The “Green” and Healthy Holiday Table

Thanksgiving dinner on a table

This Thanksgiving, approximately 278 million Americans will sit down with family or friends to enjoy a holiday meal. Traditional Thanksgiving dishes include cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, baked macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie, and of course, turkey. In each of these special dishes, love—not unexpected chemicals—should be the only secret ingredient. Simple tips can help you keep unnecessary toxics off your holiday table.

The Main Course

  • Turkey and other meat. Look for Antibiotic-free.
    USDA Organic, which ensures that an animal is given 100 percent organic feed, has year-round access to the outdoors, and isn’t given growth hormones or antibiotics,can be hard to find. But, antibiotic-free meat is more readily available.

    • Why: Antibiotics are routinely given to livestock and other farm animals to promote growth or to fend off illness due to unsanitary conditions. In fact, approximately 80 percent of antibiotics used in the United States aren’t administered to sick people, but are fed to generally healthy farm animals. This can lead to antibiotic resistance in humans, which can make treating a basic injury or infection (like a child’s scratched knee or an ear infection) a health emergency. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the 2011, 2012 and 2013 outbreaks of multi-resistant Salmonella have all been traced to ground beef and poultry. Drug-resistant bacteria can remain on meat from animals. When not handled or cooked properly, the bacteria can spread to humans. Learn more about how Beaumont Health System recently took a stand against antibiotics in food. Other terms to consider or be aware of:
      • No Hormones Administered. This term is approved for beef that hasn’t been treated with natural or artificial growth hormones. Hormones aren’t allowed in raising poultry and hogs.
      • Natural. Meat labeled as “natural” contains no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed. This term doesn’t indicate how the animal was raised or fed, or whether or not it was treated with antibiotics or synthetic hormones.
      • Free Range. Poultry has access to the outside. Size and description of the outside isn’t defined; it could merely consist of a cement slab. This term doesn’t mean the animal is pasture fed.
      • Amish Raised. Talk to the farmer or distributor about growing practices. There are no guidelines for this term.
      • Bio-accumulation. Remember to eat lower on the food chain whenever possible. Many environmental contaminants accumulate in animal fat and increase further up the food chain.

All the Fixings

  • Milk and Cheese. Opt for organic when possible.
    USDA Certified Organic dairy products are readily available at all major grocery stores.

    • Why: Toxics accumulate in animals and can be passed on through the milk. Organic dairy comes from animals raised without genetically modified organism (GMO) or pesticide-laden feed, growth hormones, or antibiotics.
  • Fruits and Veggies. Choose fresh or frozen.
    This is especially true for cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie and dishes that may contain canned goods. Fresh ingredients taste better and don’t haveto be more complicated. Buy beans, grains and dry goods in bulk whenever possible. Also look for packaging made of glass, paper, cardboard or aseptic cartons. Remember to support local farmers and farmers markets.

    • Why: Most cans are lined with Bisphenol-A (BPA). Plastic wrap and plastic tubs can contain phthalates, such as DEHP. Both BPA and DEHP are plasticizers and can migrate into the food within the container, especially acidic ingredients (like tomatoes) or fatty ones (like dairy). Both BPA and DEHP are endocrine disruptors linked to an array of health effects ranging from reproductive disorders to neurological impairments, obesity, and cancer. These two chemicals are also similar in that food and food packaging are considered the major source of exposure for those most at risk: children. (Sources: Environment and Human Health, Inc., National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, BPA: Uncontained Danger).
    • Some companies use alternatives to BPA in some or all of their canned products. Check here for BPA-free cans. The Ecology Center’s Healthy Stuff lab is currently testing food packaging for toxic chemicals. You can sign up to receive report releases and other updates at www.healthystuff.org.

On a Budget

  • Save money and reduce toxics.
    Check the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which lists conventionally grown produce that is consistently low in pesticides as the Clean Fifteen™ and those highest in pesticides as the Dirty Dozen. EWG estimates a 92 percent reduction in the volume of pesticides consumed when choosing five servings a day from the Clean Fifteen™ compared to the Dirty Dozen™. Remember organic or not, the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables outweigh risks of pesticide exposure.
  • Here are a few tips:
    • Replace potatoes with sweet potatoes, which are consistently lower in pesticides.
    • Onions, corn, asparagus, sweet peas, eggplant, cabbage and mushrooms are all on the Clean Fifteen™.
    • Get creative with sauces made from pineapples or mangoes; they are on the Clean Fifteen™.
    • Opt for organic for apples and celery; they are consistently at the top of the Dirty Dozen™. Also look for organic peaches, spinach, bell peppers, lettuce, and kale or collard greens.

Why: Pesticides can weaken the nervous, immune and reproductive systems, disrupt hormones, and cause a range of illnesses. The U.S. Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 recognizes that children are more susceptible than adults to harm from pesticide exposure through food.

Leftovers

  • Use ceramic or glass, instead of plastic when using the microwave.
    • Why: BPA, DEHP and other chemicals in plastic migrate into food more readily when plastic is heated.

– Melissa Cooper Sargent, Environmental Health Educator with LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center. For more information, you can email her at melissas@ecocenter.org  or visit http://www.ecocenter.org/lmg. 

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