Sierra’s Thanksgiving Survival Guide

Sierra’s Thanksgiving Survival Guide 1

Fabulous as stuffing and cornucopias are, it’s understandably tough for an environmentalist to conjure a grateful spirit these days. Thanksgiving has its roots in bountiful harvests—but thanks to widespread flooding, month after month of record-breaking global temperatures, fire-scorched vineyard fields, and other hallmarks of climate change, 2019 has been a doozy for agriculture. This may just be the year that no amount of gravy will make up for your uncle’s gripes about “the climate hoax.” We get it: Listening to some cousin wax philosophical about how Greta Thunberg should be back home at school won’t leave us brimming with thanks for the long, family-gathering-studded holiday season.

While we respect the notion that politics don’t always belong at the dinner table, the story of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock is complicated and political (the genocide of Native Americans, not surprisingly, tends to get glossed over in early-grade history lessons and school plays). Which just furthers our conviction that no one should have to stomach a Thanksgiving side dish of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, or transphobia. Enter the Sierra Club’s Holiday Discussion Guide, which contains a multitude of helpful tips for navigating tough conversations about hot buttons including the impeachment hearings, the Green New Deal, the border wall, and the migrant crisis. 

In need of some pithy responses to 197 common myths about global warming (“It’s cosmic rays” and “It’s a natural cycle”)? Look no further than Skeptical Science, a compendium of airtight arguments backed by scientific research. For more in-depth responses to those myths germinating in deniers’ and doubters’ minds, bone up on the digestible intel to be found in NASA’s great Global Climate Change blog. And if, like growing numbers of Americans, your extended family actually accepts the science of climate change and is getting freaked out, help push them to the next level of climate activism with this excellent resource: A Parent’s Guide to Climate Revolution. Created for busy parents and families, your loved ones will feel more empowered and less overwhelmed after paging through it.

Patient conversations have the power to change the climate on, well, the climate. Still, we know many of you may be unable to convince your entire family that coal isn’t coming back and that forms of oppression are interconnected. And you certainly don’t want to further alienate your loved ones by inciting a mashed potato battle over some irksome comment about “socialist carbon taxes.” In a New York Times guide to managing tension at the holiday dinner table, social researcher Dr. Kira Birditt advises, “Take a pause before you react because oftentimes, we’re re-enacting roles from our childhoods.” 

On that note, drink in a deep breath and relax: You don’t need to make everyone at the dinner table a card-carrying member of the Resistance by the time pumpkin pie is served. Sometimes “winning” Thanksgiving means defusing tension and keeping yourself centered and resilient enough to keep carrying the climate action torch when you wake up on Black Friday (a great time, by the way, to think about how you can opt out of consumption-driven capitalism by embracing the circular economy this holiday season). 

Here are some tried, true, adorable and/or delicious means of pivoting from dead-end conversations. 

—Vegetarian squabbles. Understand that your unveiling of vegan turducken might generate some snickers from your brood’s meat-loyalist contingent. But whip up some pumpkin chia pancakes, umami mushroom bacon, or chocolate avocado cream pie—with help from our popular guide to vegan holiday hacks—and you just might just receive more recipe-sharing requests than snarky commentary about how it’s un-American to shirk animal agriculture. (Up to you whether to delve into the fact that embracing a more plant-based diet is widely believed to be the single most effective way to minimize one’s personal eco footprint.) In any case, remember that there’s almost no wrong conversation to have over Earth-friendly ice cream or fair trade chocolate.

—Need a little something stronger to withstand bizarre claims (for instance, that the Obamas’ purchase of property on Martha’s Vineyard proves that climate change isn’t real)? Might we recommend contributing heritage apple ciders to the Thanksgiving spread? They’re delicious, autumnal and, if you feel like going there, offer a perfect segue to chat about how drinking rare fruits can boost biodiversity. Prefer something stiffer? Here are six sustainably crafted, and Sierra editorial team approved, spirits (plus, they pair well with these hacks to upcycle food waste into cocktails). If you live in a state that’s legalized recreational marijuana, you might take the edge off with a little organic cannabis. And hey, if all else fails and Thanksgiving causes you to flee into the woods for the remainder of the holiday season, here are some cocktails that are easy to craft from a campsite. 

—We can’t say enough about the power of a timeout to defuse tension—and studies show that cute animals provide an instant shot of serotonin. So find a cool dog or cat to pet (or, failing that, some cool adventure dogs to follow on Instagram). Or, even better, share some animal slideshows with your relatives. Wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas (featured in our November/December 2019 issue) not only raises funds to protect endangered species, but also started a nonprofit to get more girls into nature photography. We suspect her baby animal photos have the power to make even the most oppositional of relatives melt. Craving more animal slideshows? Good news: We’ve got 2019’s most photogenic birds, plus stunning owls, beauteous bats, unbelievable birds of prey, mesmerizing sea creatures, and many more wonderfully rare critters

—We’ve got cool animal videos too. Show the kids, show the climate deniers, or, worst-case scenario, go for a brisk walk and show yourself! Here’s rare footage of a wolf catching a salmon alongside a brown bear and a “Behind the Music”-esque film of a grizzly bear featured in this 2017 print story. And even if you and your old man can’t seem to agree on anything, we bet these “animal dad” videos will still put a smile on his face. 

—And if you manage to survive Thanksgiving with all relationships intact? Invite your relatives to continue the conversation (or just the bonhomie) by joining in on your quest to #optoutside and enjoy a post-tryptophan Black Friday adventure. After all, the Great Outdoors has the power to inspire awe and gratitude in all of us.