A recent Washington Post essay faced backlash online after listing common Thanksgiving foods and their “climate impact” in order to inform readers which of the festivity’s staples can be consumed “with a clear conscience.”
The Thursday article by food columnist Tamar Haspel, titled “The climate impact of the Thanksgiving meal might surprise you,” begins with the author admitting that “tallying the environmental impact of a holiday feast” does not seem to be in the holiday spirit.
“I know, I know, nobody wants to put ‘climate’ and ‘Thanksgiving’ in the same sentence,” she continues.
Perspective: The climate impact of the Thanksgiving meal might surprise youhttps://t.co/UbPZGcTTqC
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) November 18, 2022
Reassuring readers of the “good news” that the mainstays of the meal — poultry and plants — make Thanksgiving “a much more climate-friendly holiday than, say, the burgerfest that is the Fourth of July,” the author then lists typical Thanksgiving dishes alongside “how they stack up, climate-wise.”
While turkey is described as having a higher “footprint” than chicken because it’s “slower-growing,” according to the author, it can still be a “good choice.”
Haspel, a self-described Cape Cod oyster farmer, also gives approval of oysters for they “have the lightest climate impact of any fish in the sea.”
“Unlike almost any other wild protein source, oysters, clams and mussels actually leave the environment better than they find it,” she writes.
Potatoes, too, are a win “climate-wise,” according to the author, as they contribute “about one-tenth the greenhouse gas emissions of the poultry (on a per-calorie basis).”
“Of course, the butter and cream increase the tally because dairy is comparable to poultry and pork, and if you want to cut back on those, try roasting your potatoes instead of mashing; go crispy instead of creamy,” she adds.
Green beans, on the other hand, are met with less approval.
One in five Americans are unsure if they will be able to cover the costs of Thanksgiving this year, and one in four plan to skip it to save money, a recent Personal Capital survey found. https://t.co/bAnD9JuJ8s
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) October 16, 2022
“Green vegetables aren’t quite as environmentally friendly as root vegetables,” the author writes. “When it comes to greenhouse gases, virtually all plants are better than virtually all animal foods, but green vegetables have the highest per-calorie emissions, because they deliver nutrition with few calories.”
However, she adds, since those gathering around the Thanksgiving table are “getting plenty of calories elsewhere in this meal, the nutrition matters, as do those crispy onions that top your casserole” and therefore green beans are “fine.”
Pecan and apple pies are both “climate winners,” Haspel notes, adding that food that grows on trees “tends to outperform other foods for two reasons: They grow on a carbon-storing plant that doesn’t have to be replanted every year, and each tree produces a whole lot of food.”
Pumpkins being a “non-green vegetable,” she continues, can be used in a pie “with a clear conscience.”
“That’s a relief, eh?” she adds.
Though butter — “being an animal food” — is “not so much” a “climate win,” the author admits she won’t be “telling you to make your crusts with anything else.”
And while the holiday staples are described as “[b]asically, all good,” the author turns to what she describes as the true “Thanksgiving climate villain” — food waste.
“If you’re interested in reducing the climate impact of your diet, but have found that changing what you eat is difficult, this is where you should focus your efforts,” she writes.
“Various groups have attempted to estimate how much food is wasted on Thanksgiving, but there’s no real way to know,” she adds. “Safe to say, though, that it’s a lot.”
In response, many slammed the essay’s attempt to push climate “guilt” onto the family-oriented festivity.
“[H]ave you considered the fact that sharing a festive meal with your loved ones might be destroying the world, actually?” wrote Founders Fund Vice President Mike Solana.
have you considered the fact that sharing a festive meal with your loved ones might be destroying the world, actually? pic.twitter.com/REoTmcB5D8
— Mike Solana (@micsolana) November 18, 2022
“They won’t even allow you to enjoy Thanksgiving without trying to make you believe you’re destroying the planet,” wrote one Twitter user.
They won’t even allow you to enjoy Thanksgiving without trying to make you believe you’re destroying the planet. https://t.co/oOO0kVUvUA
— Patriots, not Politicians (@fredvoncanon) November 19, 2022
“Stop spewing radical climate change disinformation at every turn and let me enjoy my meal,” wrote another.
— Jack Hobe 🍊 (@JackHobe_) November 19, 2022
“Tell climate worship isn’t a cult, I dare you,” another user wrote.
Tell climate worship isn't a cult, I dare you. https://t.co/JyWsfBvaMH
— Miranda Veracruz de la Hoya Cardinal (@RW_Crank) November 19, 2022
“If we all stop eating, breathing, dying and decaying then we can fix the climate!” wrote one Twitter user. “Until then, we should likely give Thanks together and live!”
“There is literally nothing liberals won’t try to ruin,” another user wrote.
“Now they want to destroy Thanksgiving dinner,” wrote another Twitter user. “Let them eat cockroaches.”
Now they want to destroy Thanksgiving dinner.
Let them eat cockroaches. https://t.co/XWSbb6nOwJ
— WearingMyMask (@JonathanAEvers) November 19, 2022
“The Legacy folks want to guilt you for your holiday meal,” yet another wrote. “I don’t see anyone lamenting over how far the Christmas/Black Friday trinkets have to travel.”
The author herself later claimed the column had “gotten me more hate mail than any that came before.”
Haspel, who writes a monthly commentary “in pursuit of a more constructive conversation on divisive food-policy issues,” has detailed personally hunting deer for Thanksgiving because “by taking an overpopulated, methane-producing ruminant out of the system, you’re actually doing the planet a favor.”
She has previously written about getting past the “ick factor” when consuming bugs — a practice she explains can “help” the environment:
Insect protein is catching the attention of environmentally minded consumers because it treads more lightly on the planet than protein from the animals we’re more accustomed to eating — cows and pigs and chickens. Tally up the feed required, water used or greenhouse gases emitted, and insects look better than a lot of other protein sources (although there is, naturally, some disagreement about the extent of the advantage). But no matter how green insects are, there are some obstacles to getting Americans to eat them.
Though we don’t currently consume worms, “there’s no reason we shouldn’t,” Haspel wrote.
“Lots of people do. It’s just that most of them are in Asia, Latin America and Africa,” she added.
The Post columnist pointed to youth as “where change happens.”
“If we can collectively raise a generation of children who think bugs are cool and yummy, it’ll be easier to move beyond the cricket flour phase and on to the worms and caterpillars starring in dishes where they replace animal protein, which is the whole point,” she wrote.
In order to see “widespread acceptance of a more sustainable protein source,” Haspel insisted that “you don’t have to order the mealworm tacos, but it might help if you feed them to your kids.”