5 Ways to Have a Simple, Sustainable Thanksgiving
Having a scaled-down holiday dinner may be new, but you can still make it special (and sustainable!). | Askar Abayev / Pexels

Is it just us, or has 2020 simultaneously felt like the longest, but also the shortest year on record? With droves of us responsibly self-isolating to quash COVID-19, the usual big family gatherings are off the table, replaced by scaled-down Thanksgiving dinners. Dinner for two or solo dining for the holidays may be completely new, but we can still make them feel special. Maybe this is even the year you try out new traditions, like a plant-based Thanksgiving dinner. But scaling down doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on style, tradition, or a sustainable mindset. There are many easy ways to sustainably spruce up your scaled-down Thanksgiving. Here are our five easy tips.

5 Ways to Have a Simple, Sustainable Thanksgiving

The biggest piece of advice? Take it easy. These are loose guidelines; what matters is that you’re creating a day that you can enjoy in the final stretch of the exhausting year that has been 2020.

1. The Food: Plant-Based

Try something new, even if you’re just planning for two. Have a plant-based Thanksgiving this year—it’s better for the environment. If this isn’t your first meat-free Thanksgiving, try something new! Check with local vegan brands and restaurants to see if they’re offering a holiday roast.

Consider getting your fruits and vegetables from the farmers’ market. Buying your produce from a local farm cuts down your carbon footprint and supports family farms in an increasingly globalized economy. Local produce is also fresher since it’s been transported a shorter distance, so it tastes better than what you’ll get at the grocery store. As for drinks, pick up a bottle of vegan wine, beer, or whatever your poison is. If there’s a local brand to support, even better!

If you’re not cooking for yourself (we don’t blame you—this year has been collectively rough), try ordering a pre-made meal to relieve yourself of some of the work of cooking a meal and several side dishes. Check out the options here and take some of the usual holiday stress off your shoulders.

2. The Decor: Sustainable

Buy yourself some flowers. Bust out the vintage dinnerware, glassware, and your grandma’s Pyrex. (The tackier the pattern, the better.) Put on your DIY hat and upcycle some old household items, like turning an old wine bottle into a vase. If you’re buying new, try a website like Made Trade, which sources sustainable and ethically made products. It even has a vegan section.

If you have a backyard, perfect! Use it to incorporate natural elements into your decor. Scout out some fallen leaves and acorns for decor. If you do buy decorations, avoid plastic and swing by the local thrift store for something autumnal-looking. Get some vegan candles, like Otherland, to help set the mood. (Save the tumblers to use for storage once they’re done. Pro-tip: pop it in the freezer for about five minutes to make removing the wax easy—the cold shrinks it.)

Have a downtime activity planned, like a jigsaw puzzle. | Piecework Puzzles

3. The Atmosphere: Intimate and Personal

Thanksgiving viewing for many usually consists of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, then football, and a movie marathon before settling into a solid food coma. But traditions are what you make them, and this year is perhaps the perfect year to set new Thanksgiving traditions. Put on a horror movie. Watch cartoons. Play video games. Forgo moving pictures altogether and play a board game or do a puzzle together (this one by Piecework is printed on recycled paper). It’s your holiday—do what you want. Go make some great memories!

3. The Guest List: Two or Just You?

Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s more important than ever to hunker down in our own little abodes for the holidays. While that means you’ll be missing co-existing in the same space as friends and the fam, there’s a positive spin, too. Staying at home means you’ll help prevent the spread of the virus to you and others. (With infection rates on the rise in the U.S., it’s critical for all of us to do our part.) And you’ll also reduce your environmental impact from traveling. The days before and the weekend after Thanksgiving are historically the busiest travel days for airports in the U.S. According to Airlines for America, an airline trade organization, around 31.6 million passengers traveled for the holiday last year, contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions due to burning fossil fuels. Data from the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization shows that an economy-class return flight from London to NY emits an estimated 0.67 tonnes of CO2 per passenger, about the same amount caused by someone living in Ghana for over a year.

Staying at home doesn’t mean you don’t get to see your family and friends. Schedule a time where you can all cook together over Zoom (and share recipes for the delicious plant-based feast you’ll be making) and then wine and dine together over dinner. In the end, you’ll get to spend precious time with your loved ones and you won’t have to fight anyone over leftovers.

5. The Mood: Grateful

Did you know that expressing gratitude can actually make you happier? Read more on the science behind it here. While you’re wining and dining with friends and family, talk about what you’re grateful for this year, despite the challenges we’ve faced. Maybe you’re grateful for a charity in your neighborhood that’s still going strong even amid a global pandemic or the loved ones who have reached out to you with support even as you’re self-isolating. Last but not least, share ways that you can show gratitude for the planet through living kinder, more sustainable lives.

This year’s Thanksgiving may be different, but you can still create a holiday to remember. For more ideas, visit our Thanksgiving page here.


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