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9 Steps to a Zero Waste Thanksgiving with Style

September 30, 2015 | 0 | posted in GREEN LIVING

Thanksgiving is a favourite holiday of mine - the landscape changes to a golden autumn scene, the family reunites and the food from the earth delights!  It is founded on the ideas of family togetherness, giving, caring and sharing. A time to decorate, be festive and prepare for the big event. But with all this comes consumption, waste and potential environmental irresponsibility.

This holiday, I invite you to join me in thanking Mother Nature with a zero waste eco-friendly Thanksgiving. One that is easy to execute, won’t cost you more and will be full of style and grace.  Just follow these 9 steps:

  1. The Helpful Head Count  Knowing exactly how many people will be attending your Thanksgiving event will guide you on how much food to prepare and beverages to serve. Food waste can really add up throughout the day from hors-d'oeuvre platters, to cheese trays, to beverage and punch tables, not to mention the main event itself - the feast!  Take the time to calculate the appropriate servings based on your head count to save money and reduce unnecessary waste.  Chef Menu offers a smart chart and tips for cooking for a crowd.
  2. Fill Up at the Farmers’ Market  The markets really come alive this time of year and are oh so pretty to take in, along with the fresh crisp autumn air.  Farmers will be showcasing their bounty of fresh, local fruits, harvest vegetables and other wonderful treats.  If you are hosting this year, stock up on all the produce you will need to prepare each dish in addition to extras like gourdes, pumpkins, herbs, nuts and more for a rustic hit of natural décor. See Decorate with NatureWhy the local Farmers’ Market?  Because grocery store food travels an average of 2,500 kms to get to your plate. All this shipping uses large amounts of natural resources (especially fossil fuels), contributes greatly to pollution and creates excess waste with extra packaging. Food at the Farmers’ Market is transported shorter distances and is grown using methods that minimize the impact on the earth. Plus, you will be supporting the family farming industry in your local region.
  3. Décorate with Nature  Reap the benefits of the fall harvest by picking up vegetables with unusual textures and vibrant colour.  Use mini pumpkins and gourds as they convey the very essence of autumn and look beautiful as part of a table centerpiece.  Welcome guests with the invigorating aroma of rosemary by tucking stalks in and around food serving dishes. These stalk look especially pretty on the turkey platter, in bud vases scattered on the table or tucked part way into a napkin fold at each place setting. 
    Forage right outside your own door with earthy elements, free for the taking.  Round up acorns, walnuts, pecans, beechnuts, chestnuts butternuts, hickory nuts and pine nuts as they are all in season this time of year, depending on where you live.  Collect leaves, twigs and branches too.  To add height and drama to an entryway, display branches in a tall sturdy vase and hang acorns in various spots throughout your home with thread or fishing line. 
    Refrain from purchasing a fancy table runner in favour of an artfully placed piece of driftwood or barn board. Stagger harvest vegetables, leaves, nuts, herbs and twigs between condiments and candles for a truly chic effect. 
  4. Don’t Toss the Tableware  Although you may be tempted to use paper plates, paper napkins and plastic cups to simplify the event - don’t. That’s a lot of unnecessary waste and expense. Use your dishes, glassware and napkins and borrow extras as needed. Guests are always looking to contribute and would be happy to lend you the extra pieces you need. Also, don’t be fooled into thinking that hand washing is better for the environment than the dishwasher. With a high efficiency dishwasher, piling in the plates uses less water than washing the dishes by hand as filling up a big sink and running water for rinsing can easily become excessive.
  5. Turkey Mindfulness a Must  The first thing that one needs to know about labels such as "free-range", "free-run", "cage-free", and "natural", is that there are no laws specifying what these labels constitute.  And don’t be fooled by the “hormone-free” label since the FDA bans the use of hormones in all poultry.  The "Certified Organic" label is the only label governed by a third party certification process.  That being said, there are many operators offering authentic conscientiously farmed turkeys even though they are not certified organic. The biggest difference between conscientiously farmed and organic is that the farmer is not required to use certified organic animal feeds. Organic feeds are significantly more expensive than non-organic feeds and sometimes difficult to source locally. This has a large impact on the total cost of production and the affordability of healthier options for many consumers. 
