'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be green — especially on Thanksgiving. Sure, the holiday involves traveling ten hours for a single meal, and eating more in one sitting than the human belly was designed to hold. But there are lots of rewarding ways to show gratitude for the planet on the quintessential American holiday. Here are a few, easy tips:
Sharing is caring, as a big purple dinosaur once said. Though Barney might not advocate getting into cars with strangers, Robin Chase (Zipcar co-founder) thinks carpooling is a fine way to help out the planet. Her new (free) online ride-sharing program, Goloco, matches people up with others going their way, to help them save money and make the most of the miles they drive. Signing up for Goloco takes about two milliseconds, and you can post any trip you want to take — starting point, destination, and date. If you have a car, let others take a seat and help you foot the gas bill. If you don't have a car, post anyway — someone with a car might give you a ride. If you're on Facebook, add Goloco as one of your applications, and see which of your friends are already signed up.
Two Turkey Day biggies — apples and potatoes — are on the pesticide hit list, and retain huge amounts of the chemical sprayed on them. Make sure to protect yourself and the planet by buying organic produce for your apple pies and sweet potato dishes. And if possible, buy pumpkins from a local farmers market, so the heavy gourds do as little traveling (fuel-spending) as possible to reach your plate.
Because meat products come from higher up on the food chain than produce does, the turkey you put on your table will have an even greater impact (positive or negative — your choice) on the planet than your yams will. Call up some grocers near you to ask if they carry turkeys labeled "American Humane Certified," or "USDA Certified Organic." Plainville Farms, in New York, raises their Humane Certified turkeys without any antibiotics or animal byproduct feed.
All flowers remind us of nature's bounty, but not all flower companies are created eco-equal — most spray their crops with heavy loads of pesticides. The nasty chemicals probably won't end up in your digestive system — though carnations and chrysanthemums are tasty — but they will end up polluting soil and water. Turn over a new rose petal this year, and order a gorgeous rust-toned Thanksgiving centerpiece from Organic Bouquet. They'll give ten percent of your purchase to The Nature Conservancy, and send your flowers in biodegradable, corn-based flower sleeves. Order by phone (877.899.2468), or online.
Most of us will probably spend Thanksgiving Day answering the same few questions for twenty different relatives. Embrace this strange ritual — play an age-old game called "How many eco-hints will it take to drive my family completely bonkers?" It goes something like this:
Relative: Great dinner, wasn't it?
You: Delicious. I wonder if the turkey was Humane Certified. If not, it was probably kept in a pen its entire life, fed animal blood and antibiotics that probably produce hormone problems in women, and bludgeoned to death with a club. I also hope the potatoes were organic. If not, we just ingested pesticides that will store themselves in our fat cells for years.
Relative: So, what's new these days?
You: Well, I'm living in [city], working at [job], living with [roommate], dating [sig. other]. Also, humanity is destroying itself and the planet through man-made global warming.
Relative: That's great! When are you getting married?
You: Not for a while. Barry and I are installing a worm compost system first; if we can handle that, then we'll consider having kids. Did you know that composting is surprisingly easy? It's all about balancing greens and browns, and --
Relative: That's fantastic! Seen any good films lately?
You: An Inconvenient Truth was good. It's about how humanity is destroying itself and the planet through man-made global warming. The 11th Hour is another must-see. I look forward to telling you more about both films at the mandatory double-screening I'm holding later on, in lieu of the football game.
[Repeat with relative #2, and so on]
This article originally appeared in Plenty in November 2007. The story was added to MNN.com.