The Eco-Conscious Thanksgiving Menu: Now Serving Greens!


The hidden cost of overeating on Thanksgiving isn't just an expanding waistline; it's a fatter carbon footprint, too.

Studies show that most groceries travel about 1,500 miles from the farm to store shelves. The same distance covered by your average car (one that gets about 30 miles per gallon) pumps out about 1,200 pounds of CO2, according to this math. Most commodities arrive in bulk on the back of a flatbed, so the impact is likely even greater.

To help you green up your Thanksgiving table, Government Information and Data Services Librarian Linda Zellmer has visually plotted the USDA's 2007 Census of Agriculture information to show where today's pilgrim staples actually come from. Some results are surprising—and might help you figure out where to overindulge a bit more eco-consciously.

For Chicagoans, having that second piece of pumpkin pie should be a no-brainer.


If you live in Dallas, though, it might make sense to skip the pumpkin and opt for pecan pie instead.


In Minneapolis, the greenest, and perhaps wisest choice of all looks to be simply buying a bigger turkey to fill up on. (It's going to be a cold winter anyway, right?)


Find more ways to customize your shopping list at this site. And remember, unless you live in Portland or Seattle, there's now ample evidence to stop serving that jiggly cranberry sauce all together.


[Photo by Zeetz Jones]

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  • Kelly Wells

    I don't think this article is attempting to instill guilt, instead, just demonstrate that food is way beyond the boundaries of a grocery store.
    There are far bigger and more significant things to be concerned about, but for me, I like this article as it is more informative rather than a subjective, do-this-or-else-the-planet-will-explode preach. I don't drive a prius, I leave the house with lights left on, I don't time my showers. I certainly don't agree with half of the "green" movement which is primary concerned with being trendy rather than actually earth-friendly, but it is interesting to me to see where our thanksgiving staples come from.

    I love the suggestions above about reformatting a grocery store as opposed to the critical analysis of food origin. It's think kind of innovative thinking, by acknowledging a problem and PROVING a proactive solution that really makes a hypothetically good idea, into an idea that can change and truly impact the future.

  • Gen Hendrey

    My aunt, who's in her seventies, is hosting our family gathering this Thanksgiving. She has told us that she wants to talk about conservation and eco-friendliness. She has gotten the 5 teenagers in the family to be on board, and they've prepared a presentation of some sort about their role in being good stewards. They're going to love this article!

    I'm surprised this story could rile any reader up. It's a soft-hitting, fun and informative article for the many Americans who are actively engaged in making "greener" decisions throughout their everyday lives. The author isn't telling anyone to feel guilty. He's just pointing out, with visual assistance, where our Thanksgiving bounty likely began its journey.

    Many people have decided that the environment is worth it, at a personal level, and are making changes to their daily habits. Regardless of what the Chinese are doing, or what the next-door neighbor is doing, lots of Americans are choosing to live an environmentally friendlier life.

    Where the effort to conserve and protect the environment *actually* loses vital support is not through an article like this, but rather in publications, broadcasts, reports, sermons, and what have you, that deny the very existence, impact, and/or cause of environmental troubles.

    Happy Thanksgiving, all!

  • Chris Reich

    Ok, while China pumps tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and tons of mercury into the oceans, I'm to feel guilty about eating turkey on Thanksgiving?

    This is where the effort to conserve and protect the environment begins to lose vital support. I can hear the right-wingers, "now they are going after our scared traditions, tearing down our holidays and destroying the family in the name of environmentalism."

    I say there are far more serious sources of carbon footprint than pumpkin transportation so let's choose our topics of environmental education more wisely. We want consensus on this topic and we won't get it with stories like this.

    How about recommending that grocery stores modernize their design to conserve energy? A supermarket has a mile of open, chilled meat space. Let's do study to compare the energy use of transporting turkey and storing turkey for sale. Choose things we can correct.

    Chris Reich