Green This, Not That: Simple Swaps for a Healthy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and, for many, this day symbolizes guilt-free gluttony. While merriment and raising a sustainable toast is more than encouraged, here are some simple swaps that will keep the pounds (and chemicals) off, while promoting animal welfare and a healthier, happier planet.

Autumn leaves

Image courtesy of Jason Devaun.

1. Turkey

GREEN THIS: Turkeys labeled USDA Organic meet specific requirements of organic farming. Organic turkeys may not receive antibiotics, arsenic compounds, or animal byproducts, and must eat 100 percent organic feed. Animals must have access to the outdoors or pasture, and GMOs are prohibited. You do have a choice when shopping, so why not buy a turkey that was treated fairly? Purchase an organic turkey from a local farm or farmers market and familiarize yourself with these labels:

Good: Pasture Raised” is not a regulated certification, but may indicate that these turkeys have been raised outside on pasture rather than inside.

Better: The “Certified Humane” registered trademark indicates the turkey was treated humanely. Animals are not confined to cages or crates, poultry is not de-beaked, and animals endure minimal suffering prior to slaughter. Antibiotics are used only to treat sickness as prescribed by a vet. But these animals do not necessarily have have access to pasture.

Best: Animal Welfare Approved” certification is granted by the Animal Welfare Institute to independently owned family farms that raise their animals outdoors on pasture so they can perform their natural and instinctive behaviors. This label indicates:

  • Continuous outdoor area that is covered with growing vegetation and at least 4 square feet per bird
  • Beak cutting and forced molting prohibited
  • Animals’ diets cannot contain meat or animal byproducts
  • No growth hormones are allowed and animals must be insensible to pain prior to slaughter
  • Animals being raised for meat can be given antibiotics only by a vet treating sickness, and antibiotics must be cleared from the animal’s system prior to slaughter

Vegetarian Option: Turkeys on factory farms are deprived of the simplest of pleasures, like running, building nests, spreading their wings, and raising their young. Even worse, they are killed when they are only 5 or 6 months old. After their beaks and toes are burned off with a hot blade, they are crammed into grimy sheds. If you can’t verify the source, opt for a non-GMO, vegan alternative.

Also, order a free Vegan Starter Kit from PETA. Just fill out the form to request a free copy or instantly download the starter kit, which is packed full of recipes and tips on making the switch!

NOT THIS: Are you paying more for turkeys labeled “hormone-free?” Save your dollars, because no poultry in the U.S. is allowed to receive hormones. They are in fact, all hormone-free (can you say greenwashing?). Turkeys labeled “natural,” “pastured,” and “conventional meat” do not have the same standards or inspections as USDA Organic.

  • Avoid: “Free-range” — although this term is regulated by the government and indicates the turkey must have access to the outdoors, the area may be quite small and the frequency and duration of access aren’t specified. No on-site review of operation is required for this label. And painful surgical procedures without pain meds are permitted.

2. Cookware

GREEN THIS: Avoid nonstick cookware. Use cast iron, food-grade stainless steel, or ceramic cookware and glass, earthenware, or cast iron for baking to avoid aluminum and perfluorchemical (PFC) exposure.

NOT THIS: Did you know that PFCs (PFOA and PTFE) are used in the manufacturing of nonstick cookware, such as Teflon brand? These coatings begin to break down and release toxins into the air at a temperature of only 446 degrees Fahrenheit. They are a likely carcinogen, as they have been shown to cause cancer in animal studies.

3. Bread

Vegan Nine Grain Whole Wheat Bread

Image courtesy of Mattie Hagedorn.

GREEN THIS: Buy 100 percent whole grain and 100 percent whole wheat. Eat the correct type of carbohydrates. A “good carb” contains “whole-grain” or “stone-ground” flour. Don’t look for this in the large print on the package as they can stretch the truth here. Look for these words near the top of the ingredient list. Whole-grain and stone-ground flours contain the entire grain kernel, hence more nutrients. Also, choose USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified items.

NOT THIS: Remember that just “wheat flour,” and “unbleached wheat flour” do not contain the whole grain. Also, avoid the word “enriched.” It sounds nice, but it’s not! Enriched means they stripped the grain from everything good and healthy, including fiber and B vitamins, then attempted to add the vitamins back in, except the form they add back in is inferior and not absorbed as well by the body.

4. Vegetables

GREEN THIS: Choose USDA Organic produce, which has a 5-digit PLU (Price Look Up) code starting with #9 and is Non-GMO Project Verified. Avoid genetically modified foods. High-risk GMO crops include soy, corn, alfalfa, and canola. If your budget is tight, stick with conventionally grown produce (a 4-digit PLU number indicates pesticides) that is on the list of the Environmental Working Group’s Clean Fifteen — these produce categories have been found to have the lowest pesticide residue. The list for 2018 includes: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbages, onions, sweet peas frozen, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydew melons, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower, and broccoli.

NOT THIS: Avoid the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list of produce (fruits and veggies found with the highest levels of pesticide residue), or purchase only organic produce when buying: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, sweet bell peppers, and hot peppers.

What’s your favorite way to celebrate Thanksgiving? Share your comments with the community on the Earthling Forum.

Editor’s note: Originally published on November 11, 2015, this article was updated in November 2018.

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