Falling leaves, pumpkins, a cornucopia and turkeys: Whether we are conscious of it or not, some of the most prevalent Thanksgiving symbols come from nature. No matter where you are in the country, whether the leaves change, the snow falls or you spend Thanksgiving on a beach, you are bound to see some of these influences at your celebration. While surrounded by family and friends, it is easy to fall (pun intended) into old habits. This year, why not show how thankful you really are by committing to going green with your Thanksgiving celebration?
Here are some ways we suggest you celebrate. After all, the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of a bountiful harvest.
1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
* Try to use as much reusable dinnerware as possible. Many times, people have more people over than the usual dinner and that can mean not enough plates and forks. If it isn't possible to use reusable dinnerware, encourage people to reuse their plates when going for that second helping of mashed potatoes and peas (Don't lie, we all know you are going for it). Have an easy way for your guests to recycle their waste, be it plastic, glass, aluminum or paper. Have separate bins or baskets next to the trash so that no one has to make a trip around the dining area before looking for that perfect place to crash after the meal.
* Make your food and scraps help with your next big meal by composting them. Starting from the food preparation to that last bit of mashed potatoes left on your plate from when your eyes were bigger than your stomach, collect the scraps and start a compost bin.
* At the end of the meal, send your guests home with leftovers in the containers that you purchased some of your ingredients in, such as butter tubs, cranberry boxes or any other empty container with a lid.
2. Buy Locally Grown Food. Purchase produce and baked goods from local farms and small businesses. By purchasing locally, you are reducing the carbon footprint of your food by limiting its transportation. You also are supporting the local economy and giving a homegrown feel to the celebration, especially with heirloom produce. And there is no smell better than that of walking into a bakery and picking out a fresh loaf of bread direct from the oven.
3. Buy Organic. While on the subject of food, purchasing organic produce and meat is an easy way to green your Thanksgiving meal. Chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers not only leech into the surrounding environment where they are used, but also can have negative effects on human health, if not properly washed. If you are looking for a meat option for your Thanksgiving meal, purchase meat raised without antibiotics or artificial hormones, and while at it, since for many it isn't Thanksgiving without turkey, make sure your poultry is free-range. Remember, the first turkeys were all free range! While at it, serve organic and fair-trade coffee. and chocolate as your post meal, pre-food coma pick-me-up.
4. Go Meatless. OK, before you stop reading and seek me out as a blasphemer, many people don't have turkey on Thanksgiving. If you don't want to stray too far from tradition, think about making a turkey alternative, from using tofu seasoned around stuffing to an alternative dish completely, (I know people that celebrate with stuffed shells or a nut loaf).
5. Make your own eco-friendly decorations. Use newspaper or brown bags to make placemats or paper turkeys. Use the twine that the produce may have come in to tie napkins around silverware. Collect leaves from the yard to make a fall-themed centerpiece, or flowers from the garden for a bouquet.
6. Celebrate Close-to-Home or Travel Green. The days surrounding Thanksgiving see some of the highest traffic of the year. If possible, celebrate with friends and family close to home and invite your neighbors into your celebration; that is what started this tradition in the first place, right?
7. If you must go over the river and through the woods, try to make your travel as green as possible. Make sure your car is in good condition, full tires, carpool when possible and avoid peak travel times to reduce idling in traffic, wasting gas and releasing unnecessary emissions. If you are flying to your destination, consider purchasing carbon credits to offset the emissions from your flight. The typical long haul flight produces nearly four tons of carbon dioxide.
Turn Black Friday into Green Friday. The day after Thanksgiving can be a warzone at shopping malls, but don't forget about your local boutiques and products. Pay attention to where your purchases originate. Many products give back to local communities as well as donate to environmental causes. If the product is not domestic, make sure that the country of origin has sound environmental practices. If you are not set on shopping, stay home and start a new tradition, like planting a garden, do a family service project, create a family act of green, or recycle old toys at a local charity for other families to enjoy.
Traditionally when we think of Thanksgiving, we think of oranges, reds and browns, but green goes with everything. When coming together with your family and friends, as everyone reflects on what they are thankful for, remember that the first Thanksgiving was to celebrate surviving in a new land; a strange, beautiful place that sustained a new life for one group and had been a long time home to another. The earth is our home and we should always be thankful for what it provides. As we move into this holiday season and New Year, we should all show how thankful we are for this planet and the home it provides by giving back to it as much as it has given us.
Rogers is President of Earth Day Network.