Celebrate smarter with sustainable food hacks this holiday | Earth Day Network

By Jillian Semaan

The holidays are traditionally a time of vast overconsumption —from holiday parties with rich offerings (and a lot of food waste) to Black Friday-fueled shopping sprees.

I understand that the holidays can be one of the hardest times of the year to maintain eco-friendly habits and make environmentally conscious choices. But one way you can protect our planet this holiday is right on your plate, by reducing your foodprint.

A foodprint measures the environmental impacts associated with growing, producing, transporting and storing our food — from natural resources consumed to pollution produced to greenhouse gases emitted. (Check out our Foodprints for Future campaign to learn more.)

Since many holidays are incorporated around food, what better way to live more sustainably than through more conscious food choices? Here are a couple quick tips to reduce your foodprint this year:

Swap animals for plants

First, the bad news: Animal agriculture is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and is the leading cause of deforestation, water and air pollution and biodiversity loss.

Now, the good news: There are plenty of plant-based dishes that are delicious and good for the planet!

Not ready to commit to overhauling your whole holiday menu? One easy step toward a plant-based diet is to omit dairy from some or all your recipes. When making a side dish or dessert, use…

  • An alternative beverage like oat, rice, pea or almond instead of cow’s milk.
  • Flax seeds or applesauce instead of eggs.
  • Vegan butter (olive oil- or almond-based) or avocado instead butter.

I promise that by making these swaps, you will not miss out on anything. To be honest, you probably will have more energy and won’t feel sluggish — you may even want to run that holiday morning 5K.

Be mindful of food waste

When cooking and cleaning up your holiday feast, be mindful of your food waste. In the United States alone, about 30 and 40 percent food is wasted — the equivalent to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food trashed annually.

One way to cut down on all this waste is to consider your scraps. I love to freeze my onions, acorn squash, asparagus and pepper scraps. Then, whenever I am ready to make soup, I can make a delicious broth out of them.

Also, compost! Composting has the power to slow down climate change — landfills are the third-largest source of human-caused greenhouse gases in the U.S. — and helps regenerate our soil. So, throw your scraps (here’s what you can and can’t compost) into the garden or a composting bin.

If your soil doesn’t need it, your local farmers market may accommodate. If you don’t have a local farmers market, talk to friends, family and neighbors. Between everyone, I’m sure there’s somewhere local in need of some natural fertilizers.

To avoid dealing with leftovers (and food babies), make only as much food as you need. It’s easy to calculate, too. Use a guest-imator — a dinner party calculator that estimates how much food you’ll need to keep your guests happy — to save money and time post-dinner.

Then relax (guilt-free)!

After working all day to make a beautiful, environmentally friendly Thanksgiving feast, curl up with some of Earth Day Network’s favorite climate-related books. Or continue on the Foodprints grind and watch Game Changers on Netflix — a documentary about the rise of plant-based eating, ground breaking science and how adopting a plant-based lifestyle strengthens the performance of athletes.

The documentary even features Dotsie Bausch, Olympic cyclist and Foodprints for Future ambassador, as she discusses how going plat-based improved her athletic performance (there’s still time to consider running that holiday 5K!).

Let’s be mindful of the food choices we make this holiday season and the impact these choices have on our health and planet. You may even have fun showing younger generations how to cook holiday dinner for a more sustainable future.

Together we can make a difference, one bite at a time. Join the movement. Eat delicious foods. Share what you learn.


Jillian Semaan is the food and environment director at Earth Day Network.