21st November 2017

Turkey Delight: A Sustainable Thanksgiving


The turkey is stuffed and roasting to perfection, the pumpkin pie is warm and fragrant and the fizz is on ice. But will you be having a sustainable Thanksgiving celebration?

Delicious and flavoursome, your chosen turkey may be large enough for your extended family to feast on – but is it free-range and was it grazing happily on real pasture or poorly treated and crammed inside a windowless shed, suffering immense cruelty?

300million turkeys are slaughtered in the US (many for Thanksgiving and Christmas) according to PETA, and we bet there are lots of leftovers and food that ends up in the trash. It’s perhaps the most wasteful day of the year.

Thanksgiving by Numbers:

  • Total number of turkeys that are consumed on Thanksgiving Day- 51,650,000
  • Total value of turkeys produced in the U.S. annually  – $4,850,000,000
  • Total U.S. spending on Thanksgiving dinner food – $2,983,000,000
  • Average household spending on Thanksgiving dinner (2017 Estimate) – $64.03
  • Average household spending on Thanksgiving dinner in 2016 – $59.18
  • Average household spending on Thanksgiving weekend in 2016 – $342
  • Number of families that will travel for Thanksgiving – 39,000,000
  • Average number of turkeys raised in the U.S. each year – 254 million
  • Annual consumption of turkey by the average American – 16 pounds
  • Value of all pumpkins produced annually – $118,000,000
  • Barrels of cranberry produced annually – 7,600,000 barrels
  • Total value of turkeys produced in the U.S. annually  – $4,850,000,000

This year, however, you could make a difference to the planet as well as your conscience and make Thanksgiving a happier, more sustainable national holiday. You could opt for more sustainable food and drink choices, save some of the turkeys from ending up on a hot plate, lower your carbon footprint by travelling wisely and recycle what you can.

Photo: Gene Baur, co-founder of Farm Sanctuary with his turkeys taken by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.

Turkey delight

There’s every chance you didn’t source your turkey locally so it made its own impact on the environment, by travelling for miles to reach its final destination. According to the Center for Food Safety, it’ll take at least 915,200 barrels of oil to produce and ship all the turkeys Americans eat. And in addition, if its short life was unhappy and painful – it’s a key ingredient for a meal laden with lashings of guilt. Not so easy to digest, after all.

So, start by sourcing your meat, fruit and veg locally by seeking out farmers’ markets near where you live and stick to what’s in season. And be less gluttonous!

In a traditional roast turkey dinner, production and processing of the food is responsible for three-quarters of the carbon footprint of the meal, and the largest proportion (60 per cent) of that carbon footprint of a full turkey dinner is related to the life cycle of the turkey, according to research from the University of Manchester. The meat industry is the number one source of methane gas, which is a major contributor to climate change, which is why it’s worth considering other options (like being vegetarian for the day).

However, if you’re a meat lover and insist on having turkey, make a difference by cutting back a little on the amount you consume (selecting a heritage or organic turkey where possible) and substitute some of the meat with extra vegetables (again, organic ideally) instead. And if you want a meat substitute there’s always tofurkey; to the uninitiated that’s faux turkey made with tofu.

You could also reconnect with a turkey, with no knife and fork involved. Farm Sanctuary has an adopt-a-turkey scheme which helps rescue the birds from inhumane conditions.

So even if you are eating the festive bird on Thanksgiving, you can adopt a turkey from The Farm Sanctuary for $35. The money goes towards rescuing animals and the sanctuary hosts a Thanksgiving meal every year for their turkeys (complete with pumpkin pie!) We’re tempted to adopt one, are you?

Farm Sanctuary president and co-founder Gene Baur told Acre: “One of the most important things people can do to lessen their environmental footprint, prevent animal suffering, and improve their own health is to eat more plant foods and less meat.

“At Farm Sanctuary, we celebrate Thanksgiving with turkeys as our friends, not our food, and we encourage people to join in the effort by sponsoring a rescued bird through our Adopt A Turkey Project.”

Keep in mind that the terms “organic” and “free-range” are not humane labels per se and that the slaughtering of any turkey – and all animals – inflicts unnecessary harm no matter how “humanely” it’s done.

Waste Not

According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit conservation group, Americans waste about 204 million pounds of turkey over Thanksgiving.

Developed just in time for a Sustainable Thanksgiving, a new digital calculator is taking the guesswork out of portion planning to help hosts reduce the amount of food, money and resources that go to waste around the holiday period.

The “Guest-imator” – a dinner party calculator – is the latest waste-busting consumer resource from the Ad Council and Natural Resources Defense Council’s Save The Food national public service campaign. The aim is to get proper portioning under control.

Dana Gunders, author of the Waste Free Kitchen Handbook and senior scientist at NRDC, says: “During the holidays, people are often confronted with more food than they can eat, meaning food gets wasted.

“We’ve all been there: hands on a full belly, eyes slightly drooping, debating one last helping of mashed potatoes from the mounds of food still on the table. As the cornucopia stares back at me, I can’t help but think it’s the ultimate paradox that we celebrate a time when there was barely enough food to make it through the winter by having a huge feast–and then chucking a big portion of it in the trash.

“Hosts can have the best intentions, but planning a meal for a large group is still tricky. That’s why this year, Save the Food decided to build a nifty little dinner party planning calculator to help you figure out just how much to make.

“I know what you’re thinking—you don’t waste those leftovers, you eat them!  Good for you—this calculator can help you still prepare enough for as many turkey-cranberry sandwiches as you’d like the day after the feast, but avoid a stockpile of past-due leftovers a week later.”

