A recent Washington Post essay faced backlash online after listing common Thanksgiving foods and their “climate impact” in order to inform readers which of the festivity’s staples can be consumed “with a clear conscience.”
The Thursday article by food columnist Tamar Haspel, titled “The climate impact of the Thanksgiving meal might surprise you,” begins with the author admitting that “tallying the environmental impact of a holiday feast” does not seem to be in the holiday spirit.
“I know, I know, nobody wants to put ‘climate’ and ‘Thanksgiving’ in the same sentence,” she continues.
Perspective: The climate impact of the Thanksgiving meal might surprise youhttps://t.co/UbPZGcTTqC
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) November 18, 2022
Reassuring readers of the “good news” that the mainstays of the meal — poultry and plants — make Thanksgiving “a much more climate-friendly holiday than, say, the burgerfest that is the Fourth of July,” the author then lists typical Thanksgiving dishes alongside “how they stack up, climate-wise.”
While turkey is described as having a higher “footprint” than chicken because it’s “slower-growing,” according to the author, it can still be a “good choice.”
Haspel, a self-described Cape Cod oyster farmer, also gives approval of oysters for they “have the lightest climate impact of any fish in the sea.”
“Unlike almost any other wild protein source, oysters, clams and mussels actually leave the environment better than they find it,” she writes.
Potatoes, too, are a win “climate-wise,” according to the author, as they contribute “about one-tenth the greenhouse gas emissions of the poultry (on a per-calorie basis).”
“Of course, the butter and cream increase the tally because dairy is comparable to poultry and pork, and if you want to cut back on those, try roasting your potatoes instead of mashing; go crispy instead of creamy,” she adds.
Green beans, on the other hand, are met with less approval.
“Green vegetables aren’t quite as environmentally friendly as root vegetables,” the author writes. “When it comes to greenhouse gases, virtually all plants are better than virtually all animal foods, but green vegetables have the highest per-calorie emissions, because they deliver nutrition with few calories.”
However, she adds, since those gathering around the Thanksgiving table are “getting plenty of calories elsewhere in this meal, the nutrition matters, as do those crispy onions that top your casserole” and therefore green beans are “fine.”
Pecan and apple pies are both “climate winners,” Haspel notes, adding that food that grows on trees “tends to outperform other foods for two reasons: They grow on a carbon-storing plant that doesn’t have to be replanted every year, and each tree produces a whole lot of food.”
Pumpkins being a “non-green vegetable,” she continues, can be used in a pie “with a clear conscience.”
“That’s a relief, eh?” she adds.
Though butter — “being an animal food” — is “not so much” a “climate win,” the author admits she won’t be “telling you to make your crusts with anything else.”
And while the holiday staples are described as “[b]asically, all good,” the author turns to what she describes as the true “Thanksgiving climate villain” — food waste.