A Thoughtful Thanksgiving

sustainable thanksgiving tips title over a photo of Thanksgiving foods

Thanksgiving is trotting our way, and we have some tips for making Turkey (or “Tofurky”) Day a little more sustainable. Quitting old habits cold-turkey (we hope you like puns) is not easy, so do what works for you and make sustainable choices when you can. Read below for some of our tips to have a more thoughtful Thanksgiving.

Use Reusables

Try using reusable dishes, cutlery, glasses, and napkins for your meal, rather than their single-use paper, plastic, and aluminum counterparts. Think you don’t have enough reusables? You’ll be amazed at what you can thrift: plate sets, utensils, drinking glasses, pitchers, casseroles dishes, and even pie pans can be found at thrift stores. We love the idea of creating a party collection of reusables from thrifting fun dishes that you can use for years and years! If you’re hosting a large gathering, consider a Bring-Your-Own-Plate request, which can extend to utensils, drinking glasses, and more. (This makes for a much easier cleanup, too!)

Shop Local and Bulk First

Shop at your local farmers’ market before heading to the grocery store. Locally grown produce travels wayyyyy fewer miles than most produce found in grocery stores (which means significantly less carbon emissions), and it’s often grown using organic or low-pesticide practices. Knoxville’s Market Square Farmers’ Market will be up and running the Saturday before Thanksgiving (November 19, from 9 am to 1 pm) – but heads up: it will be closed the Saturday following Thanksgiving. Check out Nourish Knoxville’s map of Farmers’ Markets in East Tennessee to find a market close to you (and be sure it’s open!). Don’t forget about all of the bulk options at Three Rivers Market, Whole Foods, and Earthfare, which can help reduce single-use containers.

Consider a Plant-Forward Menu

Thanksgiving is sometimes referred to as “Turkey Day,” and for good reason… Roughly 46 million turkeys are eaten in the U.S. each Thanksgiving, and it’s estimated that about 90% of Americans gobble down turkey on Turkey Day. That’s a lot of turkeys, not to mention other popular Thanksgiving meats like ham and roast beef! Unfortunately, meat and animal products have a big impact on our environment. But if you love turkey on Thanksgiving, we don’t want to ruffle your feathers! Even simply decreasing your meat consumption can make a difference. Try a new tofu, lentil, or mushroom recipe to replace just a portion of the meat on your table this year. Or diversify your casserole portfolio with the hundreds of various casserole recipes out there – many Thanksgiving recipes are already vegetarian or can easily be made vegetarian.

If you’re ready to take flight into a fully plant-based Thanksgiving, it usually just takes a few simple swaps to turn those vegetarian recipes into vegan recipes: swap cow’s milk for oat milk, butter for dairy-free butter (paper-wrapped options available!), cream for coconut milk or cream. Plant-based cheeses, whipped cream, sour cream, and even heavy whipping cream can be found in grocery stores. To make it a little easier for you, we’ve attached some plant-based Thanksgiving recipes below that’ll leave you absolutely stuffed.

Be Mindful of Leftovers

We love leftovers, as long as they get eaten! If leftovers aren’t your thing, try halving your recipes, or share your food with friends. Use returnable tupperware or dishes to avoid single-use containers. One of our favorite ideas for sharing food is to pack it in thrifted plates, bowls, and small casserole dishes – cover it with beeswax, and your friends will be thankful for the reusable party favor!

If your leftovers don’t make it to your belly in time, compost them in your home compost, at the City of Knoxville’s compost drop off, or with Green Heron Compost. Food scraps can also be composted (and some can be used to make vegetable broth and other fun scrap recipes)!

Get Creative with Decor

Plastic pumpkins, floral pieces, and turkeys fly off the shelves in home goods stores as people decorate for fall. Instead, opt for real decorations in your home. Buy pumpkins and squash from your local farmers and nurseries (and then use them for a recipe!), and grab a fall bouquet from a local flower farm while you’re there. Pine cones, leaves, berries, and acorns from your backyard can make a beautiful centerpiece or art project. Dried oranges, cardboard boxes, and old fabric can be used to make beautiful homemade decorations. And if DIY isn’t your thing, check out thrift stores to find adorable pre-loved Thanksgiving and fall decor!

And of course, don’t forget to come prepared to your Thanksgiving meal with some more turkey facts and puns!

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