Swapping gifts, celebrating with loved ones and telling bad jokes sums up many Christmas day celebrations. All while sporting paper hats and getting our fix of Christmas TV specials (even if they are repeats).
For many of us, the highlight of the day is tucking into a delicious roast turkey. Does this align with our values if we live a green lifestyle? Can we really have a sustainable Christmas dinner?
Sadly not always. Christmas dinner is often one of the biggest environmental disasters of the year. It’s now well accepted that meat adds significantly to our carbon footprints.
Especially so, factory farmed meat reared using unsustainable practices.
Choosing vegetables flown in from around the world instead of those grown in the UK also adds to the problem. Then there’s all the plastic wrapped treats, drinks bottles and food packaging to deal with.
With an increasing awareness of the importance of sustainable food choices, many of us face a dilemma over what to put on our plates at Christmas.
Here’s how we can make our festive feasts more sustainable. But first, the harsh reality of all that meat.
The Environmental Impact of Poultry Farming
Chicken and turkey farming has a relatively low carbon footprint. Particularly when compared to ruminant livestock animals.
Lamb and beef farming produces an average of over 15 kg of C02 emissions per kilo of meat.
Yet this doesn’t make chicken and turkey farming problem free. After raising the birds, the poultry industry still requires large amounts of energy. This is used for operating processing machines and keeping the meat chilled.
A UN report published in 2007 found poultry slaughter consumes substantially more energy than other sectors of the EU meat industry.
Processing beef is less than half as energy intensive as processing poultry. Poor manure management or improper disposal of bird carcasses also leads to soil and water pollution.
Poultry manure contains metals such as copper, zinc and arsenic. These are introduced to the birds through their feed. It can also contain pathogens or the residues of antibiotics regularly used in intensive poultry farming.
In large quantities, these elements can be toxic to plants and to the insects which feed on them.
It’s Not Very Merry for the Turkeys Either
There are also ethical concerns when it comes to large-scale farming. The majority of UK turkeys are bred through intensive farming.
The birds spend their entire lives in cramped conditions, often without seeing daylight.
These turkeys are overfed and grown at such speed that their bones, lungs and hearts can’t support their weight. This often leads to heart failure and lameness.
What makes it worse, both environmentally and ethically, is that 2 million turkeys end up in the bin. This is an extraordinary amount of wasted food.
What About Other Festive Meats?
So, if turkey is off the menu this Christmas, what about roast pork or goose?
Unfortunately, pork has the third worst environmental impact of all meat. Pork creates 4.62 kg of C02 emissions per kilo of meat.
This figure doesn’t even factor in the C02 produced by transporting the meat from farm to kitchen. Nor the energy consumed by processing the meat into sausages and bacon for a side of pigs in blankets.
There are no stats that compare the environmental impact of goose and duck farming to chicken and turkey. The industry is certainly ethically questionable though.
According to Peta, millions of ducks and geese are raised in cramped factory farms. Over 31 million ducks are killed each year. Many of these birds are already deformed or crippled.
Others are force-fed through a pipe two to three times a day and eventually sold as festive foie gras.
Being Sustainable With All Those Trimmings
What’s the point of a roast dinner without roast potatoes? Then there are the parsnips, carrots and brussels sprouts.
The farming of vegetables has a lower carbon footprint than animal farming. But we still need to choose them mindfully.
Choosing UK grown veggies means they’re not only locally grown, but they’re seasonal too.
Local and seasonal veg means fewer food miles and artificial ripening methods. And luckily, potatoes, parsnips, carrots and sprouts all happily grow in the UK in December!
Avoiding vegetables grown overseas is fairly easy, but exotic fruits, not so much. If you love a satsuma at Christmas, to enjoy a sustainable Christmas dinner, you’ll need to opt for apples and pears instead.
Gravy wise, if you have instant, choose brands in glass jars rather than unrecyclable plastic/paper containers. (The ones that resemble Pringles tubes cannot be recycled.)
When it comes to treats, snacks and desserts, aim to simply have fewer. We all buy more than we need anyway.
Have a go at making your own, or look for plastic free chocolate. Or vegan mince pies made using sustainable palm oil.
A Festive Solution for a Sustainable Christmas Dinner
Nobody wants to miss out on the highlight of Christmas day. But it’s no longer possible to ignore the environmental impact of our Christmas dinner.
Thankfully, there are some steps we can take for a more sustainable festive season.
For example, we can take a ‘less is more’ approach. We can reduce our typical meat consumption in the run-up to Christmas and on the big day itself. This way, we can help to balance out the meat-heavy period.
Another option is to leave meat off our plates completely this Christmas. Nowadays it’s easier than ever to find a tasty turkey alternative.
Perhaps the idea of a vegan Christmas has you spitting out your eggnog?
Fortunately, there are other ways to minimise your Christmas carbon footprint. Without giving up your favourite meat!
Avoid waste by purchasing a smaller bird or opting for organic or more sustainably raised animals.
Or try diversifying your roasted vegetable side dishes and use them in place of meat.
Before throwing out food, try exciting new recipes to use up the leftover Christmas turkey.
Take the time to shop at farmers markets or source vegetables which are grown by local producers too.
Or support responsible farmers by searching for sustainable farms in your region.
Enjoying a Jolly Sustainable Christmas Dinner
We don’t have to abandon our eco values to enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner. Responsible companies, such as Ross & Ross Food help us make the best of Christmas meats.
They create Christmas Roast Dinner Boxes made using produce from British suppliers.
While Ross & Ross Foods are not Fair Trade, their spices come from Fox’s Spices. This is a family business based in Stratford Upon Avon.
Fox’s Spices source top quality spices and oils from family-run farms in the UK and around the world.
Perhaps we can all take a leaf out of Fox’s Spices’ book.
Together we can opt for quality foods and homegrown produce, and celebrate a more sustainable Christmas dinner.