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An Eco-Friendly Thanksgiving—Bay State Style

November 19, 2010

Getting together to celebrate is what makes Thanksgiving so special. Instead of talking about all the obvious eco-red flags–like travel and consumption–let’s focus on how to prepare for a day yielding a lot of happiness at a reduced impact.


To start, a vegetarian feast is the most carbon-and resource-conscious way to make Turkey Day a little greener. But let’s face it, keeping harmony with those less green–my personal mantra–calls for realizing that many of those we love probably love turkey and would scoff at a Thanksgiving without it. To avoid a sore family on a day when everyone is supposed to be thankful, the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture has a map and information on 20 local turkey farms. Free range and “natural” turkeys are available in Massachusetts from farms like Silvermine Farm in Sutton and Bob’s Turkey Farm in Lancaster. Heritage Breed turkeys are also available.

Silvermine Farm Free Range Turkeys, Sutton, MA

Silvermine Farm Free Range Turkeys, Sutton, MA

When an organic free-range turkey is out of your budget, move on to shopping organic and local for your produce and other groceries. The winter farmers’ markets have been posted, but you can also check with your local CSA for bulk offerings, shop at Whole Foods, Berkshire Green Grocer, or Vidalia’s Market, or call Boston Organics to deliver fresh produce to your doorstep. For natural baked goods, Skippin’ Rocks Bakery has a large selection. Look for minimal packaging, and don’t forget your reusable grocery bags as you head out the door to do your shopping!

If along with family and friends you have decided to commit to a meat-free celebration, try a hearty nut loaf with eggs, vegetables, and seeds along with mashed cauliflower and mushroom gravy. Such choices approximate the palate sensations Thanksgiving usually offers. The Boston Vegetarian Society also lists local vegan and vegetarian restaurants if you want to eat out.

To further minimize the day’s carbon gluttony, buy local wines, beer, and spirits. Massachusetts is home to wineries, regional breweries, and even a few distilleries from Gloucester to the Berkshires. You can also check out Flavrz, Good 4 You Herbal Tea, and Jim’s Organic Coffee for locally-available, greener, non-alcoholic beverages.


From Thanksgiving to New Years Day, household waste can increase by more than 25 percent. Cut down on the plastic wrap by using reusable lids or dishes to keep food covered. Sport the real forks and cloth napkins to minimize waste.

Are you having a big crowd and don’t think you have enough utensils and dishes? Ask some of your guests to contribute to a waste-free dinner by bringing silver and plates with them. After all, that’s more like the first Thanksgiving—America’s first great potluck.

In lieu, Vegware USA has a line of compostable disposables that you can manage on site in your composter.

To really lower the day’s waste, show a measure of restraint while prepping dinner. Avoid cooking too much food by figuring on a pound of turkey (or equivalent portion of nut loaf) per person, and a ¼ pound for sides. If there are leftovers, you can send everyone home with their choice. Unfortunately, soup kitchens do not usually take home cooked leftovers, but you can get creative with items like that large dish of sweet potato. Incorporate some into homemade batter and surprise everyone with Black Friday pancakes. Make a topping from leftover cranberry sauce by beating it into maple syrup until incorporated.

Norman Rockwell's Thanksgiving, Cover of The Literary Digest, Nov. 22, 1919

Norman Rockwell's Thanksgiving, Cover of The Literary Digest, Nov. 22, 1919

Be wary of overdoing the table decorations and house trimmings. Thanksgiving started as a humble harvest holiday in an austere world, so simple embellishments like a few beeswax or soy candles, a dried-flower wreath, pine combs, and your white holiday LEDs should be more than enough to jazz things up. Keep the kids busy in the morning making table cards from autumn leaves and recycled paper.

When it’s all over, recycle and compost as much as possible and try donating grease locally. The Alternative Fuel Foundation of Middleton collects oil onsite, and can help schedule pick-ups in other parts of Massachusetts. Call 877-WVO-2-EDU for information.


Beyond carpooling, avoiding the TV and gaming system is another way to cut down on the day’s impact. Grab a football and call your family outside if it’s not raining. Put out games like Jenga and Twister, or get the crew started on charades or darts. It’s also more engaging than group TV watching.

To offset the day’s footprint, track the carbon used in shopping, cooking, and energy consumed by appliances like dishwashers and televisions. Ask guests to track the miles traveled by car or bus. Try the meal calculator and others online. Once you’ve added it all up, you can purchase carbon offsets. If your guests are on board with offsetting the day, devise a raffle where half the funds raised goes to a gift certificate (for a green business, of course!), and the other half for the offset purchase.

Happy Harvest!

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