Wholesome Guide to Sustainable Thanksgiving | Wholesome Culture
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The traditions of Thanksgiving have changed and evolved throughout my life. One year my family did a Greek feast in honor of my late Yiayia, the next we celebrated by ordering take-out and skipping the cooking altogether. But this year things are especially different for all of us: traveling is mostly off-limits and the fun activity of aimlessly wandering around grocery aisles in search of the most colorful produce is swapped with speedy visits or long sessions of scrolling through pictures of sweet potatoes online.  Nevertheless, chances are your Thanksgiving will involve lots of food. And whenever a lot of food is involved, there’s a good chance busting trash cans are, too. That’s why we put together this handy guide of sustainable Thanksgiving tips if you’re looking to save waste as you celebrate this season of thanks. 

Whether you’re planning a meal for two (same here!) or gathering with relatives, we hope you find a tip or two that resonate with you! And if you have a go-to tip– share it with us in the comments below! 

Your Wholesome Guide to The Most Sustainable Thanksgiving Ever


45-46 million turkeys are killed and prepared for Thanksgiving every. single. year. 

To put this number in perspective, that’s more than the human population of the entire state of California… or about eight times the human population of New York City. Whatever way you break it down in your mind, it’s A LOT of turkeys. PS, turkeys are SUCH amazing creatures, peep this blog for reasons we love them (and know you will, too!). 

So what if we shifted the tradition of “Turkey Day” from eating turkeys to adopting turkeys? Think of all the animals we’d save! 


Farm Sanctuary has a beautiful Turkey Adoption program. For $35 you can adopt one of the sanctuary’s charming turkeys — Tutu, Sandy, Venus, or Jackie. Feeling extra generous? Adopt the entire flock for $150! Not only will you feel good knowing you performed an act of kindness, but you’ll also get a cute digital and/or printed certificate as a constant reminder of your compassionate act. 

If you’re skipping the turkey this year (woo hoo!), here are some vegan alternatives for Thanksgiving day. Seriously, there is NO shortage of plant-based Thanksgiving dishes. And if not, consider buying one from a local farm and not one from a factory farm. Also, avoid contributing to the millions of discarded turkeys. Freeze it, donate your extras to a shelter, or add it to a noodle soup. 

Food Waste

In a holiday known for mish-mash sides and pumpkin pies, it makes sense that food waste would be an undesirable impact from the festivities. But the good news is, it doesn’t have to be! 

The best way to avoid food waste is to resist preparing a feast for 15 for a table set for five. In other words, plan ahead and try to be honest with yourself about how much food is actually necessary. We know it’s hard when Pinterest makes EVERY dish look delicious, but it’ll save you money, time, and waste. 

If you’re hosting a potluck, don’t be afraid to assign dishes. And if you’re attending a potluck, try to get an idea from the host of what’s needed, so you don’t find yourself at a meal with four pumpkin pies and zero side dishes. (Been there!)

Other tips to avoid food waste during the holidays:

  • Freeze leftovers: the freezer can extend your food for up to three months, so if you’re totally sick of eating vegan stuffing, maybe in the middle of January it’ll be enticing again
  • Compost: check out our full guide to composting for all the do’s and don’ts 
  • Take advantage of clear glass containers: seeing your food will make it more likely to be eaten
  • Donate: look into local homeless shelters or community organizations that would appreciate your leftovers 
  • Reinvent leftovers: Got extra sweet potatoes? Turn them into a delicious soup. So many leftovers can get a second life with a little creativity


We know food shopping – and all shopping for that matter – is looking different this year. But if you’re able to support small businesses and shop at your local farmers market, it’s a beautiful way to cut back on your carbon footprint and cultivate a deeper connection with the food on your plate. Plus, seasonal, local produce is often tastier and more nutritious. Win, win! 

local produce

Beyond shopping locally, here are some additional tips to be a more mindful shopper:

  • Take inventory of your fridge before shopping: this will help you avoid getting doubles (ps, take an extra close look at your spices!)
  • Use reusable tote bags:  but if you can’t use your reusable right now, we feel your disappointment. Try to reuse your shopping bags or dispose of them at a local recycling center
  • Make shopping lists: you’ve probably seen this on every “sustainable” list, but it’s a go-to for a reason! 
  • Pay attention to packaging: if you can buy ingredients without packaging, do it! 
  • Ask for an e-receipt: every bit helps! 


Sustainability isn’t only about protecting the Earth, it’s also about protecting ourselves. Between food shopping and (virtual) hosting, preparing for Thanksgiving can be stressful. 

Even though the day is meant to be full of thanks and gratitude, we’re no strangers to feeling overwhelmed during the holiday season. Be easy on yourself. So many things are out of our control like the WiFi cutting out during zoom feasts or the market selling out of canned pumpkin or whatever ingredient you NEED to recreate your grandma’s specialty. Take time to take care of you, even if that’s scheduling a few minutes to go for a solo walk to soak up fresh air or writing in a gratitude journal. Whatever brings you a sense of peace — do that.

The big takeaway for a sustainable Thanksgiving

Embracing sustainability in your Thanksgiving celebrations is about SO much more than what you do on Thanksgiving — it’s about being mindful in your preparations before the feasts ever begin and all the way to the days after when you’re faced with piles of leftovers. But even if you just make one eco-conscious change this year,  don’t forget to give yourself some love for making effort in the name of Mother Earth. 

Read more: 52 Everyday Reasons To Be Grateful 

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