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Green Tip Tuesday – Preparing for Thanksgiving!

Getting ready for Thanksgiving?  Whether you are hosting the Big Meal in your own home, or just bringing a dish to share, there are plenty of ways to make sure our celebrations are as low-impact (financially and environmentally!) as possible.  If you don’t think you can follow all of these guidelines, do what you can.  Something is always better than nothing.

The focus of Thanksgiving celebrations is of course the food, and eating communally with family and loved ones is a time-honored tradition that extends as far back in human history as the concept of celebration itself.  Food, along with architecture and language, is also a basis of all cultures.  Why is that?  Historically, it is because food has always been sourced locally.  Be authentic to your region and discover what foods are being grown or harvested right now in your local area.  Support your local farmers and get the freshest, most nourishing ingredients at the same time.  And think beyond turkey.  If you can’t find one raised locally, ask about duck, goose, or go out on a real limb and braise a grass-fed beef or pork roast, or lambshank.  Small, humane livestock operations produce meat that is cleaner, healthier, and is capable of actually healing the land and building topsoil.  If you live on the coast, as I do, also consider the myriad wild-caught options that the ocean has to offer.

Keeping your food dollars local also keeps that money circulating in your local economy longer, and reduces the need for petroleum to fuel the tractors, trains and trucks that harvest corn and soy in the midwest, ship it to other areas of the US to feed to animals in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), transport the animals to megasized slaughterhouses, and then ship all over the country to grocery store warehouses and finally to retail stores.  

To find out what your area offers, check out these great web-based resources: eat wild, local harvest, and slow food.  Be prepared to find out what real food costs (the great majority of grants and subsidies go to the largest food producers, who also are not held accountable for pollution and unsafe or contaminated food recalls).  If you truly can’t afford to foot the bill for humane, ecologically and farmer friendly meat, don’t give up.  Fresh produce from local farms is often priced comparably (and often cheaper!) than what you can find at your local grocer (which currently travels an average of 1500 miles from where its grown to where its consumed in the US).  Buying local will also teach you a lot about what’s seasonal.  Don’t be afraid to ask your farmer what they do with excess, blemished, or odd-looking produce–you may be able to get a great deal and help them out!

There will, of course, be some staples that will be difficult to source locally (flour, dried pasta, beans, sugar, salt, spices, etc), so for those, head to the nearest bulk bins, pronto!  Not only is it generally cheaper than their pre-packaged counterparts (bring a calculator to compare prices per lb, versus per oz), but you can also reduce waste by bringing your own reusable bags or containers to fill.

When you’re finally ready to start cooking, don’t be suckered by the allure of expensive single- use baking pans.  Besides the obvious downsides of cost and waste, many of them leach chemicals into your food when heated, especially fatty or acidic ingredients.  If you’re running short on baking dishes, ask to borrow some from friends or family who are not hosting their own feast, or head to your local thrift store to score some on the cheap!  (Tip: head to the thrift store nearest the richest ‘hood in your area to find the best cast-offs, and ask staff when they set out new items so you can get there first!)  Some of my favorite pots, dishes, and kitchen gadgets were the result of desperate last minute Goodwill purchases.

When everyone is finally gathered and forming the assembly line to dish up, have you given much thought to what you’ll be eating off of?  Real dishes are more aesthetically pleasing, but if you don’t have enough to go around, disposables can be a tempting solution.  If you (or a neighbor) already composts yard and kitchen waste, most paper plates can be chucked in as well (make sure any meat leftovers gets scraped in to a pet’s bowl or the trash first).  They don’t even need to be the fancy “biodegradable” labeled ones either, although many that are use lower-energy-intensive materials than bleached paper with wax or chemical coatings, so don’t count them out.  Some municipalities have started allowing kitchen compostables to be added to your yard waste bin–check with your disposal company to see if yours does.  Single-use plastic is, of course, the antichrist.  Either avoid bringing it into your home, or wash and reuse as many times as possible!  If you don’t know why, go visit your local dump.  And take your kids.  We need to realize that when we throw something away, there is no “away”–it all goes somewhere.

What kind of eco-friendly solutions has your family found to entertaining quandaries?  What kind of local food based specialties will you be serving?  Anyone using ingredients from their garden?  We’d love to hear!

About the author:  Laura currently works as a domestic goddess, raising one son, a handful of chickens, an ever expanding garden, and selling handmade crafts and beauty items, locally and online. She is passionate about real food, food rights, composting, non-toxic living, and learning lost arts, such as baking, soapmaking, and spinning.  She likes to spend her free time crocheting, reading, or entertaining friends–with food 🙂  She is prone to obsessing over new interests, and is appreciative of her understanding (and handy!) husband.

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