I’m sitting in my food systems class at the Robert Redford Conservancy. My teacher is discussing the effects of food waste — apparently the average American wastes 4.9 pounds of food per day. So, with a population around 330 million people, we produce 1,617,000,000 pounds of waste per day. As much as these numbers surprise me, all I can think about is how this waste culture will be intensified by the upcoming holiday season.
I envision myself positioned in my seat at Thanksgiving dinner, facing the star of the meal: the turkey. The Thanksgiving turkey has long been a symbol of abundance in the American tradition. Looking from the 35-pound turkey to the 16-ounce container of gravy, what comes to mind is my incapability of feeling moral fulfillment from this day dedicated to thankfulness. As family members eat their fill after saying their thanks, I still have lingering guilt about the excess food going to waste — not just in my home but in homes across America.
This is what eco-anxiety feels like. Eco-anxiety is the extreme worry about current and future harm to the environment caused by human activity and climate change.
As an Environmental Analysis major, these upcoming holiday celebrations do not align with my beliefs about sustainability and climate interventions. The consumerist culture during the holidays eagerly pushes businesses to capitalize on the season of joy, festivity and gathering. But this comes at a cost. Amongst all this goodness, climate issues are concurrent and detrimental to our near future. If we don’t act soon, we might have to say goodbye to this abundant approach to the holiday season — whether we want to or not.
I reflect on the peace I had as a child, allowing myself to be ignorant of all that came with the consumerist effects of the holidays: overconsumption of food, presents, aesthetic decorations, lights and travel. I wasn’t the kind of kid who wanted many presents but, culturally, that wasn’t really a choice I had. I remember wanting to ask my parents to use some of the money for my presents as donations but also feeling that if I had no new presents when I got back to school, it would be embarrassing.
Yet, as I got older and explored the environment, I learned about how detrimental our consumerist behaviors are to the health of Mother Earth. Sometimes I feel that this sense of guilt for all the joy I experienced over the years isn’t what is most effective for the issue at hand. Beating yourself up for the choices you made in the past won’t change anything, but reflecting on the choices you and your family make as citizens in this climate crisis can be beneficial and transformative.
Many students are traveling back home to Los Angeles County or even across the world for a weeklong trip. You may be seeing your family for the first time since the beginning of school, or you might have seen them at family weekend. No matter who you are, reflect on your time with your family and how there are ways you can actively break habits that aren’t serving you, whether that’s around the dinner table, a menorah or a Christmas tree.
Here are my tips for this upcoming holiday season and what you can do to ease eco-anxiety:
- Plan your holiday menus: Advocate for locally grown produce and meats, and maybe even go to your local farmer’s market. Ask your relatives or friends to reduce meat consumption around the table by exploring more plant-based dishes.
- Save cardboard boxes for returning presents: If you are planning to exchange gifts, ask your loved ones to save boxes and bags to help reduce packaging consumption.
- Be conscious about your wish list: How many things do you really need? If you want to add an item you’ve been eyeing, look at Good On You’s sustainability ratings. Alternatively, think about swapping that extra pair of sneakers for a donation to a cause of your choice.
- Limit holiday light hours: Our holiday lights collectively consume enough energy to power 400,000 homes for a year. Be cautious about your light consumption in your home. You can purchase lights with a timer system or simply set a timer on your phone to unplug your lights before bedtime.
- Skip single-use decorations: Tinsel is so 1980s! Be aware of your consumption of plastic products. Try to find paper-based products that can either be reused or recycled. Look for recyclable wrapping paper — most of it isn’t.
- Avoid supplying packaged items, drinks and food at family gatherings: Throwing away 50 single-use plastic bottles isn’t the best feeling, and isn’t good for the environment either. Make sure to get drinks in bulk and ask your guests what they like to drink ahead of time. If you need to supply packaged items, try to find products made from glass and cardboard.
- Ground yourself in nature: The holidays can be stressful, as many find it difficult to adjust to being back home. Being in nature can be very grounding. Grab your headphones, put on your favorite podcast and take that long stroll. You deserve it.
For all the individuals dealing with eco-anxiety, know you are not alone. We are all capable of helping the issues at hand. The first place to start is in our household — if we don’t act this holiday season, our traditions may not last for so long if our resources are depleted by 2030.
Guest writer Kana Jackson PZ ’25 Is an Environmental Analysis major from San Diego. She is a member of the TSL Business Team as Development Manager. She has a passion for nutritional and environmental intervention, as she is hoping to become a dietician and an education advocate.