Let's be real: Thanksgiving has transformed into a day characterized by midnight stampedes to local retail superstores, the mass slaughter of millions of turkeys, and unhealthy food comas. Not exactly healthy or eco-friendly.
It's time to bring it back to a day marked by gratitude, laughs with loved ones, and happy, nourished bellies. Here are some tips to help keep you from straying from your ethical values this Thanksgiving:
1. Boycott Black Friday.
Oh, Black Friday. Why are you even a thing? In a world plagued with overconsumption and excess waste, I think it's safe to say that a Black Friday ban would be in everybody's best interest (except mass retailers, of course). As we've learned from the ethical fashion documentary The True Cost, somebody, somewhere is paying for our $20 convenient steals. This doesn't apply only to fashion; the same goes for appliances, toys, and technology. Think about what went into getting all of that merchandise on the shelves and racks—the overworked and underpaid individuals, the toxic dyes dumped into our waterways. And what happens to our Black Friday impulse buys after we realize we don't really want them after all? They end up filling our landfills, polluting our oceans, and cluttering our homes.
Boycott Black Friday by avoiding mass retailers. The power of our dollar has the most profound and direct impact on demand—if we don't participate, retailers will see an immediate reflection in their numbers. Instead, support local, ethical companies that produce thoughtful goods and give back to the community. You can follow your favorite conscious companies on social media to get notifications about their sales, and find new ones that deserve your support on Small Business Saturday.
2. Opt for a turkey-free Thanksgiving menu.
3Thirty-seven million turkeys are consumed in the United States during Thanksgiving alone. But did you know that it is questionable whether or not turkey was even a part of the original feast that Thanksgiving signifies? Same goes for stuffing and potatoes; go figure! Instead, the pilgrims had a table full of fruits and veggies that were native to the Northeast region such as plums, berries, grapes, leeks, wild onions, beans, artichokes, and squash. Let's go back to focusing our meals around local and organic plant-based staples and challenging the status quo by saying no to serving turkey this Thanksgiving. Let's be honest, the side dishes are always the best part anyway.
Some of my go-to vegan options for Thanksgiving Day main dishes are lentil loaves, veggie potpies, or yummy butternut squash "meat" balls. I've also started a tradition of sponsoring a rescued turkey each year at Woodstock Sanctuary. It's an amazing feeling to know that my money can help keep turkeys alive and healthy. Bonus: I have so much extra time with guests because I'm not worrying about how that labor-intensive turkey is going to turn out!
3. Limit your waste during your grocery run.
Thanksgiving groceries come paired with a ton of unnecessary waste from food packaging and bags. Although some of this packaging is definitely recyclable, the goal is always to limit waste altogether.
Obviously, bringing your own reusable grocery bags is a given, but shopping in the bulk section is also one of my favorite ways to cut down on waste. I bring my own jars, weigh them before I fill them, and then go to town in the bulk section with organic staples like quinoa, rice, nuts, cereal, seeds, pasta, and even sweet treats like chocolate and dates. Reusable organic cotton bags are also great for carrying bulk section staples and fresh produce.
4. Pack up your leftovers in sustainable style.
Plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and plastic baggies often end up in landfills since most recycling facilities don't accept them. Ditch the traditional methods of packing up leftovers and opt for reusable glass or stainless-steel containers instead. These options will last you a lifetime and keep single-use waste to a minimum. Take it a step further and use biodegradable options that are made from plant sources and can literally be planted in your backyard once they have reached the end of their life cycle.
5. Compost your food waste.
Even our food scraps and other biodegradable items that end up in the landfill will in fact be there for years. Why? The landfills do not get the oxygen or moisture necessary to biodegrade properly. Luckily, it's super easy to compile your compostable food waste as you cook. In my house, we like to put an empty coconut milk carton in the freezer and collect the food scraps in there as we go. Conveniently, we have neighbors that keep their own compost to use for their garden, so we bring the cartons next door when they are full. Most cities also have convenient public compost drop-offs—there are dozens around all five boroughs of New York City, for example. Thinking of keeping your own compost? Here's a beginner's guide with everything you'll need to know.