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Climate Connection

The Climate Connection: A plant-rich Thanksgiving

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As big and complex as the climate change issue is, a growing body of research shows that we can make a tremendous impact on our planet’s future by switching to a plant-rich diet. 

According to Sarah Bridle, a researcher at the University of Manchester and author of "Food and Climate Change Without the Hot Air," “a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for an eight-person family — the turkey, the stuffing, the hours of oven time — is as harmful to the planet as a three-hour car trip.” But how can we embrace one of our favorite holidays and minimize our impact to the planet?

As big and complex as the climate change issue is, a growing body of research shows that we can make a tremendous impact on our planet’s future by switching to a plant-rich diet. A study described in the journal, Nature Food, found that food production accounts for 35 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Project Drawdown, Paul Hawken’s compendium of climate solutions, “If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.” It’s for this reason that of the 80 ranked solutions proposed in Project Drawdown, adopting a plant-rich diet was number four on the most important and impactful changes to be made.

This means that cutting your meat intake, or taking the full plunge and becoming a vegetarian, could make a bigger dent in your personal carbon footprint than buying an electric vehicle, installing solar panels, or upgrading the efficiency of your home.

Note that Project Drawdown encourages a plant-rich diet; it doesn't recommend that everyone become a vegan. It is about a shift, not a complete overhaul, of our behavior. But it won’t work if business continues as usual, which means that we should not only retrain our palettes, but also bring an end to government subsidies that benefit the U.S. livestock market, so that the prices of meat more accurately reflect their husbandry and processing costs as well as their planetary impact.

Starting at your own table, adopting a plant-rich diet has tons of other benefits, as well: better gut health, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and a cheaper price tag. And unlike some other climate actions, a plant-rich diet can be implemented today with zero switching costs. No need to install anything, buy anything, or retrofit a grid. Climate action has never been so easy.

As a “flexitarian” (someone who sometimes eats vegetarian) myself though, I would add one final benefit that is particularly apparent at Thanksgiving: it’s flippin’ delicious!

Departing from the traditional meat-focused meal gave my family permission to experiment with other things as well. So while I would fully recommend a vegetarian or vegan Thanksgiving as a fresh take on a known menu, with things like spinach puffs, crispy potato skillet, green bean casseroles, cauliflower stuffing and mushroom wellington, I’d also say that you can dress the table up however you want.

In my household, we’ve decided to explore a different vegetarian cuisine every year and have (so far) hosted a Middle Eastern Thanksgiving meal, a Polynesian Thanksgiving meal, and this year a Mexican Thanksgiving feast.

For us, the thing that made the Thanksgiving meal “traditional” was sitting around a table, passing plates hand-over-wrist, telling stories and eating so much food that we had to lie down gasping with laughter. Everything else was just an opportunity to explore new culinary frontiers, play new music and unpack seldom-used tablecloths.

So give yourself permission to try something new and remake the holiday in a new light, both for yourself and the planet. You can find some napkin-dropping vegetarian recipe options at the Napa Climate NOW! website for inspiration:

Actions you can take:• Host a vegetarian Thanksgiving or minimize the meat dishes on your table and rotate in some new veggie ones. After all, this is an opportunity to get creative and have fun! Share the results with Napa Climate NOW! on our Facebook or Instagram pages. Check out some recipes at

• If a vegetarian meal doesn’t seem possible, consider serving smaller portions or eat less meat ahead of the holiday splurge (basically you’re balancing the cost in your carbon wallet).

• Track the US Food & Agriculture bills here and contact committee members about supporting a climate-friendly Farm Bill at

• Contact places where you dine (your favorite restaurant, your cafeteria) and encourage them to provide more meatless options or institute Meatless Monday.

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Jessica Day, is co-founder and chief marketing officer at IdeaScale - a crowdsourcing software. She holds an MFA in creative writing, is a member of Napa Climate NOW! and regularly speaks about climate action.

Napa Climate NOW! is a local non-profit citizens’ group advocating for smart climate solutions based on the latest climate science, part of 350 Bay Area. Like, comment, and share our daily Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts @napaclimatenow or visit us at:

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Napa Climate NOW! has drafted a proposed mandate for adoption county-wide Reusable Foodware and Waste Reduction Ordinance to transition food establishments and customers from disposable plates, cups, straws, napkins, condiment packages, and so on to reusable and compostable foodware.

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