Green Holiday Feasts
December 7, 2023
The winter holidays offer a chance for family and friends to come together to break bread, but why not make these moments eco-friendly? They present a golden opportunity to have fun and be kind to our incredible planet, for all of us to try to exercise our green muscle memory by approaching grocery shopping with mindfulness.
Food accounts for 10-30% of household carbon footprints in the United States. Food production contributes to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, water scarcity, soil erosion, and biodiversity loss. Even more so, the food industry takes up about 40% of all land on earth.
Unsustainable food production amplifies all of these environmental concerns and causes more issues to arise. In particular, unsustainable food production is a threat to food security. These practices lacking environmental compatibility are more heavily impacted by climate change, making them especially susceptible to extreme weather patterns.
Choose sustainable ingredients to start eco-friendly holiday traditions and effectively reduce the impact of this year’s festivities.
Holiday Main Dishes
The centerpiece dish differs by household, with options like turkey, beef, and ham. Consider sustainable choices too, as meat has a higher carbon footprint per calories than grains or vegetables. In 2021, livestock emitted 195 million metric tons of CO2e (a carbon dioxide equivalent) of methane, a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) contributing to global warming. In addition, raising livestock demands excessive water usage and the use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance as well.
If you still want to enjoy meat, try and pick meat that is produced sustainably, as it is generally of higher quality and environmentally friendly. It is raised without antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, or fertilizers, and affords better conditions for the animals. As well as healthier options for human beings!
There are a range of sustainable meats to choose from, some more accessible than others. One is a free-range or free-roaming animal, mimicking natural conditions. The slightly better option is locally-sourced meat. Albeit pricer, it ensures transparency in farming practices and feeding programs. The immediate financial costs may be high, but they are less environmentally costly and pay off in the long run.
Alternatively you could try making a non-meat ingredient the star of the meal, like a fantastic nut roast, mushroom stroganoff or a hearty vegetable casserole. Not only are these more environmentally friendly, they will probably work out cheaper too.
All The Extras & Sides
We all want to enjoy the sides of roasted vegetables, butternut squash, and french bean stew, but in some instances, plant-based products also come with their own issues. So, just be aware of what they are.
Produce grown in incompatible substrates with poor quality soil need to be heavily fertilized or farmed in climates that require extra water and resources. The extra irrigation required can deplete fresh water sources. Plus, these vegetables that can’t be grown locally need to be delivered and these transportation methods emit lots of carbon emissions. It makes you wonder: Is that out-of-season veggie is worth the environmental impact?
When shopping for your meal — be it the main, the sides or the dessert — consider seasonality as it is more sustainable. Seasonal vegetables in the U.S. are most available in the north, southwest, as well as the southeast. Produce from these regions during winter include vegetables like carrots, potatoes, yams, and pumpkin. Fruits in season include cranberries, apples, and citrus.
It Doesn’t End With The Meal
Sustainability in your food extends to what you didn’t eat: the leftovers. Holiday waste increases above average in the US between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. During the holidays, 1 million extra tons of waste are produced, and a staggering 21% of this is food. This food waste then ends up in landfills, emitting a serious amount of methane gas, which is 28 times more potent than CO2.
So to reduce household food waste during the holidays, try to follow these simple guidelines: create and stick to shopping lists so that you do not over-purchase. Additionally, check your pantry first to avoid buying doubles of what you already have. Finally, plan to eat leftovers. Freezing the extras or only making amounts your group can finish are a great way to make sure it doesn’t end up in the trash.
While the holiday season is a time to treat yourself, it’s important to recognize how our dinner plans affect our environment. By integrating eco-friendly behaviors, we’re fostering that green muscle memory that will be carried through generations.