The holiday season has already kicked off, before our jack-o-lanterns have even finished decomposing on the front porch. Each year the frantic rush to party plan kicks off earlier, when we'd rather bask in crisp, sunny November days instead of obsessing and stressing about place settings and yuletide gifts.
But sustainable holiday meal planning does require more prep time. Here’s why: If you want a sustainably-raised bird or meat of some kind on the table this Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Hanukkah, you've got to place your order soon to beat the rush and allow your farmer to plan out the season. Here are some of our tips for enjoying your holiday vittles responsibly and festively.
Go Grass-Fed, Heritage, and Free-Range
Industrially farmed meat is usually bad for the animal, worse for your health, and horrible for the environment. This holiday season, go cruelty-free and learn more about the source of the meats you put on your table.
Heritage turkeys and chickens are a good bet. Heritage birds come from older, diverse breeds, some of which date back centuries. By contrast, 99 percent of turkeys sold in supermarkets are Broad-Breasted Whites. Going heritage means helping foster a more diverse poultry gene pool, encouraging sustainable practices (usually antibiotic- and cage-free), and supporting small farmers.
Last year, many online mail-order heritage sites sold out of heritage turkeys by November 10 or thereabouts, underscoring the importance of pre-ordering your meat now. Heritage Foods USA is a good place to start.
“What?” you ask. “No Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas ham?” Given the relative difficulty of finding sustainably-raised meats, combined with the now-famous warnings about meat’s impact on our health, this holiday season may be the year to go meatless. Instead of waking up with the roosters to put the turkey in the oven, why not sleep in and put your effort into those delicious side dishes—the casseroles, the breads, and the desserts—we all love the most anyway?
Go Organic, Fair Trade, and Non-GMO on All Your Staples
Walking the crowded aisles of the supermarket, it can be difficult to find conscience-friendly versions of the staples we use over and over: beans, flour, spices, peanut butter, and the like. Skip the supermarket lines and stock up on sustainable staples here at Thrive Market, where each item meets rigorous health and sustainability standards.
Look up a local farm near you, give them a call, and ask them this question: “What do you have for sale that I can put on my holiday dinner table?” Maybe it’s a peck of late-season apples, a jar of native honey, or some delicious root vegetables, but you can be sure your local farmer will be thrilled you reached out—and that you support their hard work with your dollars. Check out Local Harvest to find producers near you.
This applies to booze, too. Try serving only locally produced wines (if available), beers, and liquors this holiday season. Better yet, visit with your local brewer, distiller or winemaker to see how it’s all made—then tell their stories around the fireplace or dinner table!
Finally, remember to give thanks for the hands responsible for the good food and drinks you enjoy this holiday season. Despite their crucial place in feeding us, food chain workers and farmers are too often forgotten. Thank them—in person, if possible—and toast them with friends and family around the holiday table. Your Thanksgiving feast will taste that much better.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont