Celebrating Thanksgiving sustainably


Brooke Crocker and Chloe Combra


This Thanksgiving, some students and staff from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) are making a conscious effort to reduce their impact on the environment by taking a more sustainable and ethical approach to the traditional Thanksgiving meal. 

English teacher Spencer D’Agostino, who is in his 20th consecutive year of being vegan, tries to emulate the traditional Thanksgiving meal as much as possible: “I try to do everything that you would see in the normal meal but swap out certain components with as close a substitute as I possibly can.”

He uses almond milk in his mashed potatoes, for example, ‘soy nog’ instead of eggnog, and a ‘tofurky’ made from a blend of wheat protein and organic tofu.

Senior Sophie Nevin became vegan with friend and fellow senior Kiera Mccarthy after learning about the methods by which animals are killed for human consumption. “[We] wanted to become educated on our food and mostly animal cruelty, so we watched a bunch of documentaries on Netlfix about animal cruelty,” said Kiera. “After [learning] how the type of food we eat affects our body and factory farming, we were really scared.” 

Sophie says she feels much happier and healthier now that she has adopted the vegan lifestyle. “Most of my family isn’t vegan, so I’ll usually cook for myself on Thanksgiving,” said Sophie. “There’s a lot of different recipes I use, but I don’t really make a substitute for meat. I don’t make a tofurky or anything. I just make pasta dishes or vegan mashed potatoes or roasted veggies or vegan stuffing instead.”

Kiera said, “The past two years I’ve had friendsgiving at my house with all my friends, and I’ve cooked a whole vegan thanksgiving. It’s pretty easy because you can veganize most of the side dishes like mashed potatoes and stuffing. [For turkey] we basically make some type of tofu dish and serve it with vegan gravy.”

Both environmental science teacher Debra Swanson and Mr. D’Agostino share an affinity for animal rights as well. Ms. Swanson and her husband have been vegetarian for forty years. Ms. Swanson said, “One of the reasons we don’t eat meat is not because we have anything against eating meat, it has to do with where the meat comes from, from the factories that are inhumane.”  

“We’ve always done the traditional Thanksgiving meal,” she said. “For example, pumpkin pie, apple pie, mashed potatoes, and all that stuff, just without the meat. It’s for ethical reasons but also environmental reasons. The amount of deforestation and the methane that the cows produce — it’s really environmentally damaging.”

In addition to eating plant-based in an effort to reduce environmental impact this Thanksgiving, many have made other changes to their routine, such as composting leftovers. Sophomore Clyde Smith said, “We have a compost pile outside. We compost all leftovers that we can’t eat, but most stuff just goes in the fridge and gets eaten later. We mix it up and use it in gardens around the house.”

“We try to compost all our organic food waste,” said Mr. D’Agostino, “But with that said, we have basically no food waste in our house because we have a toddler who will eat virtually everything.” Mr. D’Agostino also encourages sustainability by buying locally grown produce using the Community Supported Agriculture program on Martha’s Vineyard. 

Mr. D’Agostino said, “[Thanksgiving] definitely used to be harder. I had to drive an hour to pick up a tofurky from a health food place that I special ordered. Now I can go to most grocery stores and find one.”