An Environmentally Sustainable Christmas Dinner

2020 is certainly a year we will not forget, marked by a pandemic that has brought our world to its knees and demonstrated the urgent need for a system change. As we enter the festive season, favoured by the lessening of the Covid’s restrictions, it is important to keep the natural environment in mind. While we go through the most commercial time of the year, we can take small steps to consume responsibly, limit our waste, and reduce our carbon footprint.

A lot has been said about shopping local to support the Irish economy, so let us look at how we can plan our Christmas lunch with a sustainable flavour!

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LET’S TALK ABOUT TURKEYS

For all the traditionalists out there, a good Irish Christmas is characterised by an opulent feast of turkey, carved ham, roasted vegetables, and an avalanche of chocolate. Consumers have different choices on the matter and depending on financial possibilities, can avail of different varieties of the ‘big bird’.

The most popular and affordable choice is the white-feathered turkey.

Turkeys labelled farm-reared or farm-fresh are the least sustainable. The reasons are that they are raised indoors and may be fed with substances to artificially enhance the flavour of their meat. Furthermore, many farms bring them in from abroad to satisfy the huge Christmas demand so consumers need to make sure they are Irish-reared.

Free-range and organic are the turkeys coming from the old-fashioned farmyard and allowed to roam free in pastures. They naturally provide better quality meat for the consumer. A medium organic turkey (5kg) feeds about 8 people and costs roughly €100, whereas the similar size, free-range option costs in the region of €65. As Christmas is a once-a-year occasion, it is worth shopping with quality in mind, so make sure you buy them from your local butcher who can guarantee provenience and quality control.

The bronze feathered turkeys are considered ‘la crème de la crème’ of turkeys for their rich and slightly gamey flavour. They are relatives of the original wild turkeys of North America, however, today they can be easily sourced locally in Ireland. The bronze turkey is fed on grass, live a longer life than their fair-looking cousins (31 weeks versus 14 weeks), making them an ideal choice for turkey-connoisseurs. They command a high price and must be ordered well in advance.

The black feathered turkey is originally a European species, particularly from Spain. After being imported in the UK, its trade established in Norfolk in England and this is how it is mostly known in Ireland as well: the Norfolk black turkey. These much-prized turkeys, characterised by the flavoursome moist meat, are available in Ireland in limited numbers from specialist butchers and suppliers. Often black-feathered turkeys are reared in the same farms as the bronze ones so worth asking for both options. Here are a few Irish suppliers BronzeTurkey.ie, Crowe Farm, The Friendly Farmer and Termonfeckin.

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THE CHOICE FOR PESCATARIANS

If you prefer to eat fish, the choice is a little more complicated as fish stocks are in decline and many species are seriously compromised. Fishmongers are competing for fresh produce against supermarkets and put extra care on providing good customer care. This means you can discuss your menu ideas with them and book in advance what is most suitable for your Christmas meal. Some fish, like the popular seabass and salmon, are widely available. It is important though to know that these species are mainly farmed today, which means the quality of the meat is not great. Furthermore, big fish like swordfish and tuna have become endangered and should be avoided if possible. Some of the most sustainable options available are the plaice, the sole, mackerel and shellfish like the Dublin Bay prawns, oysters and mussels. Sadly, we should stress all fish is severely impacted by climate change and overfishing and should be consumed in moderation. The Wildlife Trust provides a detailed guide to sustainable consumption of fish and seafood.

Irish Wildlife Trust Seafood Guide
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WHAT ABOUT THE VEG?

Regarding the vegetables, the good news is that ‘root vegetables’ like brussels sprouts, carrots and potatoes are winter vegetables and therefore, consumers can get good value and great variety. If possible, it is worth indulging to buy them in your local fruit & veg shop or go organic, adding colour and quality to your Christmas lunch. There are many organic producers out there and we have selected one reseller delivering country-wide and providing particularly high quality. Board Bia provides a calendar of the ‘in season’ produce, which informs us how to follow a balanced and healthy diet all year round and, at the same time, helps us tackling some aspects of climate change like reducing our carbon footprint and supporting sustainable agriculture. If you are interested to learn more you can check out the WWF Environmental Footprint calculator.

Bord Bia Best in Season Guide

Whether you are choosing to go traditional, vegetarian or to add fish to your Christmas meal, the message is that you can do this by making informed choices as a consumer AND supporting environmentally-friendly businesses.

As public awareness is growing in demanding better sustainable food, Ireland is rediscovering some of its culinary traditions and local produce in the quest for a better future.

Article written by Dublin Bay Biosphere Social Influencer Elena Rossi.