Thanksgiving family dinner viewed from above

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% 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 access to pasture.

Best: Animal Welfare Approved” certification is granted by A Greener World 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 by-products
  • 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

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. So they are 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.

Healthy Thanksgiving dish

Or, skip the turkey: 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, vegetarian or vegan alternative.

Also, you can order a free Vegan Starter Kit from PETA. Just fill out the form to request a free copy. It is packed full of recipes and tips on making the switch to vegan.

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 perfluorochemical (PFC) exposure.

NOT THIS: Did you know that PFCs (PFOA and PTFE) are used in the manufacturing of nonstick cookware, such as the 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: Eat the correct type of carbohydrates; buy 100% whole grain and 100% whole wheat. 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 and Fruits

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. (A 4-digit PLU number indicates pesticides.) Avoid genetically modified foods. High-risk GMO crops include soy, corn, alfalfa, and canola.

If your budget is tight, stick with conventionally grown produce 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 Clean Fifteen list for 2021 includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, onions, papayas, sweet peas (frozen), eggplants, asparagus, broccoli, cabbages, kiwis, cauliflower, mushrooms, honeydew melons, and cantaloupes.

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. The 2021 Dirty Dozen list includes strawberries, spinach, kale/collard/mustard greens, nectarines, apples, grapes, cherries, peaches, pears, bell peppers/hot peppers, celery, and tomatoes.

Editor’s note: Originally published on November 11, 2015, this article was updated in November 2021.

By Lisa Beres

Lisa Beres is a healthy home authority, Baubiologist, published author, professional speaker and Telly award-winning media personality who teaches busy people how to eliminate toxins from their home with simple, step-by-step solutions to improve their health. With her husband, Ron, she is the co-founder of The Healthy Home Dream Team and the 30-day online program Change Your Home. Change Your Health. She is the author of the children’s book My Body My House and co-author of Just Green It!: Simple Swaps to Save Your Health and the Planet, Learn to Create a Healthy Home! Green Nest Creating Healthy Homes and The 9 to 5 Greened: 10 Steps to a Healthy Office. Lisa’s TV appearances include "The Rachael Ray Show," "Nightly News with Brian Williams," "TODAY," "The Doctors," "Fox & Friends," "Chelsea Lately" and "The Suzanne Somers Show."