’t do that! Labeling a dish with the suggested portion size might guide eaters. Smaller serving instruments might deter larger portions. If you’re close with your family, public shaming could work, too.

Leftovers are essential. Let’s examine the case of turkey. Each Thanksgiving, 204 million pounds of uneaten turkey is discarded. Turkey meat is easily frozen and will last several months. Instead of throwing away the turkey on your plate, put it in some Tupperware. Reserve the freezer space in advance. Your punishment for supporting the turkey farming industry will be a week or two of incorporating turkey into your meals. 

Borrow or trade ingredients. If you’re cooking anything, be resourceful while locating ingredients. Substitute buttermilk with the milk and vinegar you already have. Ask a neighbor for a spoonful of sugar. Your last resort should be to drive to the store and buy something you’ll use once. 

Reduce the amount of travel. Thanksgiving produces a lot of gas emissions. They are mostly created by food shopping, online shipping, and travel. Try to buy your ingredients in one visit and not of multiple. Try to buy foods produced here and not across the country. Try to pick up relatives from the airport in one visit and not eight. 

Compost. Plenty of Thanksgiving dishes are compostable. Both Oak Park and River Forest offer subscription composting services. If you are not already subscribed, ask your parents if they’d consider signing up. Otherwise, try to find a nearby friend with a compost pile. Composting is fairly easy and has a major impact on the environment.  

Lastly, consider paying reparations to the Native Americans. This country is on stolen land. Don’t celebrate its settlement without honoring those killed for it. On CharityNavigator, a nonprofit charity evaluator, at least four charities hold ratings of 77.94 or above. Your donation would not be a penance but instead an acknowledgement.

Have a sustainable and happy Thanksgiving!