Thinking about Thanksgiving: How the Live Net Zero families modified their holiday habits

From cutting back on travel to preparing vegetarian meals, the Live Net Zero families made a concerted effort to reduce the environmental footprint of their Thanksgiving celebrations

  • Oct 20, 2022
  • 1,060 words
  • 5 minutes
The Leung family‘s all-vegetarian Thanksgiving spread included stuffed acorn squash, vegan Shepherd’s pie and sautéed Swiss chard. (Photo courtesy the Leung family)
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It’s October and the world is in motion. Colourful leaves are fluttering to the ground, geese are flying south for the winter, friends are hauling home the pumpkins from the patch, and families are heading out of town to visit loved ones. 

While Thanksgiving is a time to gather and share delicious meals, there is often a significant spike in household emissions. From a boost in travel, to an increase in food waste, this holiday can have a considerable impact on one’s carbon footprint. 

As we give thanks for everything we’re grateful for, Thanksgiving is also an opportunity to reflect on the ways our lifestyles contribute to climate change. With Live Net Zero’s bonus Thanksgiving challenge, we encouraged our five competing families to think about the actions they can take to lower their emissions and spark discussions with their loved ones about the steps we can all take to reduce our environmental impact.

The Richmond family made an effort to eat locally this Thanksgiving, purchasing produce from their favourite farmer and picking up kielbasa made in Red Deer.
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The Richmond family

After a busy September, the family of four from Alberta opted to stay home for Thanksgiving. Because of this, mom Ania told Canadian Geographic, it made sense for the source of their food to be close to home as well. The Richmonds made an effort to eat locally, purchasing produce from their favourite farmer, picking up kielbasa made in Red Deer, and nibbling on carrots that were planted and harvested by Ania and Kit’s two young boys. Oftentimes, towns are known for growing certain fruits or veggies, and embracing the “flavour of the environment you live in” is worthwhile, Ania adds. In Red Deer, for example, summertime is synonymous with chard and kale. At the end of the holiday weekend, the Richmonds had leftovers to enjoy over the following days, and the total waste fit inside a 10L compost bag. 

The Leung Family 

The Leung family is all smiles after preparing a delicious vegetarian Thanksgiving meal.
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Over the past few weeks, the Leung family has been creating habits they hope will stick with them long after the challenges are over. Like the Richmonds, the Leungs have made “seasonal and regional” their mantra. Any local products they bought for Thanksgiving weekend, they ate, and they avoided processed and packaged food.

They also opted to skip the meat in favour of a vegetarian Thanksgiving, as 58 per cent of food-related emissions are attributed to animal products and 50 per cent of farmed animal emissions are attributed to beef and lamb. “I Googled foods or meal ideas that have no carbon footprint,” says Nancy Leung. “I just had to go find a recipe that I thought would be tasty.”

From stuffed acorn squash, to vegan Shepherd’s pie, to sautéed Swiss chard, the Leungs tried brand-new recipes made from local produce that were both delicious and environmentally friendly. As John and his son are both meat-eaters, they were initially skeptical that the dishes would be as flavourful as a classic Thanksgiving turkey. Well, surprise: they ended up loving it so much they are looking forward to cooking the meals—particularly the vegan Shepherd’s pie—again. 

“If you want to be more aware of the impact that your food has on the environment, you have to be willing to spend the time to educate yourself,” says Nancy. “It has everything to do with planning.”

The Pistor Family 

The Pistor family was able to harvest kale, beets, apples, and other produce from their own garden for their Thanksgiving dinner. (Photos courtesy the Pistor family)
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While it was a quiet Thanksgiving at home for the Pistors, it was an opportunity for the family of five to also reflect on their food and consumption habits. Since the weather has been great in Westminster, B.C., Jen told Canadian Geographic the family was able to harvest kale, beets, apples, and other produce from their own garden for their dinner. “I mean, that’s about as local as you can get!” As for the food they did have to purchase, they made sure it was all grown within the province. 

Overall, the Pistors felt quite comfortable in this challenge. “Gardening is a really big part of our family,” explains Jen. “It felt like what we normally would do; we just kind of kicked it up a notch.” Despite already eating and shopping close to home on a regular basis, they made an extra effort to choose produce that was organic and to not purchase an excessive amount of food. Above all, Jen recommends making food yourself when you can. “I think that that’s special and can also save on cost and waste,” she says. “We made our own ice cream with the kids this year. It was all local stuff and was really fun.”

Andrea and Vineet snap a quick selfie at the farmer's market as they pick up local products for their Thanksgiving meal.
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The Loewen-Nair Family

Most of the Loewen-Nair family’s loved ones live within a 15-minute drive of each other, so no air travel or highway driving was necessary over Thanksgiving weekend. Instead, the family did their “usual Saturday morning ritual,” which, as Andrea explains to Canadian Geographic, meant they biked to the farmer’s market and purchased local products. 

For their Thanksgiving meal, they picked up a small turkey to reduce leftovers and waste, and they consciously cut out any big carbon-emitting protein sources. “We’re really trying to educate our kids and get them to be okay with eating less beef and pork,” says Andrea, noting the carbon intensity of beef and lamb is approximately five times that of pork and over seven times that of chicken. Between their compost bin and avoiding purchasing food wrapped in plastic, they generated very little garbage.

Nathan enjoys exploring his grandpa’s backyard garden. (Photo courtesy the Lai family)
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The Lai family

Heading into Thanksgiving weekend, the Lais wanted to avoid buying beef, as they learned it is the protein that produces the most greenhouse gasses. As the carbon footprint of chicken is much lower, they decided to switch up their holiday tradition this year. 

Calvin told Canadian Geographic the family of three gathered with their in-laws and enjoyed hanging out in their backyard garden. Calvin and Janet’s baby, Nathan, loves playing with the leaves and picking fruit off the plants, so even the youngest member of the family opted to eat local over Thanksgiving.

The Lais also used the weekend to educate themselves and their loved ones. When the family decided to cook a chicken instead of a turkey, Calvin said there were questions about why. “So it was good to explain to them the research behind it, and the reasons why we were doing it and how making small changes is doable for everybody.”


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