MARQUETTE - From 1621 when the Pilgrims first celebrated Thanksgiving through today, the holiday has centered around two main themes: thanks and food.
The 117 million households in the country are all potential gathering places for this year's holiday, and all potential places to incorporate some "green" practices. Starting with small steps can make having a greener holiday seem more like a fun experiment rather than attempting to change everything at once.
"There's always ways you can green up each holiday," said Natasha Gill, outreach director for the Marquette Food Co-op.
Local produce, above and left, can make a difference in having a greener, healthier Thanksgiving dinner. Both the Marquette Food Co-op and the Marquette Farmers’ Market feature local produce that is traditionally part of Thanksgiving, like pumpkins and potatoes. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
The turkey may be the most recognizable and anticipated part of the typical Thanksgiving dinner, but reducing or eliminating meat from the meal can be one of the biggest ways to reduce your environmental impact, Gill said.
As available as tofu-roast substitutes and Tofurky is, though, non-vegetarians may not be quite ready to give up the bird.
"Getting a locally raised farm fresh turkey is the next best step," Gill said.
However, obtaining a local bird usually takes some planning as many farmers only raise enough birds to fill advance orders.
"Think about it for the next year," said Sarah Monte, education and programming coordinator for the co-op.
Another option is to make the main course something you've harvested yourself, venison or turkey bagged during hunting season, Gill said.
Besides the main course, the rest of the meal can be made "green" by following the 100-Mile Thanksgiving Challenge put out by TreeHugger.com, a media outlet that focuses on sustainability. The 100-Mile Challenge asks consumers to put together their Thanksgiving meals using food that was grown within a 100-mile radius of their home.
Planning can also allow people to can, dry or preserve produce grown in their own gardens. For those without a garden, the Marquette Farmers' Market runs into December and features all locally produced items from potatoes to pumpkins.
Using local produce and products cuts dramatically the amount of fuel and energy used to transport food to the store and gives a boost to local growers. Organic produce is also a good choice.
When shopping for the ingredients for your feast, there are several steps you can take. First, carefully plan out your meal and what needs to be purchased so you can avoid emergency drives back to the store. Also, avoid purchasing food with a lot of excess packaging or consider making more from scratch. Buying organic wine with a real cork stopper is also a positive move.
One step that can also help reduce waste (and stress) is simply cutting back on how much work goes into the holiday.
"It seems every year that decorations become more excessive, more plastic," Gill said.
Using real corn stalks, dried gourds and dried flowers and grasses as decoration also allows you to compost them afterwards.
When cooking, try cooking less to eliminate wasted food later. Everyone likes a refrigerator full of Thanksgiving leftovers, but planning on three servings per person on Thanksgiving day might be a bit much.
"When you do have leftovers, have your recipes ready so you can make them stretch for many meals," Gill suggested.
If your family is all gathering in one place for the holiday, encourage people to carpool to get there and bring their own plates and silverware to avoid using disposable dishes that don't always break down in the landfill.
And for the major house clean-up after the guests leave, consider using non-toxic cleaners like baking soda and water or vinegar and newspaper.
Be sure to have a designated area for recycling and let guests know where it is to make sure pop cans or other recyclables don't end up in the trash.
Finally, after dinner - if the organic-turkey-induced coma hasn't set in yet - save on electricity by getting people up from in front of the TV and play a game of football outside.
"Overall, it's the concept of simplicity because, really, Thanksgiving is what you're thankful for," Gill said.