I will be thankful. No turkey necessary.

We will wake up- slowly, and on different schedules. My mom will get up first and will start the coffee. My dad will wake up second, and start a fire. My brother and I will roll down stairs, eventually, with messy hair and sleepy eyes, and it will be Thanksgiving.

My mom will likely have made some muffins or rolls, because she’s amazing. We will all share a few warm bites of that fresh baked bread over a warm cup of caffeine, and then the day will begin!

The boys will rake leaves, or watch football. My brother will play guitar, sending melodies floating through the house like smells from the kitchen.  And my mom and I will cook. We will cook all day together- side by side, rotating counter tops like a choreographed dance- weaving in and out, in synch, until the meal is prepared.

Then we will then gather around the table, overwhelmed with all that we have to be thankful for, and will likely eat as if we’ve done something that day to really deserve ‘stuffing’ ourselves.

I love Thanksgiving. I am unabashedly nostalgic and tradition oriented, and am happier when I see my family with more regularity than not. However, in the last few years, my opinions about Thanksgiving have shifted.  I have decided that nostalgia is not what was important at Thanksgiving. Traditions do not have to be set in stone for me to be thankful.

And yes, if you could not read between the lines of this vegetarian food blog, I’m talking about turkey- that one piece of the tradition that we seem to struggle to let go of the most. I am talking about the way we, as Americans, have adopted norms and traditions that may taste yummy or are fun, but are harmful, and yet under the heading of comfort or preference or “it just isn’t thanksgiving without…,” we manage to ignore our responsibility for change year after year.

Ignorance is bliss. However ignorance will also be the downfall of us. So, here are the facts:

  • It will take at least 915,200 barrels of oil to produce and ship all the turkeys Americans eat (Cohn and Wheeler, Chicago Tribune). That is a heck lot of oil people!
  • According to research done by the University of Manchester in England, a typical Thanksgiving meal for 8, produces 44 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions- about 60% of which comes from Turkey alone (Cone and Wheeler, Chicago Tribune).  Those carbon dioxide emissions are what play a huge role in global warming, and the dissolving of our atmosphere. Take note.
  • Every dish on your Thanksgiving table will have a carbon footprint, vegetarian and carnivorous alike! However, your green vegetables are estimated to be responsible for only 0.4 pounds of carbon dioxide (or about 1 mile of driving), while your turkey intake is equivalent to 4.8 pounds of carbon dioxide (about 6 miles of driving) (Palmer, Washington Post). It’s worth thinking about.

In other words, if you want to lower your carbon footprint, if you want to have a green Thanksgiving, or if you want to protect the poor- who will be the first to be hurt by global warming, then you have a responsibility to pay attention to how you eat.  And that responsibility, which is backed up by dozens and dozens of research articles, would say that turkey is not the way to go. Look on the bright side though, if one thing had to go, wouldn’t you rather it be the turkey over the sweet potatoes or the pumpkin pie?!?!

My entire family is now vegetarian, and it hasn’t been easy for all of us.  My parents spent most of their life eating meat, and looking forward to turkey on Thanksgiving day.  We know how frustrating and challenging changing traditions can be, and thus have played around with the idea of buying local, organic, naturally fed meat instead of giving up meat all together.  For some, it feels like a win-win; you can love the environment and eat your meat too! Unfortunately the research would tell you that even sustainable and environmentally conscious meat growers require a lot of resources, so the best way to care for the environment would be to eat significantly less meat all together (Cohn and Wheeler, Chicago Tribune).   However, I’m for baby steps, and if you are not ready to let meat go, organic local meat is so much better than big-agg birds mass produced, and every step you make makes a difference.

Now, honestly, I don’t expect that anyone will read this little post and decide to give up their turkey for Thanksgiving. I know that even if turkey isn’t your favorite part of the meal, there is something special about having that big roasted bird, which takes hours to prepare, on the table.  That feels special- that feels like Thanksgiving. I get that, I know that. I have thought that too.

However, when I think about Thanksgiving in it’s truest sense, I think the purpose of Thanksgiving is to be grateful. I think the purpose of Thanksgiving is not to eat as many calories as you possible can in one meal, or to indulge in a particular menu once a year. I think Thanksgiving is suppose to be a time where we slow down and practice saying “thank you,” to the Earth, to one another, and to the Creator.

So, while I would love for each of you reading this to be inspired and abandon the turkey for one year- and it really would make a difference for the environment, whether you’d like to think it does or not. I do not anticipate that happening.

But I do hope you think a little longer about what you’re really thankful for, because I have a hunch turkey is not the reason we are grateful this time of year. I have a hunch, that if you count your blessings, it will be for the people you love, for warmth and a roof over your head, and for the Earth, which even when under attack, has continued to give us food year after year.

I know for me, we will wake up- slowly, and on different schedules. My mom will get up first and will start the coffee. My dad will wake up second, and start a fire. My brother and I will roll down stairs, eventually, with messy hair and sleepy eyes, and that will be Thanksgiving. We will be together, and I will be thankful. No turkey necessary.



Cohn, Meredith, and Tim Wheeler. “Thanksgiving Dinner’s Carbon Footprint.” Chicago Tribune. 23 Nov. 2015.

Palmer, Brian. “The Environmental Costs of a Thanksgiving Meal; ‘food Miles’ and Other Damage.” Washington Post. 11 Nov. 2013, accessed 23 Nov. 2015.

One thought on “I will be thankful. No turkey necessary.

  1. Carol Are says:

    Thank you for reminding me of what really matters. I have been challenged by your suggestion that the earth keeps providing even as we neglect, even as we abuse her. This article encourages me to do more. I am grateful.

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