Giving Thanks Sustainably

In just five days, families across the country and Americans around the world will be sitting down to a Thanksgiving feast. Grandma’s pumpkin pie, Mom’s mashed potatoes, and Dad’s creative turkey carving technique make their yearly debut. I myself have my own preparation:

  1. Develop creative yet plausible answers when asked by friends and family why I am still single.
  2. Pick an outfit that simultaneously implies “boyfriend worthy” while incorporating an elastic waistband.
  3. Spend 24-48 hours directly follow the Thanksgiving meal simultaneously impressed and mortified that my body consumed as many calories as it did. 

But I must consider another point on my list of Thanksgiving “to-do’s”– eating and celebrating sustainably. Here are 5 ways to be sustainable on November 22.

Buy local: Who doesn’t want that personal connection between farmer and consumer, smiling as loose bills and parsnips exchange hands? Participating in CSAs (Community supported agriculture), farm shares, or the occasional stop to the farmer’s market benefits the local economy and supports the agriculture in your geographic region. Or prepare now for next year and harvest carrots and potatoes from your own garden!

Eat seasonally: This is more difficult for us Northeastern folks who exhaust the ways root vegetables can be cooked, sautéed, broiled, boiled, roasted, blanched, and pureed. Increasing your awareness of growing seasons however, can make a huge impact on your carbon footprint. Brussel sprouts, served with caramelized butter and maple syrup, were picked 20 miles away and taste incredible. Compare them to store-bought berries or tomatoes and chances are they were flown to your table from Florida, picked before they were ripe in order to make the 1,150 mile journey.

Go to the Source: I am the biggest culprit when it comes to canned goods. Baking, cooking you name it. Last month, I made muffins with a can of Trader Joe’s Organic Canned Pumpkin. Organic yes, but the pumpkin I used came all the way from Willamette Valley in Oregon. Definitely NOT local. Recently my housemate Julie made a pumpkin pie with pumpkins from a nearby farm stand. She roasted them on a baking dish and scooped out the softened orange pulp. The finished product was lighter in color than traditional pumpkin pies but had the most amazing flavor. So try roasting your own pumpkin or making homemade cranberry sauce. And don’t forget to toast the leftover seeds for a delicious snack.

Mind the meat: It’s true. Raising animals for food takes an incredible amount of energy and puts a significant strain on the planet. And while I don’t expect every family to go vegetarian, consider decreasing the number of meat dishes on the table. Do you really need a turkey, ham and mini hot dog appetizer? Experiment with new, delicious veggie recipes that leave your guests feeling fully satisfied and less stuffed at the end of the meal. Still need your turkey fix? For the past two years, my mom has reserved a Thanksgiving turkey from a local organic, free-range farm near our house. The sticker price is steeper than a traditional Butterball, but the externalized impact from animal cruelty, mass production, and added preservatives makes our local bird a no-brainer. Plus, available websites like EatWild and Local Harvest now allow customers to type in their zip code and find sustainable farms locally.

Spread the love: Sustainability extends beyond our dining room table. Many food pantries and homeless shelters provide Thanksgiving meals served in-house or deliver meals to those who cannot afford the luxuries we take for granted. This season, consider purchasing produce or canned goods to donate to your local pantry. I remember in high school, my friends and I drove around the area dropping off baskets of stuffing, gravy, cans of beans, pie crush and turkeys. We gave thanks by extending our love and fortune to those who were struggling to make ends meet. 

So there you have it folks. Take a moment to consider the environment while preparing this Thanksgiving. Stuff your faces and be thankful for everything, every person, and every good thing in your life. Go forward with a loving heart, a reflective mind and full stomach.

Also check out: Vegetarian Thanksgiving, Other Thanksgiving Tips

To Jenna:

I found your wallet and purse while I was walking back to my car tonight. It was next to the gym just after the little parking lot, you know? The girl working the gym’s front desk, Melissa, tried really hard to find a phone number that matched your name or address. She even called 411 but it wasn’t any use. I think she is going to drop it off at your apartment tonight. She said you live really close. 

Your cash and credit cards were gone when I found it. I hope that doesn’t make you too sad. Brush, mascara, Sears gift cards–totally intact. What an awful feeling it is to lose something…or have something stolen. A violation, that’s what it is. The young man who stole my phone right out of my hand, he never looked back. I think he knew what it felt like. Maybe he feels like that all the time. 

It’s 10:50pm. Maybe Melissa brought your purse back to you already. I sure hope so. 

Food Before a Storm

The month of November has arrived, quietly, like a cat on silent paws. We have survived one storm and are preparing for the next. One stole power from millions of homes, caused great destruction and left New York City under water. The other storm will make landfall on November 6th, causing just as much preparation, fierce winds and long-lasting consequences.

On Monday, all the schools closed early as western Massachusetts waited in anxious anticipation of Sandy’s fury. Those that remembered the Halloween snow storm a year ago, who had gone 10 days without power, stocked up on bottled water and spare generators. Would this storm be worse than before? 

My house had prepared too. Pots were filled with water when I arrived home and a fire was crackling in our wood stove. I started the dinner preparations and soon all of us were cutting, washing or stirring. Roasted parsnips, carrots and eggplant. Quinoa. Red wine and walnut cream roll for dessert. As the wind picked up and the rain began to beat against the house, we feasted in the warmth of our kitchen. But how were my friends closer to the storm? 

Me: Ah! I just saw that 2.2 million people lost power. Be safe!

Jen: I’m baking homemade oatmeal peanut butter cookies for the storm.

Two college friends, miles apart, were preparing for Frankenstorm in the same way–by eating. I watched recipes for soups, baked goods and cookies fly down my Twitter feed set to #sandy. Online news articles discussed the need for comfort foods before a storm. Apparently my little house wasn’t the only one stocking up by stuffing our faces.

How old is this tradition? The question brings us back to the second storm but not to foreign policy, woman’s rights or gun control. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook educates best, “Loaf cakes made with yeast were popular in New England…as far back as the early 1800’s. Election cake (also know as March Meeting Cake) was often baked on election days and allegedly sold and served only to those who voted a straight ticket. The loaf is deliciously moist and spicy.”

The Election Cake has cloves, mace, nutmeg, and hidden tastes of dried figs. On Tuesday, I plan to sink my teeth into a slice regardless of the political outcome, consequences of climate change or increased hour of daylight savings time. With such uncertainty, what else can we do but surround ourselves with friends and good food?