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How to lower your environmental footprint when preparing your Thanksgiving meal

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer

An estimated 46 million turkeys are killed each year for Thanksgiving alone, but more people are switching to a plant-based Thanksgiving meal not only for the animals, but for their health and the environment.

Transitioning to a plant-based meal doesn’t mean you have miss out on any Thanksgiving treats; you can easily make a few simple tweaks to your favorite recipes.

A plant-based diet is the best for the environment and it is extremely healthy as it is linked with the lowest risks of chronic diseases, compared to diets rich in meats, according to research from the World Health Organization and studies published in Environmental Research Letters.

An outbreak of salmonella linked to raw turkey has left one person dead, 63 people hospitalized and sickened 164, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, Nov. 8.

“The outbreak strain of Salmonella Reading has been identified in various raw turkey products, including ground turkey and turkey patties,” the CDC said.

Starting this eating style at Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to do so, as it is a time of reflection, kindness and gratitude. Plus, all of the leftovers won't go bad as quickly.


Eating plant-based foods also contributes less to the livestock sector of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“Vegan alternatives are widely available these days so it’s easy to ‘veganise’ dishes by replacing non-vegan ingredients with cruelty-free counterparts, such as meat substitutes, vegan cream and butter, or egg-free desserts," Dominika Piasecka, spokesperson for The Vegan Society, said.

Tofurky offers a turkey roast, ham and a feast with gravy and stuffing. It is made from ingredients such as wheat, water, organic tofu, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, leek and more. This alternative is healthy, doesn't add grease or fat, doesn't go bad as quickly and is a smaller portion.

Erin Ransom, director of marketing for Tofurky said the Tofurky Roast is healthier for the planet because it uses less water and has less energy requirements. Animal welfare is also a plus and human health is a big component because there is less saturated fat and cholesterol with great protein and fiber content, Ransom said.

"When compared to animal protein, the Tofurky roast is cholesterol free, a good source of fiber and an excellent source of protein," Ransom said.

Plant-based protein requires much less energy to produce.

"For example, a Tofurky roast requires 5.5 lbs less grains than it takes to feed a live turkey, who produces the equivalent 26 oz of animal protein, for one’s dinner table," Ransom said.

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Field Roast also offers plant-based holiday roasts for the ultimate grain-and-veggie main course.

"The World Resources Institute predicts that by 2025 at least 3.5 billion people will experience water shortages. It takes 815 gallons to make one pound of turkey, while one pound of soy beans, which are used to make a Tofurky roasts, uses just 242 gallons," Ransom said.

It's easy to switch since sides are typically vegetarian and vegan, such as baked stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, cranberries and pumpkin pie, Sharon Palmer, award-winning registered dietitian nutritionist, plant-based food and nutrition expert, author and blogger, said.

"If you are going vegan, you can make sure to make vegan versions of these recipes, which is super simple. Often the main problem is butter and dairy, but you can sub vegan margarine or olive oil for butter, and plant-based milk for milk in recipes. You can even use vegan cheese in many recipes, such as broccoli au gratin," Palmer said.

Then, all you have to do is perhaps add one entree to the mix, such as veggie "meat” balls, nut loaf or lentil patties, according to Palmer.

"Research consistently shows that vegetarians and especially vegans have the lowest environmental footprint, compared to other diets. That’s because animal foods have a greater environmental impact, because we grow plants to feed the animals, so it’s much greener to just eat the plants directly," Palmer said.

Animals produce methane and concentrated sources of manure, and farms contribute to deforestation and require more water than plants.

"Heart disease is far and away the leading cause of death and disability is the U.S. A recent study shows vegetarian dietary patterns reduce cardiovascular disease mortality and the risk of coronary heart disease by a whopping 40 percent," doctor and nutrition expert Janet Brill said.

Even if you don’t want to go completely plant-based, making a significant cut of animal foods in your diet and eating more whole plant foods makes a big difference, according to experts.

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