More than on any other day of the year, Americans from all walks of life will purchase, prepare, and eat nearly identical dishes on Thanksgiving. Yet a growing number of us are interested in making a few changes to our Thanksgiving meal if it means we can have a more sustainable Thanksgiving Day.
In America, the last Thursday of every November has an enormous economic impact across a small number of supply chains, making it the perfect opportunity to use the power of our consumer spending and food choices as tools for change.
Here are four sustainable thanksgiving food swaps, each with an exemplary GreenScore for having a low environmental footprint.
1. Replace Green Bean Casserole with Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Green beans and legumes have more than 3.5 times the water and carbon footprint of Brussel sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables.
Plus, you’ll save even more water and greenhouse gas emissions by trading the cream and cheese in that casserole for olive oil, which makes these roasted Brussels sprouts oh so crispy and flavorful!
2. Replace: Buttermilk Biscuits with Cornbread
It may come as a surprise that wheat requires more than 3 times the amount of water as corn, per serving.
Instead of whipping up traditional wheat flour biscuits, why not pass around a basket of fluffy cornbread muffins? The planet will thank you!
3. Replace: Canned Cranberry Sauce with Fresh Applesauce
Cranberries are a water-intensive crop, and 80 million pounds are eaten during Thanksgiving time — that’s 20% of America’s annual consumption.
By replacing canned cranberry sauce with fresh applesauce, you’ll save up to one third of the water, and you’ll be ditching that aluminum can! Plus, we doubt that you’ll miss all that added sugar loaded into traditional jellied cranberry sauces.
If cranberry sauce is a must for you on Thanksgiving, try sourcing local cranberries and making your own. Not only will this have a lower environmental footprint, but the flavor can’t be beat.
4. Replace: Roasted Turkey with Herbed Salmon
Did you know that an estimated 46 million turkeys are raised, killed, and purchased for Thanksgiving day alone?
Perhaps our most bold swap on the list, but with millions of birds being consumed on Thanksgiving — that’s a lot of greenhouse gas emissions for just one day.
Turkey has more than 1.5 times the carbon footprint of salmon. Why not consider experimenting with a new tradition — a whole fish centerpiece.
Pro tip? Choose a certified wild salmon, and reduce your carbon footprint AND water footprint even more!
More Sustainable Thanksgiving Swaps
Consider small tweaks that favor ingredients lower on the food chain.
Making homemade pastry crust? Instead of using recipes or baking mixes containing animal-fat-based shortening, try ones with olive and vegetable oils.
In pie, brownie, and cookie recipes, swap out conventional cow’s milk and cream with an oat, soy, or pea plant-based milk — they will still taste just as good!
Use one of our swaps or have a Sustainable Thanksgiving suggestion of your own?
Post a photo of your Sustainable Thanksgiving Swap on social media and hashtag #GreenChoiceThanksgiving – we’ll share your photo to inspire the rest of the GreenChoice community!
GreenChoice aims to empower you to create a healthy, just and sustainable world. It’s not always easy to know what products are healthy and sustainable — we offer a free mobile app that simplifies healthy, values-based grocery shopping to help you better understand your food choice. Download the GreenChoice app for Apple iOS or Android!
Data Sources for our Sustainable Thanksgiving Swaps
- Clune, Stephen, Enda Crossin, and Karli Verghese. “Systematic review of greenhouse gas emissions for different fresh food categories.” Journal of Cleaner Production 140 (2017): 766-783.
- Poore, Joseph, and Thomas Nemecek. “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers.” Science 360.6392 (2018): 987-992.
- Willett, Walter, et al. “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.” The Lancet 393.10170 (2019): 447-492.