Here's an honest guide to a more sustainable Thanksgiving - Leaf'd

Here’s an honest guide to a more sustainable Thanksgiving

by Eli Mann

Heritage Turkeys

Each year it’s estimated that we eat about 46 million turkeys in the U.S. On Thanksgiving. Some of those presumably being Heritage Turkeys. Heritage Turkey is a term referring to any of the species of domestic turkeys native to the United States. As of recently, however, the term has been used to refer to free-range or farm-raised turkeys bred without antibiotics or plumped with grain feed. Instead, these turkeys range freely, eating insects and living a more ‘natural’ existence. What happens to them between their wild vacation and your doorstep? After they’re cleaned, they’re loaded onto trucks and shipped out to drop points local to customers who ordered these artisanal holiday birds. On the average, these ‘craft birds’ can cost up to twice as much, if not more, for that heritage moniker, and not because it’s local, not necessarily because it’s sustainable, but because it only ate what was available where and got lots of fresh air and exercise; think survivor turkey.


What about tofurkys? Surely they’re more sustainable than actual store-bought turkeys, right? They’re typically made of soybean-based tofu or wheat-based seitan, and there’s less waste and no harmful side effects from animal farming. However, according the World Wildlife Federation, expanding soybean production is partially responsible for growing threats to the climate, wildlife and the livelihoods of local people in soybean-dominant farmland – especially small farmers being impacted by large-scale farming and being incentivized to concentrate on the singular crop. The other vegan holiday meat alternative is seitan, which is made from wheat gluten; while the environmental footprint of wheat is lower than both traditional livestock and soybeans, it’s by no means ideal. That’s not to say not to get a tofurky if you were already planning on having one for the holiday, but not to simply enable a growing demand for soy products as a nutritional staple by opting to offer a tofu alternative for sustainability reasond. Soy is by no means healthier for you than meat. In fact, a recent study revealed that a steady diet of soy products may lead to serious health problems. In the case of meat-alternative turkey options, seitan reigns supreme.

Farm Shares and CSAs

Becoming a part of a farm-share or a CSA can be a lot more sustainable than going to a grocery store, and it’s important to know the details of their impact as well. The farm-to-table movement has been creating a direct conduit between farms and restaurants, and has seen significant growth in recent years. The notion behind locally sourcing meat and produce is that it’s a significantly more sustainable option. Your farm share or market produce have to travel to you, sometimes from as much as thousands of miles away. This expends many times more fuel for arrival, but with a farm-share or CSA it typically cuts that mileage down. Additionally, if you live in a community where many residents receive the same farm share, frequent stops in closer proximity to each other would have a smaller impact, reducing the overall mileage of the delivery vehicle. It may surprise you that given the small number of people who receive farm shares in urban areas, the cost of transit domestically from a single origin farm to a supermarket may be more sustainable. If you’re buying produce that is not available year-round such as tomatoes or strawberries, the knowledge that they had to come from much farther away, possibly even from outside the country, should be a red flag that what you’re buying isn’t sustainable at all. Though many of the items you find in the grocery store are from all over the country, they ship in bulk, making a limited number of trips to be brought to a single destination point for purchase. Then it’s up to consumers as to how they carry their purchases from the market – by car, bus, on foot, or a bicycle. The environmental impact of something like a CSA, in which those that receive the food either share in the cost of production or volunteer their time to work on the farm, is infinitely the most sustainable option. Not only is the consumer part of the farming process, but typically takes the produce when he leaves the farm – the labor and delivery method in one trip. However, many of us live in urban areas far from farms, and working on one is not a viable option. In the end, it isn’t necessarily about where you buy your food so much as where it’s sourced from. You can pay attention to where your yams came from – if they grow there that time of year, etc. Ask yourself, “do I really need (insert very specific ingredient included in a holiday dish) for that recipe or can I replace it with something more seasonal?” You can do more, you can do less, but hey, Thanksgiving is only once a year, and out of those 46 million turkeys, do you think anyone’s going to ask my turkey where it grew up?
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