However, despite excessive food waste, one in eight Americans—more than 40 million people— don’t have access to a reliable supply of food. A recent NRDC report found that more than 68 million meals a year could be donated in the three U.S. cities studied alone.

One form of aid for those in need over Thanksgiving has come in the form of Operation Turkey. The organization has no paid employees and is formed of more than 20,000 community-minded volunteers who are this year aiming to deliver 50,000 meals to the homeless and less fortunate.

It started 17 years ago when its founder Richard Bagdonas gave a homeless person a meal. He doubled that amount the following year by donating two meals and it escalated from there, each year saw more meals being delivered.

Mr Bagdonas had just finished his own Thanksgiving dinner with friends in Austin, Texas, and decided that the leftovers could benefit someone in need rather than further indulge himself the next day.

He explained: “That Thanksgiving, I drove downtown to 6th Street on my way home and handed out a plate of food to a homeless man in a wheelchair. He couldn’t thank me because he was mentally challenged, but the homeless guy next to him said ‘thank you’ and helped feed the meal to the man. Afterwards I sat in my car and cried, and I knew I wanted to do something about it.”

Now you can make a difference by becoming a volunteer. The organization is  growing each year as more caring people jump on board. If you want to volunteer email: info@operationturkey.com.

Re-use and recycle

When it comes to hosting lots of extra dinner guests, it’s tempting to avoid too much washing-up by using plastic wine glasses and paper plates. But this all contributes to environmental damage. Instead of using paper products this year, why not reach out to your guests and ask each of them to bring a plate or head to your local thrift store where you can find inexpensive dinnerware. And make sure you use your dishwasher as it uses up less resources than dishwashing in the sink.

If there are any leftovers that you can’t instantly create a new meal from, wrap them up and pop them in the freezer as soon as possible. A mass of food waste could be spared from landfill if we all adopt the same practice of using up leftovers or utilising the freezer space.

Turkey can be used in curries, pies, stir fries, soup and sandwiches to name but a few, while left over vegetables can thrown into soups or mashed and fried for veggie burgers (perhaps add a can of kidney beans for a protein kick). You can even add vegetables to desserts (yes, boiled sweet potatoes or grated raw carrot can be added to cake mixture for extra moistness and sweetness).

Martha Stewart suggests timing all the dishes to be ready when needed, saving scraps and selecting a new roasting pan (rather than a disposable one) to allow you to host a delicious Thanksgiving while also helping prevent the emission of greenhouses gases, boosting your local economy, and working to create a fairer food system.

When organic matter becomes trash it releases methane gas and contributes to global warming. Compost your scraps and create a designated compost bin and ensure your guests can easily distinguish it from trash and/or recycling.

100Percent Wine Business Case from Scott Monette on Vimeo.

Green Green Wine

Make conscientious choices when it comes to guzzling glasses of the good stuff as well. There are various winemakers who are committed to protecting the planet when producing wine.

A to Z boasts two viticulturists among its staff (grape experts to you and me)  and offers “Aristocratic Wines at Democratic Prices.”  Women have filled more than 60 per cent of the management roles and the firm has donated more than $50,000 to charities last year alone. Its commitment to improving the lives of people it interacts with have helped the company become a featured Best for Community B Corporation in 2016.

100 Percent Wine is a wine brand created to help people living with disabilities find and keep jobs  and the company believes a job is the best social program. It offers 90-plus point Red Blend and Sauvignon Blanc wines, and donates all profits to charities that help the tens of millions of Americans with disabilities who are out of the workforce.

Starvation Alley Farms is the first certified-organic cranberry farm in Washington state and is working with neighboring farms in their transition to organic to help increase the organic-farmer’s livelihood opportunities. Cranberries are used in cocktails as well as the tangy sauce for the Thanksgiving table.

Fetzer became the first zero-waste winery, growing grapes using renewable agriculture practices. It employs chickens and sheep for its pest and weed control and 100 per cent of its cultivated land has been certified for sustainable management of agricultural ecosystems, and all of the energy used by its corporate and processing facilities is produced from renewable sources.

Sokol Blosser Winery’s vineyard estate now includes more than 86 certified-organic acres under cultivation. With a dedication to a variety of pinot noirs, the family recognizes that the sustainability of their business is rooted in the sustainability of the environment which includes the soil and water they use.

Winderlea Vineyard and Winery specializes in small-batch, handcrafted pinot noir and chardonnays in Oregon and focuses on creating an environment where all of its team members can thrive.

Now there’s a good excuse to add to your wine cellar.


Jeremy Kranowitz, executive director of the nonprofit Sustainable America, suggests celebrating the Thanksgiving meal closer to home (and opting for a Skype session with family members who live faraway).

According to industry group Airlines for America, around 24.5 million Americans are estimated to have traveled by plane to celebrate the holiday last year.

And it’s not just people travelling over the holiday period that increases carbon footprints. Cranberries, potatoes and turkeys often travel 1,500 to 2,500 miles from the farm to the Thanksgiving table, according to the Worldwatch Institute which is three times as far as the average American guest.

Car share or use public transport where possible and only fly if you absolutely have to.


From all at Acre, wherever you maybe celebrating, have a Sustainable Thanksgiving! Acre are currently expanding our operations in the US.  Whether you’re looking for an exciting new role, or need to grow your sustainability, corporate citizenship or safety team, start a conversation with our dedicated US team today. Connect directly with Michael Kelsall, Senior Search Partner at michael.kelsall@acre.com.