Green Lessons from Thanksgiving

November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving may not seem like the pinnacle of eco-friendly behavior. Turkey-Day, and the Black Friday shopping extravaganza that follows, both celebrate excess – with the best of intentions, of course. Cooking and feasting with family and friends and sharing gifts to show we care are fundamental to the holiday season, but these traditions often result in cooking too much food and buying too many things that we don’t really need. Look past the surface, though; Thanksgiving is full of lessons on green living, and opportunities to improve our practices.

Let’s start with food. A Thanksgiving prepared from local, seasonal foods can reduce your carbon footprint and promote friendly farming practices, but it can also help you get in touch with the roots of the holiday. The first Thanksgiving feast was a local, seasonal affair by necessity. Thanksgiving, a feast of turkey but also of hearty vegetables like potatoes, squash and turnips, is also a great time to consider going vegetarian. I’ve always found these dishes just as filling as meat, and they can decrease your Thanksgiving carbon footprint. I mentioned cooking too much food at the beginning of my post, but that’s not necessarily a problem. Thanksgiving is a great time to practice food preservation techniques like canning and freezing, so you can enjoy the leftovers from your feast well into the winter.

Black Friday, and the shopping season that follows, is a bit harder to make excuses for. Before hitting the stores, consider greener alternatives, including gifts that are homemade or sustainably produced. This Wednesday, the International Justice Mission at William & Mary will be hosting an Alternative Gift Fair in the Sadler Center, where you can invest in gifts that support social justice and environmental sustainability. Consider making your own gifts and cards, as well.

Lastly, the spirit of the season contains a strong message of sustainability and environmental responsibility: Be thankful for what have, and most importantly for those immaterial things – friends and family. Integrating sustainable practices into Thanksgiving celebrations may detract from the excessive spending and cooking that have come to define the holiday. At the same time, however, it can put us in touch with the Thanksgiving history of making do with what we have, and emphasize the sense of gratefulness that is at the heart of the holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sharon Hartzell
William & Mary ’14

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