How to have a Sustainable Thanksgiving

Sustainable Thanksgiving

Sustainable Thanksgiving is the new baseline Thanksgiving, at least it should be. However, as families across the nation take out the butter and loosen their belts for the national holiday of stuffing and indulgence.

Unfortunately, what often accompanies the anxiety and the ambition of the holiday is a surplus of wastefulness. Before you prepare for the Thanksgiving ahead of you, these are a few easy tips to make your Thanksgiving a little more eco-friendly:

1.    If you can, take a direct flight

Traveling over Thanksgiving can be stressful, especially if you are flying. Reports from the past 10 years have shown a steady increase in the total number of travelers, with the total number of travelers this year predicted to be 55.3 million. According to a 2010 NASA report, about 25 percent of all airplane emissions come from taking off and landing. Consider whether it is worth spending extra to take a direct flight.

2.     Incorporate recipes with overlapping ingredients

Find recipes that complement each other in their ingredients, ensuring that your food doesn’t go to waste and your grocery list is minimal. Think cranberry in stuffing, or sourdough incorporated into your mac n’ cheese.

3.     Include more vegetables on your table

Cutting down the amount of meat products at your table and adding more plant-based alternatives will make your sustainable Thanksgiving table more environmentally conscious. Animal products require more energy, land, and water than plant alternatives. And if you decide to serve turkey as your centerpiece, making small adjustments can have a significant impact. Consider substituting animal stock with vegetable stock and butter for olive oil.

4.     Limit visits to the grocery store

Last-minute grocery shopping trips for Thanksgiving is a tradition. Jockeying in line with only a bundle of sage or a carton of cream that you forgot to include in your last grocery trip is far from an uncommon occurrence. However, the mileage of driving to and from the grocery store adds up. Creating a detailed grocery list before shopping is an easy way to reduce the number of times you drive to and from the store.

5.     Buy local

By buying local and seasonal, you not only support local farmers, but you also avoid the mileage and the emissions of imported foods. This means fewer pollutants, less packaging, and generally fresher food.

6.     Reusable, not disposable

Resist the temptation for easy cleanup and cutely themed Thanksgiving cutlery. Using disposable plates, napkins and silverware generates a lot of non-recyclable waste that can easily be avoided by using reusable dishware and having your guests help load the dishwasher. As for leftovers, ask guests to bring their own reusable food containers.

7.     Utilize leftovers

Inevitably, when the plates are cleared and the guests have left, you will be staring down bunches of celery, unused cans, and the squash that served as a centerpiece. Consider finding recipes that incorporate any leftover foods, and for unused non-perishables, consider donating them to a local food bank.

In the end, whether the feast is fantastic or mediocre, sustainable Thanksgiving is a holiday defined by the act of coming together and expressing thanks for things outside of ourselves. So be sure to give thanks for whom you love, what you have, and what this world has offered you and for the opportunity to do better by all.

Democrats file Second early voting lawsuit

early voting lawsuit

Two new Democratic groups and a former Austin city manager have filed suit against the Texas Secretary of State’s office over a new law banning local governments from setting up temporary polling locations. 

A temporary polling location is one that isn’t open for the entirety of the early voting period. 

House Bill 1888, which was passed by the Republican-led Legislature earlier this year, prohibits local governments from setting up temporary polling locations. The new lawsuit argues that the bill “suppresses the vote of young people, of seniors, [and] of people with disabilities.”

Representatives for the young voter groups believe that the law is politically motivated and is a direct response to the high voter turnout in the 2018 election — when the number of voters under age 30 tripled. 

This new lawsuit is the latest in a long line filed over Texas’ voting laws. In October, both the national state Democratic parties filed suit challenging HB 1888 on the grounds that it disenfranchised voters without transportation. 

A lawsuit filed in August alleges that Texas’ ballot by mail laws discriminate against disabled individuals because Texas law allows untrained local election officials to reject ballots on a purely subjective basis.

The new early voting lawsuit follows multiple polling place closures.

Small Business Saturday supports local businesses

Small Business Saturday

By: Emma Balter

We hear it constantly in candidate stump speeches: Small businesses are the backbone of the economy. In Texas, an incredible number of entrepreneurs have parlayed an idea into an independent business. Small Business Saturday, happening Nov. 30, encourages holiday-season shoppers to support them, but it’s also important to do so year-round.

Dallas-based Joanne Bondy worked as a chef in fine-dining hotel restaurants for decades. She noticed that very few establishments were making what she calls real stock—with fresh, organic ingredients and simmered for 20-plus hours. Seeing a gap in the market, she started Stocks & Bondy in 2014, selling her homemade stocks and broths out of a storefront in the Dallas Farmers Market.

Bondy recognizes there’s a place for big business, but supporting the little guy is essential to the country’s make-up. “We’ve got to push hard for all these dreamers who have ideas and want to leave [a business] to their kids,” she says. “Where’s America going to be if we don’t have any new ideas?”

