Make Your Thanksgiving More Meaningful with a Local, Sustainable Feast

PHOTO: pumpkins at market

There’s so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving—family, home, hearth, and all those nifty tips the Garden is providing to green up your holiday! Food, of course, is the central element, and with just a little more effort as you choose the items for your dinner, you can honor the earth that has provided your feast. You can also decorate and scent your home using nature’s bounty and avoiding objects that threaten it, such as petroleum-based products.

If you prefer traditional turkey over the Tofurkey kind, avoid factory-farmed birds and seek sustainably raised ones (type “sustainably farmed turkey” into your computer’s search engine and you’ll get pages of listings). Visit the winter Farmers’ Market at the Garden for local produce, gourds, and pumpkins. You can also head for the organic section of your grocery store for produce, as well as staples like flour and oil. Many grocery stores carry organic cider, and canned organic pumpkin and cranberry sauce. (Cranberries, incidentally, are one of the few fruits native to North America.) Responsibly grown and locally harvested food is more expensive than the mass-produced varieties, but you can offset the additional cost of your Thanksgiving feast by making your own decorations.

PHOTO: wreathHow? It’s easy—and fun for the kids, too! Put on a jacket, grab a bag, and start gathering natural items that support your vision of what Thanksgiving should look like. Collect acorns, chestnuts, leaves, pinecones, berries—whatever!—and arrange them with organic gourds around a woven wreath or in a wicker cornucopia (both are available at craft shops), or simply place them in a large bowl. Oranges, pomegranates, golden pears and other fall-colored fruit can also be used. And there you have it: a simple, lovely, seasonal centerpiece.

Brightly berried branches look striking set in earth-colored vases. Better yet, hollow out a pumpkin and use it as a vase (make the hole narrower than the traditional “cap” to help branches remain upright). Pressed leaves can create natural “stained glass” for your windows, and you can also use fruits and gourds as placecard holders; just make a slit across the top, into which you can slip a card. Your kids can have fun making pinecone turkeys by sticking leaves and found feathers in the big end for tail feathers, gluing an acorn on the small end for the head, and adding bead eyes, plus pipecleaner feet and a wattle.

Turkey IllustrationAn hour or so of your time will provide a wonderful scent that lasts much longer. Make a natural pomander—another holiday activity that can involve children. All you need to begin is an orange, lemon, or apple, plus cloves and a toothpick. Poke holes into the fruit, and stuff them with cloves. You can cover the surface or make designs, leaving more peel showing. When you finish, place your pomander in a baggie with some allspice, cinnamon, and orris root if you have any (this fixative prolongs the scent), and shake gently to cover your pomander with the spices. Remove the pomander, tap off excess spices, wrap it in tissue paper, and place it in a cool, dry place to dry for several weeks. You can finish it off with a lovely ribbon later. At that point you can find a good spot and display your pomander, and any others you make, a day or so before your Thanksgiving dinner.

Candles can be great mood enhancers, whether the occasion is a holiday or not. Make sure your candles are made of beeswax or soy, as paraffin candles are petroleum based and burning them releases harmful chemicals. Scented candles are often even worse, since petroleum-based synthetic oils are combined with paraffin in a double-whammy product that releases toxins through the oil as well as the melting wax. (As with the e-hunt for sustainably raised turkeys, you can pull up pages of helpful suggestions if you type “healthy candles.”) Consider wrapping leaves around the candles with twine, or setting the candles in a base wide enough for you to ring them with gathered nuts, tree and shrub berries, cranberries, and leaves.

Finally, the holiday arrives. Your table has been set, the beautiful centerpiece you made an artful focal point. The kitchen has been a beehive of activity since early morning; eventually, as cooking aromas grow irresistible, your family gathers for the feast, the gentle glow of candles beckoning them to the Thanksgiving table. As you give thanks, thanks go to you too, for incorporating environmentally responsible elements into your celebration.