Promotions team: Virginia Harris, Delaney Buskard, Caroline Pittard, and Sabrina Sampson

With Thanksgiving around the corner, four student employees at the Office for Sustainability would like to share some of their favorite tips and tricks to make your Thanksgiving more green! As we start to prepare our families’ favorite dishes, keep in mind these suggestions.

Before you even get started in the kitchen, consider where and how much food you purchase. The key lesson here is to plan ahead of time. In 2016, it was estimated that $293 million of waste occurs during Thanksgiving for turkey alone. While you may want the biggest bird to show off to your family, try to be realistic with how much meat you will really eat on Thanksgiving. Furthermore, try to buy your produce at farmer’s markets or local businesses in your hometown. 

If you plan on making some delicious apple pie or mashed potatoes, Virginia Harris (‘20) recommends buying the “ugly” produce in order to cut down on food thrown away by grocery stores since the presentation won’t matter in these dishes. While you’re prepping the food, save any scraps for compost if you have a garden. Plus, if serving any fruit to balance out the heavy meal, freeze the leftovers and use it for your smoothies later in the week. After the big meal, consider making soups and stock with the turkey bones, scraps, and vegetables. This is a great, nutritious way to make use of your leftovers and waste as little as possible in the kitchen. 

Delaney Buskard (‘21) recommends one of her favorite recipes to make use of holiday leftovers. On Thanksgiving day, her family holds a “traditional” Thanksgiving, where they enjoy turkey, a variety of potatoes, homemade stuffing, and other traditional fixings and sides. The next day, she invites family and friends back over to indulge in leftover Thanksgiving paninis. The combination of leftover turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, with Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard, creates a delicious panini, packed with flavor in every bite. Delaney first found this recipe after watching “The Pioneer Woman,” a Food Network show hosted by Ree Drummond. On the side, she serves leftover vegetables and potatoes for a new twist on last night’s dinner. 

If you’re visiting family or friends for the holiday, don’t forget to bring Tupperware so you can bring home some leftovers and reduce food waste. Every Thanksgiving, Sabrina Sampson (‘21) and her family drive 8 hours from her hometown of Richmond, Virginia to Columbus, Ohio. Sabrina’s grandma loves to send her family home with a lot of leftovers, so they always remember to bring a small cooler, ice packs, and Tupperware to safely transport the food home without using plastic bags and styrofoam coolers that contribute to landfilled waste and require fossil fuels to produce. That way, her family can enjoy leftovers sustainably.

While Thanksgiving may seem unfriendly to vegans, most of us can agree that sides are oftentimes the best dishes of the holiday. Sides are easily made plant-based and present ways to get creative in terms of sustainable food. Caroline Pittard (‘21) finds that Thanksgiving is an opportunity to diversify her family's food choices by bringing plant-based dishes for everyone to try. Sides are a great way to introduce older generations to vegan options that may otherwise be thoughtlessly consumed without understanding the larger picture. Industrial animal agriculture can have massive environmental implications that include water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Even if you can’t cut down on the turkey, aiming for plant-based sides is one of the best ways to go sustainable this Thanksgiving. You will lessen your carbon footprint and feel healthier for it! Check out Minimalist Baker’s wide array of classic recipes made plant-based.

For further sustainable thanksgiving suggestions, read the UVA Sustainability Advocates' guide below! Happy Thanksgiving!

graphic with sustainability tips and recipes for thanksgiving
UVA Sustainability Advocates' guide to a green Thanksgiving

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