While Thanksgiving is a U.S. holiday, that doesn’t mean that the overall message of being grateful and thankful for the people in our lives and the food on our tables shouldn’t resonate around the globe.
And in a world that often seems quite divided these days, that sentiment is more important than ever. Truth be told, we are going to have to unite as a global community if we hope to meet the Paris Agreement objectives to prevent additional damage from climate change.
Indeed, millions of people are already struggling to find food, and as temperatures continue to rise, it will only make the food supply chain even worse.
One way that we can help prevent climate change is by evaluating what we eat, what we eat on and how we get to our meals. Please know that Spark is not trying to tell you what you can or cannot eat, but we do think it’s important to offer guidance on what makes for more sustainable food and dining options.
So let’s start with Thanksgiving.
6 Tips for a More Sustainable Thanksgiving
1. Organic = Better?
A 2018 Chalmers University study found that organic peas farmed in Sweden had a bigger climate impact—with 50% higher emissions than regularly sourced peas. However, a 2020 study in Germany of nitrous oxide emissions and methane uptake from organic and conventionally managed crop rotations found that, “Organically managed arable rotations showed advantages in comparison with intensive conventional arable cropping through reduced GHG emissions.” That said, it has also been found that, even if organic food production limits emissions directly, it increases emissions indirectly because limited food production capabilities require more food imports to meet needs. So what’s a consumer to do? This is why Spark is a big proponent of carbon labels on packaging. Companies like Just Salad are already putting carbon labels on their menus, so consumers can make better sustainable dining choices. That way, there’s more information to digest.
2. Meat Means Emissions
About a quarter (26%) of global emissions comes from food, and livestock and fisheries make up 31% of that total. Cattle, for instance, produce methane from their digestive process, and manure and pasture management along with fuel for fishing vessels all contribute to greater greenhouse gas emissions. The good news for Thanksgiving is turkeys and poultry have a much smaller carbon footprint than cattle at less than 6 kilograms of greenhouse gases for 100 grams of protein for turkeys vs. almost 50 kilograms of GHG for cattle, according to Our World Data. Still, tofu (soybeans) checks in at less than 2 kilograms per 100 grams. So, if you’re so inclined …
3. Buy Local?
There seems to be a notion that buying locally is reducing the carbon footprint but, in fact, Preyasi Patel, a Sphera senior consulting manager explains that transportation is one of the smallest part of the value chain (equaling roughly 6% of GHG emissions) when it comes to food production. Consider swapping those locally sourced meat-based side dishes for a veggie alternative for a greater CO2e savings.
4. Filling Your Cup
As the Harvard Business Review explains, don’t use single-use plastic items on your tables. Nobody likes doing dishes after a big meal, but a little work goes a long way toward creating a more sustainable world. It’s estimated that it can take a plastic cup up to 450 years to degrade, for instance, and that doesn’t even take into account the energy and oil or natural gas it takes to make the plastic product.
5. Traveling This Thanksgiving?
We all know that almost two years of social distancing can be quite isolating, and many families are going to be reuniting for the first time in a couple of years this Thanksgiving. That means more travel than last year. Climate Central lists travel emissions for cars at 0.802 pounds of CO2 per passenger mile, airplanes at 0.505, trains at 0.408 and buses at 0.236. No matter how you slice it, if you’re not hosting Thanksgiving dinner, there will be emissions produced from transportation unless you’re walking, bicycle riding or skateboarding to dinner. If you would like to consider offsetting some of those emissions, Investopedia recently selected what it considers the best carbon-offset programs to help limit your environmental impact. That means when you’re on the go, you can feel a little bit better about how you get there. Even so, keep in mind that offsetting can never take the place of sustainable best practices in the first place.
6. Donate to a Food Pantry
If you’re able, food pantries could really use your help financially or just donating your time to help out. Here is a list of some food banks from around the world in the United States, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Ghana and sub-Saharan, Africa, and globally. (Note: These listings are not endorsements and should be considered for informational purposes only. Spark has not evaluated these organizations.)
We could go on and on about ways to make Thanksgiving more sustainable, but we’re getting a little hungry. But, before we go, we wanted to say one more thing: We at Spark are very thankful for you. Thank you for reading Spark!