Thanksgiving is, hands down, my favorite holiday. It's the one major U.S. holiday in celebration of bringing people together in gratitude.
Ironically, America's most selfless holiday originates in Native American culture. If were not for the generosity of Squanto and the Wampanoag people, the Pilgrims at Plymouth would not have survived their first year in America.
Sustainability is another gift given to us by Native American culture. Living with the land, rather than off the land is a concept at the core of indigenous culture. Imagine what today's America would be like if history's leaders had followed the Iroquois philosophy of the 7th Generation and we made all decisions with the health of our future family in mind. For one thing, the environmental movement would not exist because there would have been no need to save the environment.
In this spirit, and in order to be truly sustainable, green, environmentally friendly, or to reduce our carbon footprint, we must learn to reduce the amount of waste we produce. This is true for everything that we consume; whether it's the products we use or the food we eat.
This Thanksgiving, I encourage everyone to take a Zero Food Waste Challenge.
On average, the American family wastes about 14% of the food they purchase. Much of this ends up in landfill and represents, according to New Scientist magazine, more energy "than is extracted annually from the oil and gas reserves off the nation's coastlines." Again we have the opportunity to learn from Native culture and use every piece of the food we have been given this holiday.
Recently, I took my first "zero food waste" challenge in Yosemite while volunteering with a group of teenagers at the Yosemite Institute. For a whole week, the entire group could not take more than they could eat and had to completely clear their plates. At the end of the week, we were rewarded with the honor of putting our name on the empty compost pail as the groups that had succeeded before us had done.
Zero Food Waste is a challenge, particularly for those of us who have fallen out of practice. Here are a food tips for a zero food waste Thanksgiving:
1. Inform your guests of the idea. Politely remind everyone that one way to be thankful for the food we receive is to not waste it. Compliment the chef by eating everything you put on your plate.
2. Take small portions. Resist the temptation to pile the meal on your plate. Instead take small portions and go back for more if you need to.
3. If the dish is new to you, try it before you put it on your plate. This is a particularly great one for the kids. Eating what you like is a true joy and makes for happy company.
4. Plan meals for the days following Thanksgiving. My family makes use of leftover turkey the next day by making turkey mole, turkey tacos, and soups.
5. Send your guests home with a "to-go plate." I find that everyone loves to go home with Thanksgiving leftovers.
6. Don't forget the giblets! If you don't use the neck and giblets for gravy, remember the animals. Cats love giblets.
7. Save your vegetable trimmings for soup stock. This is tried and true; just ask your grandparents or professional chef. Don't let the flavors in the bits and pieces go to waste. Use them in a delicious soup stock with the turkey carcass.
While challenging, zero food waste is a fun way to share the wisdom of our elders and the Native American cultures that preceded us. In the process, you'll be doing a great service to our planet.
Enjoy the Fall Harvest!