Zero Waste Thanksgiving?

Gobble, gobble, North Americans, and Happy Thanksgiving (belated, to all the Canadians).  I really have no reason for celebrating Thanksgiving; I was born in Germany, where no such day exists, though some regions celebrate “Erntedankfest”, a thanks for the harvest.  I did not grow up celebrating Erntedankfest.  And then we left.

In 1995 we emigrated to Canada, and at this time of year we did many weird activities in school, like painting and colouring turkeys, counting pumpkins, and discussing food.  I didn’t get it.  I was 8, and my sister was 9, and we brought the Thanksgiving madness home to our parents: we MUST eat a turkey on this day!  Why?  Who knows?! 

I don’t know much about the history of Thanksgiving, only that it became a holiday in the U.S.A. because of a rare harmonic occasion of pilgrims and Native Americans coming together in a feast to celebrate a corn harvest.  The Native Americans taught the pilgrims how to cultivate corn, catch fish, avoid poisonous native plants, and use the sap of the maple trees.  They also brought deer to the harvest.

That menu has since changed.  Now, the tradition is to mass-feast on turkey or ham (or turkey AND ham), mashed potatoes, oodles of gravy, and what the hell even is stuffing?!  We shop, cook, and eat to excess, and many households end up throwing a lot of food away; food waste is insanely out of control, as we are throwing away about 40% of food that is grown.  With the statistics on food waste, it is disgraceful that we still have families who do not have enough food to eat.

There is a (more sustainable) method to this madness.

I caught the tradition bug this year.  Since being in Canada, my mother always made a turkey for Thanksgiving until 2002.  Since then I have celebrated sporadic TG dinners with other families.  This year, though, having a one year old with Canadian AND German roots, I really wanted to roast a turkey for the first time.  We had family in town from Newfoundland, so it made sense to host a dinner, but I needed to stick to my values and not get caught up in the madness.

This is where the more sustainable method comes in.  First, we chose to do it up potluck style, everyone brings a dish.  Then, we kept portions reasonable to avoid having to throw out any food; this meant really thinking about how many people you had to feed, and keeping in mind there will be other food to eat if one thing happens to run out.  Then we sourced locally and organic as much as we could, and shared the leftovers:

  • vegetables for roasting came from our local farmers market and Kootenay Farm-to-Folk in Cranbrook
  • fruit for stuffing also from local farmers and KFTF
  • bread from Niwas Rustic Breads in Kimberley
  • pie was homemade with BC apples (and LOVE)
  • gravy made from turkey drippings, and broth made from cooking the giblets
  • turkey came from an organic BC farm
  • bread for stuffing came from crust and crumbs I save in a jar

Regardless, this was not a zero waste Thanksgiving, though it could be, if you changed it up.

  1. Poultry, especially whole birds, are ALWAYS sold in vacuum-sealed plastic.  The only way to avoid this would be to a) not have a bird, or b) take a roasting pan directly to the farm and say “LOAD ‘ER UP!”  Have any of you done that?
  2. The cranberry sauce comes in a can.  Honestly, I don’t know if they grow locally because I am not a cranberry expert!  To avoid this, you could a) not have cranberry sauce, b) DIY cranberry sauce with local fruit, or c) make some kind of other just-as-good-fruit-jello-mush-sauce.
  3. My sister brought a tofurkey, which came plastic-wrapped.  To avoid this, we could have a) not have a tofurkey, or b) not have a tofurkey.  I’m sure there are endless recipes for vegetarian and vegan dishes that would be 1000 times better than a lump of soy (sorry, sis).
  4. There were still bones and guts that had to be thrown away.  The only way to avoid that would be to not have a bird.  I used parts of it to make broth and gravy, so it was not completely wasted.  I have heard of people drying and grinding the bones into meal and either using it in cooking or composting it.  But I’m not going there.
  5. I used and threw out one lemon (definitely not local) and one onion (local) to put into the turkey during roasting time.  The stuffing was not stuffed into the bird, so it was all eaten as a side dish.

How do you Thanksgiving? If you don’t, are there other traditional holidays you celebrate where a huge meal is had?  How do you avoid food waste?  How do you avoid plastic?



One comment

  1. Great post! I always enjoy reading, especially hearing about you and Yvonne’s first impressions about Thanksgiving in Canada – ha! Makes you think about how many things we just do in our culture because we just “always have done them”. Anyways, I am not a leftovers fan, so I have learned that with turkey dinner leftovers (from Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas) it can be fun to dress them up as other dishes throughout the week to use the leftovers up. Turning mashed potatoes into Shepherds Pie, using turkey for a casserole (eating that week or freezing it for a yummy meal later), and of course turkey sandwiches and soup are always a favourite! Thanks for sharing, I’m looking forward to checking out Kootenay Farm to Folk too!


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