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Taking the High-Road on Turkey Day

With a tradition as deeply established as Thanksgiving, taking some extra time to change our habits toward more sustainable practices can seem overwhelming.  What if Aunt Bessy comes to the feast only to find real, organic cranberry sauce in place of the sugar-laden gelatin product she is so accustomed to? We here at the MUM Sustainable Living Department have sewn together this guide to a more sustainable Thanksgiving that will be tighter than the sweater Aunt Bessy so kindly made for you last year. We even have MUM special guest alumna Monica “The Compost Queen” Moscovici to help us navigate the food scrap aftermath of the day.

5. Compost Food Scraps with “The Compost Queen”

If we are careful to prepare as close to what we will consume as possible, we can end up with fewer extra scraps at the end. However, while it is fair to say leftovers are inevitable, Monica teaches us why they definitely don’t need to be a bad thing!

“While maybe new and different for a first-timer,” she says, “The best and easiest way to deal with food scraps, especially in the cold weather, is Vermicomposting. The most popular and comprehensive book on the subject is ‘Worms Eat My Garbage’ by Mary Applehof.  Someone who is interested in this could also get a lot of info from YouTube videos. For a person who is less serious about composting and more interested in low-maintenance gardening, they could plan to use the Thanksgiving veggies in a lasagna garden prep for next season. Finally, the simplest solution of them all would be to just dig a hole in the ground and bury the food.

“Fall is a great time of year for enriching soil with compost. Everything gets covered and insulated in snow and the microbes do their thing until spring, when you can use it.

“One word of warning on adding meats to compost – Be sure to do your research first. We want to avoid E. Coli in our soil, and some meats will create this bad bacteria. Keeping meats out of your compost may be the best plan for now.”

With a little motivation, planning, and education, anyone can be a Compost Hero and turn the leftovers from Thanksgiving into a new composting tradition.

4. Always Carpool

Thanksgiving often means getting our families together in one location. Though it can be a challenge to everyone’s schedules, taking some extra time to plan a route where relatives can be picked up can save a significant amount of fossil fuel usage. Taking a slight detour with one car is still about twice as efficient as a second car traveling the entire route. Besides, ’tis the season for extra family time!

3. Locally Sourced Food and Decorations

During the months approaching winter, we can all appreciate reaping the harvest of our hard-working farmers. If you know the original story of Thanksgiving, you know Squanto brought together the local Native communities with the new settlers for a celebratory feast. Thanksgiving is as much a community event as it is a family event. As a new tradition, set aside a few afternoons in November for trips to your local Farmer’s Market. By supporting these important members of our communities, we can ensure they are able to continue providing us with a way to avoid products arriving at supermarkets on trucks.  The transportation cost of produce and meats is staggering.

According to Tom Stars at, “It takes about 10 fossil fuel calories to produce and transport each food calorie in the average American diet. So if your daily food intake is 2,000 calories, then it took 20,000 calories to grow that food and get it to you.”

Tom goes on to explain how this adds up to about 930 gallons of gasoline per year, per family!

On a lighter note, buying items like gourds, pumpkins, and hand-made crafts at Farmer’s Markets is a great way to further support these folks while ticking decorations off of your holiday task list. Give it a shot!

2. Organic Food

While the main difference between organic and conventional food is the chemicals used, organic food also has another benefit beyond your health.  The chemicals used in conventional agriculture affect the environment and animals at astronomically higher levels as by-product.  Due to loose regulations, these chemicals become even more abundant in the form of run-off.  Ultimately, while cheaper at the register for consumers, extra costs for conventional food are built into what we pay in taxes for environmental clean-up efforts.  Organic food may cost more up-front, but, by spending a little extra, you can enjoy your feast knowing you are playing a role in the health of not only our planet, but our economy, too.

The greatest impact a person can have is to choose a vegan diet.  A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute.

Are we saying Thanksgiving should happen with no turkey?! Actually, yes, we are.  And while the first scary image that comes to mind might be a “tofurkey,” rest assured, these products are typically highly processed and you should definitely avoid them.

Alternatives to turkey and meat can be as creative as you are. VegKitchen is a great place to get started and learn new recipes.

A tradition of locally sourced, organic, whole-foods make our bodies, and families, feel loved.

1. Finally, An Obvious One – Sustainability of Your Health!

Get out there and walk around!  Yes, Thanksgiving typically tends to be the day of the year we can allow a little extra eating, a little extra drinking, and a whole bunch of extra sitting.  Walking after meals can be considered a healthy tradition on any day of the year.  So, if you decide to push the margins on our favorite family fun feast, take it to the streets, or a nice trail, and enjoy these last beautiful moments of fall!

Your body will thank you for the love, and after all, a longer living healthy body that practices stewardship of the Earth is the greatest gift we can give to our planet.

Thanks for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris Vasques is currently working on his BA in Sustainable Living with a focus on Community Building and Psychology. Chris has been a musician for the last 20 years and has developed professional skills in writing, marketing, and design.