    Visit your local butcher and talk to them about the source of their poultry and the farming practices used.  A relationship with your local butcher and trust in their vendors is an important one to have.  Ask for Free Range Turkey over Free Run. Free Run animals are raised in barns with the ability to roam freely, but do not have access to the outdoors. Free Range turkeys can roam freely rather than being confined. They have the opportunity for movement and sunlight which would be restricted if they were raised in an enclosed environment.  In turn, they have better eye and respiratory healthy from access to fresh air and daylight and they have stronger, healthier bodies because they have the opportunity to exercise.  If a turkey is on the menu, taking these measures will ensure you are consuming a humanely raised bird with total consideration for their health and comfort.
  6. Serve Up a Vegan Specialty  Many people are adopting a vegan lifestyles in order to achieve total well-being and to lead a more eco-conscious life. As the Thanksgiving host, try to offer a vegan dish, regardless if your guests eat meat or not.  A festive feast like this can be heavy on ingredients derived from animals; from turkey to gravy, to cheese infused casseroles, to buttery veggies and milky potatoes.  Adding a vegan dish to the mix will balance out the spread nicely, ease digestion for your guests and perhaps create some awareness on the value of incorporating more plant-based recipes into their lives. 
  7. Isolate the Energy Hogs  A lot of energy is used in the home during Thanksgiving to cook the meal, bake the treats, to heat the home in colder weather and to catch all the live events on TV.  Try limiting the amount of energy used during Thanksgiving by rethinking the key energy hogs.  Consider preparing some no-bake sweet treats to cut down on the use of your energy loving oven. Cook some of the dinner in a slow cooker or other elements that use less energy.  For home heating, ignite the fireplace and create ambiance instead of turning up the thermostat.  Reduce the thermostat in advance of guests arriving and anticipate that the kitchen will become over-heated with the extra crowd and all the cooking.  Limit TV broadcasting to one unit and to critical live event times instead of having it on in the background.  Less television will promote more conversation among family and guests you long to catch up with. 
  8. Beverages Best Practices  Liquor, beer, wine, soda, water and more will joyfully be consumed by guests during Thanksgiving.  Try these best practices to reduce waste: 
    a) Instead of paper or plastic cups, use your glassware to save on waste. To keep track of which glass belongs to who, provide guests with a dry erase marker to add their name to the glass. This will decrease the number of tumblers and wine glasses used throughout the day. 
    b) For frequently consumed drinks, set out a cooler with beverages on ice for guests to help themselves. This will avoid consuming energy through the opening and closing of the refrigerator door letting the cold air out.  Also, set out a pretty pitcher of filtered water and chill with ice. No need for individual plastic bottles of water.
  9. Don’t Be Fooled - Ditch the Foil  Aluminum foil hits this list for three reasons: (1) It leaches harmful levels of aluminum into our foods.  (2) It’s wasteful and harmful to the environment. (3) It is highly consumed during feasts of this magnitude - on roasting turkey, tented on dishes to keep warm and to wrap up all the leftovers.
    Aluminum has been long known to be neurotoxic, with mounting evidence that chronic exposure is a factor in many neurological diseases, including dementia, autism, and Parkinson’s disease. Over time, aluminum can accumulate in your brain and seriously damage your neurological health - regardless of your age. 1   Cooking with it is key to avoid, as the amount  of  leaching  was  found  to  be  high in  acidic  solutions,  and  even  higher  with  the  addition  of spices. 
    Plus, foil manufacturing is a power-intensive process requiring copious amounts of electricity, water and resources to produce. 2  Foil production rates high on fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, human health impacts and aquatic toxicity. 3  
    The Alternative:  Dishes that need to be covered during baking can be accommodated by using a casserole dish with a glass lid. For oven roasting choose stainless steel, glass, cast iron, enameled cast iron or stoneware materials. To cover your dishes after baking, or for food storage, use glass or stainless steel containers that come with a fitted lid.  We love Onyx Containers that are safe and versatile or the simplicity of Abeego Food Storage Flats.  Instead of foil on the turkey during roasting, use cheesecloth soaked in butter and wine and lay it over the breast (baste regularly). Not only is cheesecloth naturally biodegradable and non-toxic (look for unbleached cheesecloth), it will result in a more moist and tender turkey. 

Whether you and your family have a formal sit down feast or a casual pot luck buffet dinner. Be gracious and good to one another and to mother earth...Happy Thanksgiving!

1  Source:  New Study: Alzheimer’s & Aluminum Link Can No Longer Be Ignored

2  Source:  What Aluminum Extraction Really Does to the Environment

3  Source: Is plastic wrap greener than aluminum foil?

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