What could we do to have a healthier, more sustainable end of the year… Thinking of a sustainable festive season
As the year draws to an end, another round of end of year festivities commences which sees hordes of people around the world gathering together to celebrate.
Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years always triggers a two-month wave of mass production of goods, consumption and social engagements.
What do most of us do during this period? Eat and drink! There is of course nothing wrong with time honoured tradition as we ease into some much-deserved down time over the holidays however, the excess effects of these celebrations traditionally results in astronomical amounts of waste, increases in greenhouse gas emissions and noticeable rises in our carbon footprints.
Our Indulgence in Figures
As most of these celebrations involve eating, it’s not surprising that many producers and manufacturers kick their operations up a gear to ensure supply meets demand.
For the carnivores, chicken and turkey may be the go-to bird for that gratifying family lunch meal. Whilst generally both turkey and chicken farming have lower carbon footprints than other livestock animals such as beef and lamb, the sizeable increase in demands of these birds over this period still generates staggering carbon emissions.
During the lifespan of a single turkey, an average total of 34.2 pounds of CO2 is generated. In the United States, it has been reported that almost 35 percent of turkey meat cooked for Thanksgiving alone gets discarded. In the United Kingdom, 2 million turkeys get trashed.
Where does the discarded poultry go? Landfill. This, in turn, releases even more carbon dioxide and methane as the carcasses decompose. Mass improper discarding of carcasses also contributes to water and soil pollution as the feed given to poultry when being grown contain metals such as arsenic, zinc and copper; metals which are toxic to the botanical environments or insects that later feed on the carcasses.
Beef or lamb production produces over 15kg of CO2 emissions per kilo of meet, although requires less energy to process than poultry.
The greens that make up our favourite trimmings are naturally a little more sustainable however, the sheer quantum consumed over the festive season still can create environmental problems.
To grow a single kilo of potatoes emits about 2.9kg of CO2; one serving of cranberry sauce – 1.1kg of CO2; and one kilogram of green beans – 0.4kg of CO2. Although it’s not just the production of these trimmings it’s also the cooking. Majority of households with have ovens and stove-tops going for entire mornings, the electrical and energy usage of which itself contributes to total CO2 emissions.
However, that’s just the farming process and getting our food doesn’t exist in a vacuum; our individual household’s dinner table is still related to the ecology of our societal consumption practices.
The entire supply chain to get our proteins from farm to table requires many processes and systems i.e. processing systems, transportation, packaging and re-packaging and retail sale of the goods. These processes require significant amounts of energy to process livestock and/or crop harvesting, fuel to transport the products, water to hydrate the animals, clean the machinery, irrigate the land etc, and paper and plastics to package the processed goods for sale.
There are many tools available online, for the interested consumer, which can provide us with a more detailed idea of how our choices around the festive season can impact our environment and provide us an opportunity to make an informed decision to choose something different than we normally would.
Doing it Differently to Make a Difference
How often do we find ourselves realising that we cooked way too much? A lot. So, a little planning in this regard can really go a long way.
Before you buy, consider how many guests you expect to have and take some time to work out servings and portion sizes accordingly to avoid buying the whole shop and reduce waste.
Consider reducing meat consumption altogether and have primary dishes that star vegetables instead with meat as a side pairing.
If you’re more daring, consider substituting meat altogether for alternatives such as tofu or tempeh.
Buy sustainable. ‘Free range’ doesn’t always mean ‘free
When we are buying meat, consider buying from a local farmer directly or at a farmer’s market, or a local butcher.
Not only will you be supporting local businesses but the locality of production may result in fresher product, out of pocket cost savings from lower over-head production costs and more reliable information about the processes and systems used.
If buying this way, also opt to collect the goods without the extra cardboard boxes or plastic wrappings that you probably couldn’t avoid at a grocery store, or if ordering produce online, to further reduce unnecessary waste from packaging.
If purchasing from a grocery store, look for specific labels to aid in more ethical buying decisions.
‘Certified Humane’ labels indicate that an animal was raised in healthy living conditions, inferring a cleaner and healthier product. ‘Free-range’ labels generally only require animals to have been freely able to roam for half their lives and also doesn’t guarantee ethical slaughter.
Depending on where you live, certified organic labels also give indications about what crops were fed during production.
In the United States, knowing the difference between ‘USDA organic’, ‘organic’ or ‘specific organic ingredients may be the difference in which product you choose.
For vegetables, one really can’t beat plucking them from yours or your guests own gardens or purchasing straight from local producers at a market or community garden.
Also consider using glass, metal or ceramic tableware and cutlery and re-usable napkins over single-use paper napkins during those lunches and dinners and avoid paper or plastic, again, to minimise waste.
After the Food in Coma
If there are left-overs, of course, ensure that you consume them shortly after the festivities to avoid waste.
If you still have an abundance of left-overs that you and your family couldn’t possibly consume yourselves, consider donating it to a food kitchen or shelter for the underprivileged.
It is never too late to start a new habit and during a time when we’re more reflective and grateful than usual, reforming the ways in which we approach our festivities may be the greatest gift we could give to each other and the environment after all.