A Thanksgiving Celebration That Honors “The Real Story”

This post is part of our Conscious Consumerism series to encourage our readers to live – and buy – responsibly. As marketers in the purpose economy, we see it as our job to help people make purchasing decisions that align with their values and contribute to the greater good. Want to learn more about our mission? Download our Manifesto.

People are very skeptical these days. Though in some contexts this quality is frustrating, it’s very refreshing in others. Take, for example, the holiday just around the corner: Thanksgiving. In school, you were probably spoon-fed a heartwarming narrative about how the Indians (yes, that’s what they were called) took pity on the hungry colonists and shared their knowledge of food-production. In celebration, the two groups shared a hearty meal commemorating the harvest and their collaboration. End scene.

You know now that this version of events isn’t a good recap. Not only does it fail to convey what really happened, it commits the grave error of using a cheery tableaux to characterize the relationship between the colonists and Native Americans, which in reality involved way more genocide than meal-sharing.

The glut of information now available to anyone with an internet connection makes it possible to seek out truth – like the real story of Thanksgiving – with minimal effort. It isn’t difficult to find the bigger picture, the nasty details and alternative perspectives. Encouraged by this, we’re becoming increasingly unwilling to accept neat little narratives in pretty packages. We know there’s more, and we’re determined to find it.

When we search for the truth around today’s Thanksgiving celebrations, the bounty many of us enjoy as United States citizens stands out: most of us enjoy comfort, safety and a lot of food. Even though roughly 815 million people in the world suffered from chronic undernourishment in 2016 (United National Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO]), more than 30% of groceries in the US are thrown away each year (US Department of Agriculture).

The UNFAO found that while around 11 million of the world’s undernourished people live in developed countries, unsurprisingly hunger more frequently afflicts those in developing countries (the other 791 million). For the most part, those of us here in the US are super-consumers: we buy stuff we don’t need, we throw out what we don’t use and on Thanksgiving, we make a point of feasting. The “real story” here is that our actions have an environmental and social impact that reaches far beyond Plymouth Rock.

If we are really thankful for our good fortune, the least we can do is try to celebrate Thanksgiving in a way that honors those upon whom our abundance depends. After all, true gratitude depends on understanding the plenty we have. Our “having” comfort shouldn’t take comfort and safety away from others. Ideally, our purchases should create a positive impact for those less fortunate than ourselves.

As you plan your Thanksgiving dinner, we encourage you to find products without dark secrets. Consuming consciously on this holiday shows a determination to consider the story behind what we see and act justly based on that reality. Here are some tips to guide you:

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Say no to waste

We know well that it’s really difficult to achieve zero-waste, but it’s also true that the volume of waste generated in the US generally increases around 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day (US Environmental Protection Agency). To really show gratitude for your good fortune, cut back on waste by following these tips borrowed from Food Tank:

  • Don’t use disposable dishes and utensils, or at least use them sparingly
  • Do a fridge audit before you go shopping so you don’t buy something you already have, allowing your original stock to “go bad”
  • Cook for your actual headcount, not an army; gauge how much to make using realistic portions
  • Use your nose, eyes and StillTasty to determine if something is still good rather than trusting the arbitrary date on the package
  • Use veggie scraps to make a stock, use giblets for gravy, make bread pudding out of your stale rolls – get creative with culinary cast-offs to reduce waste
  • DO NOT trash your leftovers – eat them!
  • Donate any excess that meets guidelines to local food banks

If you end up with more leftovers than you think you can eat before they spoil, investigate which might be good candidates for the freezer

Shop local 

There are lots of good things about locally sourcing ingredients for your Thanksgiving meal. Doing so strengthens your local economy, minimizes carbon emissions, results in fresher, tastier food, and guarantees (for the most part) that your food was produced in a system that compensates people fairly. When you pay a producer directly, there’s no middleman taking a cut – the farmer and farm workers are the ones that reap the rewards of their labor.

Check out localharvest.org and enter your location to find nearby farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs and farms to enjoy the bounty of a local harvest.

Look for certifications

Even if you can’t find everything you need at a local farmer’s market, you can seek out foods certified to meet certain standards. It can be tricky for certifications to account for every little detail along the supply chain, but they do reliably indicate that specific standards have been met. Consider these certifications:

Fair Trade USA Certified: Fair Trade USA is “the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States.” In addition to meeting other criteria, products boasting this certification come from producers that:

Rainforest Alliance Certified: The Rainforest Alliance “works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior.” Products bearing their seal come from companies that adhere to the standards put forth by the Sustainable Agriculture Network. These companies:

  • Don’t employ minors under 15 years of age (or the age established by local law)
  • Pay farm employees a legal minimum wage
  • Provide workers with access to education and healthcare
  • Run occupational health and safety programs to reduce the risk to workers
  • Keep local stakeholders informed about their operations

Fair For Life Social & Fair Trade Certification: This certification “assures that human rights are safeguarded at any stage of product, workers enjoy good and fair working conditions and smallholder farmers receive a fair share.” You can learn more about the certification requirements and rating system here but to summarize, a company must meet all of the MUST-criteria and an increasingly high percentage of other criteria in applicable assessment modules in addition to basic criteria like:

  • Adhering to basic labor rights as defined by the ILO
  • Providing safe working conditions
  • Committing to social responsibility and to having a positive role in the local community
  • Making efforts to monitor and improve environmental performance
  • Try not to support slavery

Unfortunately, supply chains aren’t as transparent as we might wish and aside from buying specially certified products, it can be challenging to ensure that the workers upon whose labor you depend are of age, fairly compensated, afforded safe working conditions and not working against their will. One helpful resource is the Products of Slavery website – it shows which products from which countries are most likely products of slave labor so you can avoid them.

Though it won’t help you make specific purchasing decisions, SlaveryFootprint.org will determine the “Number of Slaves That Work for You” based on your purchasing habits, eating habits and lifestyle choices. Taking the assessment can offer you insight into which of your behaviors support the system of slavery.

We hope that this [fairly obvious yet nevertheless sound] advice will be helpful in guiding you as you acquire the components of your Thanksgiving feast. Beyond that, we hope that this article has encouraged you to be honest with yourself about the way purchasing certain products makes buyers complicit in accepting partial truths, or even falsehoods. Your choices have an impact on others. If you want that impact to be positive, do what you can to share your wealth through your purchasing decisions.

When you buy a tacky $5 T-shirt with a turkey on it, you’re accepting the story that disposable fashion isn’t dangerous for our environment and endorsing the under-compensation of the person who made it. When you buy a factory-farmed turkey, you’re either ignoring or accepting the gross mistreatment of the unfortunate fowl. When the sugar for your pecan pie comes from sugar cane plantations worked by child laborers, you’re maintaining demand for a product that systematically violates children’s rights.

We’re not trying to guilt-trip anybody here – conscious consumption takes more time and it [nearly] always costs more for the consumer. If you’re short on either time or money, it may not be viable to buy all conscious products all the time. Still, it’s important to remember that there is more to the stories we’re given, to seek out more of the truth when we can, and to make efforts to act honorably based on that deeper understanding.

This year, we can all give thanks for healthy skepticism, for our abundance, for the wealth of information at our fingertips and for the friends and family who enrich our lives. We’ll also be eating locally raised turkey! What are you planning for the big day?

This post was originally published on November 12, 2015.

RoundPeg helps purposeful companies build transformative relationships with their customers. Our Purpose is to challenge conspicuous consumption and make buying responsibly the norm. We are a certified B Corp and Benefit Corporation.

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