How to have a green Thanksgiving

A succulent (possibly kosher) turkey


Steve Chiotakis: Grocery stores will be packed this weekend, as people grab up Thanksgiving fixings. What does all that eating, traveling and family visiting mean for the environment?

We've called on Marketplace Sustainability reporter Adriene Hill to help us out. Good morning Adriene.

Adriene Hill: Good morning, Steve.

CHIOTAKIS: So a big green thumbs up or green thumbs down on Thanksgiving?

HILL: You know, it would be super easy to apply the whole bummer environmental vibe to yet another American tradition.

CHIOTAKIS: Like a Debbie Downer.

HILL: But it's no fun. I don't want to be that reporter. Yes, the best thing you can do on Thanksgiving is to sit at home, alone in the dark, without any heat, don't eat anything -- you'll save a ton of carbon that way. But I really like Thanksgiving. So instead I want to focus on how you can make the holiday more environmentally-friendly.


HILL: One of the most significant environmental impacts is all the travel. A lot of us -- myself included -- are going to go to airport and fly long distances to be with people we care about. And there's not much you can do to make that flying much more efficient. But when you are packed into the middle seat and jammed up with no legroom and a crying baby on one side, just know that your flight's very efficient when it's all packed full like that. And feel a little better about it.

CHIOTAKIS: A full flight is better than an empty one?

HILL: It is. If you're driving, it would help to get your car tuned up and your tire pressure checked before you go. That'll save on gas costs. And you might consider carpooling with dear Aunt Mildred.

CHIOTAKIS: Aw, Aunt Mildred, she's nice. What about the Thanksgiving meal?

HILL: Well turkey in the scheme of things is not a bad choice; it takes a lot less fuel to make a turkey than a lamb or a cow. So keep the turkey and maybe ditch the roast beef. Of course, if you're that kind of guy, Steve, you could consider a veggie holiday. If you're really serious about reducing your environmental impact.

CHIOTAKIS: No, no. I'm just going to feel good about not eating beef, how about that?

HILL: Fair enough. There's another way to make the holiday more sustainable without abandoning your family or your traditions.

CHIOTAKIS: What's that?

HILL: Just don't waste as much food. Cook fewer pies, or better yet, invite more people over to eat them. Over the course of the year, Americans throw out about a quarter of their food. They're wasting all the energy it takes to make and cook that food. By wasting less food, you'll waste less energy. And then you'll get to eat all those delicious leftovers.

CHIOTAKIS: Yeah, the leftovers, I love that. Mm! Thanks Adriene.

HILL: Thanks Steve.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
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My husband and I live away from our respective families, so we attended Thanksgiving buffet at a nearby restaurant that we enjoy visiting. We did not have to drive far, and we did not have to buy and cook a meal just for two of us.

We were able to enjoy a sumptuous meal in quiet, elegant and relaxed surroundings, and were able to do our little part in preserving our environment.

Correction to my comment below: Of course, I meant the least you can do it *not* eat a turkey.

Thanks to educating ourselves, meaning thanks to watching "Food, Inc." and reading Michael Pollan, we are celebrating our first all vegan Thanksgiving. First reason to be grateful? Thanks to early adopters like Steve Wynn and Bill Clinton, we don't feel weird. In fact, we could easily feel a little smarmy.

Why'd you bother to do this piece if you have little credible, reasonable solutions besides checking tire pressure (something you should have done anyway, if you still own a car).

I was very disappointed to hear on the program this morning your reporter mocking the idea of a vegetarian Thanksgiving. How unfortunate that on this program, which is usually so even-handed and progressive, that you should scoff at the idea of eating a meatless Thanksgiving dinner because it is against "tradition." If you are serious about making your holiday more environmentally friendly yet still insist on cooking ridiculous amounts of food and traveling cross-country, the least you can do is cut your environmental impact by cooking and eating an animal that has used an inordinate amount of energy to be housed (albeit probably inhumanely), fed, slaughtered, transported, frozen, and stored.

I just finished listening to this piece. While choosing turkey over beef is the lesser of two evils environmentally speaking, there are still significant environmental impacts associated with poultry production (just ask anything or anyone dwelling in a watershed near a poultry operation). Additionally, from a humane and ethical standpoint, turkeys (and all poultry) are exempt from the Humane Slaughter Act, so there is no legal guarantee that your bird has been slaughtered in the least painful way. Not something to feel good about. I hope in the future, Mr. Chiotakis can keep the derision out of his voice when contemplating a vegetarian or vegan meal.

I'd also add that hearing Ms. Hill buying into the "environmentalists are such bummers" vibe - even in jest - is discouraging!

Thanks for these reports.

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