A Sustainable Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to gather with loved ones and reflect on what you have to be thankful for while filling up on turkey and pumpkin pie. But, did you know that it is also one of the most wasteful times of the year? Americans on average waste 6 billion turkeys (which take an estimated 100 billion gallons of water to raise) every year at Thanksgiving. How can you make Thanksgiving more sustainable, and work on some of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals while you’re at it? Follow the tips and tricks below!

  • The first step in reducing waste? Reduce the amount of food you buy! While it’s easy to get caught up in providing a feast for all your guests, take a minute to step back and think about how much you really need. This “Guestimator” developed by Save the Food Inc. will help you determine how much food you need to keep your guests full and happy.
  • You have the list of ingredients, the menu set, and now the only thing left to do is head to the grocery store, or a local farmers market. Local food producers and markets can be a sustainable choice when buying food, as these options tend to create CO2 emissions from the farm to your plate. It also helps support local farmers, so definitely a win-win situation.  If you don’t have a farmer’s market open mid- November by you, consider buying “ugly” fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, especially ones that will get mashed or put into pies, as these are the types of products that usually don’t get sold, and eventually are thrown out and wasted.
  • Dinner has been served on reusable dishware, and everyone is full as can be – but there are still scraps left on plates! Instead of throwing them away, think about starting a compost pile and get something useful out of those scraps. Click here to check out a guide that will show you how easy it can be to start a compost pile in your home. Live in an apartment with limited space, or just don’t have the need for fresh compost? Consider finding a communal compost bin near you.
  • Used the Guestimator but still have leftovers? Send some home with family and friends, or better yet, check out these leftover recipes to keep the Thanksgiving spirit going for the rest of the week! Invite your friends over to share in the leftovers and practice Sustainable Development Goal #11 – Sustainable Communities. Extra unopened cans of vegetables that never made it to the casserole? Donate those to a local food bank to practice Sustainable Development Goal #2 – No Hunger.

In fact, sustainable environmental interactions like composting and minimizing waste are deeply rooted in Native American traditions and those of other indigenous cultures. Organizations like the United Nations are studying and incorporating indigenous knowledge into plans for our global sustainable future. Check out this 2016 report: “Indigenous knowledge and implications for the sustainable development agenda.”

In that vein, it’s critical that we think about the social sustainability and responsibility of celebrating a holiday which marks the beginning of a dark and painful history for the Indigenous peoples of North America, especially the Wampanoag. Some Native communities recognize Thanksgiving as a Day of Mourning. Consider learning more about the land you live on this Thanksgiving – what Indigenous nation calls this land home? What is their history, what are their traditions, and what are their current activities? Visit your local Native American community center, and learn more about the people in your community whose ancestors were here long before the settlers landed on Plymouth Rock. To learn more about the native land you call home, click here.

Instead of rushing out to buy consumer goods on Black Friday, take time to recognize that the day after Thanksgiving is also National American Indian Heritage Day. How can you recognize this day, and the histories and modern truths of Indigenous peoples behind the American myths we tell, with your friends and family? Sustainability is also about reducing inequalities (Sustainable Development Goal #10). According to the U.S. Census and quoted in this research article on poverty and health disparities in Indigenous communities, over “one-quarter of the American Indian and Alaska Native population is living in poverty, a rate that is more than double that of the general population.” How might these inequitable conditions have started with the actual histories and be perpetuated by the related stories, myths and stereotypes we continue to tell around Thanksgiving? How might we be in a different place in our global environmental story if the western, dominant narrative had not suppressed indigenous histories and knowledge traditions?

We at the Chatham K-12 Program hope you can use these tools to have a thoughtful, warm, sustainable, and socially conscious Thanksgiving this year!

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