10 Tips for a Sustainable Friendsgiving

It’s been a big year for me: new name, new address, renewed sense of purpose about the need to tackle climate change now. As the holiday season approaches, I’m reminded that I couldn’t have done any of these things on my own. I have a powerful community of friends who have supported me. And I can’t wait to honor and celebrate them over Friendsgiving dinner this year.

While Thanksgiving gets the most attention, this 21st century holiday is a wonderful way to connect with your chosen family too. Unfortunately, big feasts like this often result in a lot of food going to waste. Nobody wants to be wasteful. It generally happens because we want to show we care by filling our guests’ stomachs—or because we’re unsure how much to cook for a big group.

Thanksgiving Table by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons

But when good food goes to waste, so does everything it takes to get it to our plates. Each year, about 200 million pounds of turkey meat are thrown out over the Thanksgiving holiday. It takes a lot of resources to produce that meat. The greenhouse gas emissions from a pound of wasted turkey meat are equivalent to those of burning a half gallon of gasoline. And producing that pound of turkey meat used up 520 gallons of water; you could run your shower for 75 minutes with that much water.

It doesn’t have to be this way. As scientists continued to sound the alarm on climate change this year, this Friendsgiving is an opportunity for us to celebrate in a way that invests in each other’s future.

Here are my top 10 tips for a more sustainable celebration that is just as delicious, festive and Instagram-worthy as ever:

  1. Plan your portions: Figure out just how much you need to prepare for your party by using NRDC’s free digital portion planner, The Guest-imator. You tell it how many people you are hosting, what kind of eaters they are, what you are serving and how much you want leftover, and it tells you how much to prepare.
  2. Start small: Serve dinner on salad plates. Especially if your guests tend to have a lot left on their plate at the end of the meal, start with a smaller plate so that when they pile it up, its more closely aligned with what their tummies can handle. If anyone is still hungry after the first pass, they can always go back for seconds .
  3. Pardon a Turkey: If you’re willing to make your own traditions you can save a bit of cash and a lot of climate pollution by prepping a vegetarian main course instead of the bird. That’s because meat has an outsized climate footprint, so wasting it especially harmful for the planet. Skipping the meat can also help keep our lifesaving antibiotics working when sick people need them. In fact, turkeys are given antibiotics more intensively than other food animals in the U.S.—a problem that is fueling the growing epidemic of drug-resistant infections in humans. A beautiful stuffed squash can be an eye-catching main dish without the added climate guilt or risk of Salmonella superbugs.  
  4. Keep the peel: Since you’re already planning a crazy amount of side dishes, save yourself some time and don’t bother to peel your veggies. Just give them a good wash and embrace the rustic look.
  5. Pickle it: In recent years, gut health has become a core (pun intended!) facet of a healthy diet. Fermented foods like pickles are great for your digestive system, and also happen to be a good way to preserve surplus produce. In the weeks before the party, consider pickling veggies—from cauliflower to onions and carrots—that you aren’t going to get to before they spoil, and serving mixed veggie pickles as part of your appetizer board. 
  6. Salvage a cooking crisis: Burned the stuffing? Over-salted the gravy? Potatoes too bland? There’s a fix for that so you don’t have to toss it!
  7. Savor your scraps: Give surplus ingredients from your core recipes new life—whether as a new addition to the Friendsgiving feast, or in the week to follow. Leftover pumpkin puree? Mix it up into a pumpkin spice cocktail. Extra fruit and opened bottles of wine? Make sangria. Too many potatoes? Make donuts.
  8. Love your leftovers: For those dishes so good that less than a single serving is left behind (like my famous green bean casserole!), incorporate them into a frittatasoup, or pasta for Tuesday when you’ll no longer have energy to cook something fresh.
  9. BYO doggie bag: Tell your guests to bring a to-go container to share the leftover love.
  10. Just freeze it: The freezer is a magic pause button for food—and almost anything can be frozen. If you don’t eat it within a couple days after the feast, freeze it, label it, and you’ll be excited to have a pre-made option in a couple weeks when you need it!

So pull up a chair, give thanks for all that’s good, enlist your friends in the fight to prevent food waste, and build a better future for the people you love.

About the Authors

Andrea Spacht Collins

Sustainable Food Systems Specialist, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program
Blog Post

Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful, yet it’s often very wasteful as well. The absolute best way to stop food waste is to keep it from happening in the first place. It takes a little bit of attention but preventing food waste is not rocket science.

Blog Post

We’ve all been there: hands on a full belly, eyes slightly drooping, debating one last helping of mashed potatoes from the mounds of food still on the table. As the cornucopia stares back at me, I can’t help but think it’s the ultimate paradox that we celebrate a time when there was barely enough food to make it through the winter by having a huge feast–and then chucking a big portion of it in the trash.

Turkey is Bad on Antibiotics -- Pork and Beef, Even Worse

Chew on this, over your next holiday meal.

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