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Thanksgiving is coming up; how do I make sure that mine is green?

Lucy Hummer

I sit here writing this post on my last day in the office before the short holiday break. Thanksgiving is just two days away, and so is all of the food and family that comes along with it. Whether or not you stand behind the cultural message and tradition of the holiday, you likely still sit and break bread with relatives back in your hometown. Just like Halloween, this serves as an opportunity to spread sustainable practice to those around you!

Last year I made a vegan casserole for my family and literally no one ate it. While this was a bummer, I found it kind of funny and I ultimately used it to learn a bit of a lesson. First, the idea that Thanksgiving is so rooted in tradition makes it harder to break the ties regarding the types of food that you should eat that day. A whole roasted bird, I am sorry to tell you, is not necessarily the most sustainable choice you can make. The thought of having this day without a turkey, however, can sound completely ridiculous. A lot of the “fun” surrounds getting up early, checking on the oven every hour and somehow being surprised by how long a twenty-pound animal takes to cook. Second, I think that if I didn’t tell my family that it was vegan, they would have tried it. For people that have no experience with or exposure to animal product-free dishes, there is certainly a stigma regarding the flavor/texture/appearance of the food. What I made was really good, if I do say so myself. Their loss!

I am simply speaking from my own experience, and I am sure that there are more open-minded families out there when it comes to trying less traditional Thanksgiving choices. It does not have to be a huge ordeal to be more sustainable! There are some dishes such as gravy or biscuits that can be made without dairy and no one would even be able to tell. But, is vegan synonymous with sustainable? Not necessarily. It IS possible to have meat and dairy products at your table without feeling guilty. If you go for farmers who responsibly raise their animals, you can (usually expensively) find a turkey with a minimal impact on the Earth. It’s super easy to make so many yummy foods that you don’t even miss a turkey, though! And everybody agrees that turkey really isn’t that great anyway, right?

Plus, there are other indicators of sustainability beyond the list of ingredients. Choosing items that are locally grown makes a huge difference. Much of the impact that food has on our environment comes from the shipping and trucking that comes with buying from around the globe. If you buy a good that comes from right outside your city, this massively reduces its footprint. It also always feels really great to know that you are supporting local farmers.

This goes hand in hand with the concept of buying in-season as well. The US grocery marketplace has created the expectation that we should be able to purchase all types of food all throughout the year. If you think about it for just a second, though, does this really make any sense? Strawberries can only be grown for a few months a year, so how come you can buy them all year long? Advanced refrigeration, storing and preserving techniques make the supermarket look fully stocked and colorful at all times. For the best taste and minimum waste of time, energy and food, choose fruits and veggies that are actually harvested in November. (If you’re wondering, this is produce like apples, squash, root vegetables, etc).

Ultimately, the idea of reducing animal products and choosing ingredients that are local and in-season may seem pretty common sense. That being said, why don’t more people actually do it? A lot of families have done their Thanksgiving day in the same way for years. Changing this may seem unappealing, but think of the impact Americans could make via this one minor cultural tradition. According to Google, almost fifty million turkeys are eaten on this day alone each year. If eliminating the bird seems like too far of a stretch, small changes are positive, too! Think of one or two dishes that you could alter just slightly to make them more sustainable. That sounds like a win to me.


Halloween is coming up; how do I make sure that mine is green?

Lucy Hummer

At large, Halloween is a very wasteful holiday. Fun, of course, but wasteful. Especially in college, this time of the year tends to be full of several costumes, hundreds of pieces of individually wrapped candies and an abundance of ~aluminum drink cans~. If you’re sustainably minded, events like this can be vaguely troubling. How can I enjoy celebrating this holiday which I love so much without having a massive jump in my product consumption? It does not always seem easy.

To SOME extent, I believe that it is necessary for us to forgive ourselves for creating waste. It’s unfair that we must limit ourselves from enjoying things that we like just because they maybe are not zero-waste or perfectly sustainable. To SOME extent.

Having the mindset of, “other people are out there treating the earth worse than me, if I don’t buy this item with excessive packaging someone will anyway, etc” does not mean that we are allowed to just absolve our guilt and move on. The context of Halloween is a great time to exemplify how we can enjoy October without being crazy un-sustainable.

In the spirit of “Halloweekend”, a lot of folks need several costumes to make it through the spooky season. (I know that I sound like an old person that is just talking about what I think college is like, just ignore it). It is both economically and environmentally sensible to try and make costumes out of items that you already own. This tends to be a minimum-effort, minimum-payoff type of costume, which isn’t always a bad thing. If you have to do a little bit of DIY or crafting, that also works! It takes a little bit more effort than ordering an outfit off of Amazon, but that’s more fun anyways, right?

Generally, if you decide you do have to purchase elements of your costumes, it is best not to buy new. There are many second-hand, vintage and thrift stores in and around DC which are full of hundreds of pieces. Suddenly, the trope that everything at a thrift store is old and dated is a good thing! You can make a head to toe 90s look with no effort and little money by spending just a few seconds in the clothing section. Plus, lots of these stores even have a specific Halloween section with second-hand costumes. I’ve been to at least three vintage stores in the DMV that had dozens of costumes for under $10. An event BETTER option would be trading your own old costumes with friends, because this is obviously free.

When it comes to candy, it is much trickier to reduce waste. That bulk bag of 500 candies from CVS looks tempting to me every time I see it. But if you’re just buying for yourself and your roommates, buying chocolate that doesn’t all come in individual wrappers is a better choice. If you need to go for small candies, choose ones that have recyclable packaging! There aren’t many, but Hershey’s kisses are one example.

If you decided to get a pumpkin for your dorm, get it from a local grower. This is a much better option than grabbing one from the grocery store, especially if you make a day of it and go out of DC to a pumpkin patch or orchard. If you go for a larger sized one, you can eat the pumpkin seeds and compost the rest.

At the end of the day, celebrating Halloween in college is very different than celebrating it in the suburbia that many of us come from. It is not hard to be more sustainable during holidays like this, it just takes a little bit of thought and some inspiration! And of course please recycle your ~aluminum drink cans~. Happy Halloween!

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