10 Ideas for Smaller Sustainable Thanksgiving 2020
Downsizing Thanksgiving 2020? The Planet Thanks you!
(+ 10 Ideas to reduce Your Thanksgiving Carbon Footprint!)
It's 2020. Coronavirus cases are rising. Thanksgiving is so screwed. Or is it?
The holidays are traditionally one of the few times each year that our extended family gets together to celebrate and give thanks. Memories of Thanksgivings past bring happy visions of home and family. Cozy decor in warm fall colors. Delicious scents of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme wafting through the air. Autumn-sweatered family members gathered around the table debating, laughing and trying to avoid political discussion. Me running around stressing, chasing that unachievable holy grail - Thanksgiving dinner perfection. Ahhh, the good times.
Thanks to the pandemic, none of that is happening this year. The safest choice this year is to keep your Thanksgiving table small and give thanks with the people in your own household. Given the roller coaster year that is 2020, smaller may not actually be that bad.
Downsizing our yearly Thanksgiving food feast is actually a positive thing for the planet.
Less food waste. Americans waste. A lot. According to the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, we waste up to 40% of our Thanksgiving food each year. What are we really throwing away? Nationally, the numbers are shocking.
- 172 million lbs turkey (107,500 turkeys)*
- 40 million lbs of mashed potatoes
- 30 million lbs gravy
- 38 million lbs of stuffing
- 35 million lbs cranberry sauce
- 48 million lbs sweet potatoes
- 45 million lbs green beans
- 29 million lbs vegetable sides
- 14 million lbs of dinner rolls
- 3.5 million lbs of butter
Total Thanksgiving food waste weighs in at a whopping 454.5 million pounds. To illustrate the amount here, every 1 million pounds is the weight of about 40 school buses.** Yes, forty freaking school buses! So, our uneaten Thanksgiving food weighs as much as 18,180 school buses! Wow. Letting that sink in.
Still sinking in. Still sinking. :(
All that food we throw away on our day of ecstatic feasting gluttony has a huge impact on our environment in other ways too. The Corporate Citizenship Center of the US Chamber of Commerce report tells us:
Thanksgiving food waste in the US equates to 476 thousand metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted nationally.
According to the EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator - 476,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions from our single Thanksgiving day each year, in everyday terms, would be comparable to:
- All the electricity used in 80,590 homes for a full year or
- 53,561,382 gallons of gasoline consumed.
- 7,870,731 tree seedlings grown for 10 years or
- 621,634 acres of US forests a full year.
Yeah these numbers are overwhelming. But what can we do?
10 ideas to reduce your Thanksgiving carbon footprint
- Calculate your carbon footprint and form an action plan. There are plenty of carbon footprint calculators online. The calculator from UC Berkeley's CoolClimate Network helps you compare your carbon footprint to similar households and create an action plan for free.
- Strategize your feast. While you don't have to get too stressed out, think through the A-Z of your mini Thanksgiving. Identify how much to food to serve and what people will actually eat. Adjust recipes to account for the smaller number of people. LifeHacker has a calculator to adapt any recipe. Easy as...er, pie.
- Create your shopping list and stick to it. Whether ordering food online or masking up and shopping in person, grocery stores are crafted to entice impulse purchases. Resist anything not on the list.
- Shop "ugly" produce. Large grocery stores often throw away perfectly edible produce because of a bruise or imperfect shape. Our local Fred Meyer offers a discounted fruit and veg section. There are several online vendors, like Imperfect Foods, that sell and deliver "ugly" produce to help reduce food waste.
- Cook Consciously. Use whole foods and use as much of them as possible. Can those celery ends and vegetable scraps be used to make a savory veggie broth later?
- Compost your food scraps. Consider home composting - it's a quick and easy way to reduce your food waste and also returns nutrients to the soil. NPR's How to Compost at Home has good info to get you started.
- Use real dishes and cloth napkins. The negative environmental effect of paper plates is astonishing. The convenience of using paper is deeply counterbalanced by the impact to global forests, the reduction in biodiversity from logging, the pollutants from paper production and the fact that paper dishes are not recyclable once contaminated with food residue. Bust out your real dishes. Mismatched table decor is in!
- Eat your leftovers. Eat leftovers until your mouth and soul can't stand the taste of stuffing. And then eat them again.
- Creatively remix. If you're tempted to toss your leftovers by Friday or Saturday, boredom is probably to blame. Remix - use your leftovers in a different way. Try cranberry sauce in oatmeal or layered with peanut butter on toast. Make a Leftover Stuffing Frittata or a shockingly delicious Leftover Sweet Potato Spice Cake with Pecan Streusel Topping. So yumm!
- Start small and be kind (to yourself and the planet!) Even minor tweaks can add up to make a real environmental impact. Do what you can. Don't let guilt or regret take away from your enjoyment of the holiday. Instead, feel proud of any changes and thankful for a smaller, sustainable and SAFE Thanksgiving 2020.
**A typical school bus weighs 22,000-28,000 lbs, I used 25,000 lbs for ease of calculation.