Oliver Saddle Shop, a custom saddle and riding accessories store that caters mostly to cowboys, started in 1917 in Vernon and has been in its current location in Amarillo since 1960. Richard Oliver, the founder’s grandson, says it’s one of the few storefronts left in the area doing this kind of work.

“We still shake hands and look people in the eye,” says Oliver. “That’s something that’s disappearing with Amazon and all that. People can know and trust and develop a relationship with a business in town.”

While the internet has dramatically changed the landscape of commerce, not all of it has been bad. Shara Konechney, who owns 10-20 Boutique and Piper in Lubbock selling clothes and accessories, says business has been great in recent years. “Social media, and particularly Instagram, really boosted our brick-and-mortar store, and our web [business] is developing too,” she says.

Supporting a small business doesn’t only have an impact on its profit margins—it has a ripple effect. “Small businesses help each other a lot,” says Bondy, who buys meat and bones from local farmers for her homemade stocks, creating capital for them too.

“We’re supporting four families out of this small business, and three others part-time,” says Oliver. Employees, in turn, spend money in their communities and contribute to the local economy. “The money stays here in Amarillo and that’s awfully good,” Oliver adds. Stores also provide training for people, especially young people, who may want to start their own venture someday.

Being an independent business owner comes with its fair share of headaches, and state and local government would do well to help. “A lot of large corporations get big tax breaks [from the city], but small businesses are unable to get that,” says Oliver. Money saved could be used for store maintenance, as well as hiring people to take care of endless admin.

“All the legalities, the taxes, all the stuff that you have to know now to be in a small business is unbelievable, a lot of people don’t realize that,” says Oliver.

Bondy says something needs to be done about the commercial real estate industry, which has driven prices up to an unaffordable level, squeezing small businesses. She also advises government to get to know them better. After she had been open for a year, the USDA told her she couldn’t sell her beef stock because it was over the maximum protein level. Bondy said they simply didn’t understand what her product was and didn’t take the time to learn about it.

“Not only does a small business need the support of the community, [but they also] need the support of our tax dollars and the agencies,” she says. “I can’t tell you how much more work I had to do to recuperate [after the incident].”

Oliver and Konechney say that Amarillo and Lubbock, respectively, have overall been good at promoting small businesses, notably through “shop local” campaigns. But more can always be done.

“I think the Small Business Saturday movement has really benefited small businesses, it makes a huge difference,” Konechney says. She adds that more messaging year-round, instead of just during the holidays, would also be helpful. “We need it, small businesses are closing as fast as they’re opening,” she adds.

Brazos Bookstore in Houston, which opened in 1974, was on the verge of closing 12 years ago when the founding owner developed health issues. “These local business people, who’d shopped here for decades, said we can’t let this store close, it’s too important,” says operations manager Mark Haber. A small group of them bought the bookstore and it’s still serving the local community today.

Shoppers can help local stores too by choosing to spend their dollars there, this Nov. 30 for Small Business Saturday as well as throughout the New Year and beyond.

Translators Help Korean Voters in Harris County

Translators voting
Population growth has pushed Harris County across federal thresholds that require offering ballots and other election assistance in four languages: English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese. But the federal Voting Rights Act’s complex formulas to determine mandatory language assistance leave behind tens of thousands of residents who speak languages like Tagalog, Hindi, Arabic and Korean.
Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune


With a population greater than that of 26 states, speaking more than 145 languages, Harris County can be a difficult place to make oneself heard. That’s especially true at the ballot box.

Houston resident Hyunja Norman has watched her fellow Koreans struggle to participate in a city where politics play out primarily in English and Spanish. For naturalized Asian American citizens like herself, she says, there are also cultural hurdles. They were taught to “follow the crowd” and avoid drawing attention to themselves.

“But I think I realized to live in America, we cannot live the way we lived in our old country,” said Norman, 51, who was born in South Korea and made her way to Houston in 2007 after wrapping up a stint as an overseas volunteer. “We have to make our voice heard. We need to make noise.”

So for years, Norman has organized what’s known locally as Korean American Early Voting Day, a get-out-the-vote effort focused on older Texans who aren’t proficient in English. She produces voter guides painstakingly translated into Korean and holds news conferences to explain what’s on the ballot each time around. On a designated early voting day, volunteers gather outside Trini Mendenhall Community Center in northwest Houston to offer translation services to prospective voters.

But Norman and other community leaders long faced a problem with the 100-foot buffer zone set up around Texas polling places to keep partisan electioneering away from the ballot boxes. Translators couldn’t cross the line unless a voter spotted them on the way in to cast a ballot and asked them to come inside.

Following a dust-up last year during which translators crossed the protected zone to approach voters waiting in line, Korean American civic groups and the Harris County Clerk’s Office began searching for a way to make translation services more easily available. The solution was found in an approach communities across the country have begun using to bridge language barriers and help fill gaps in federal voting rights law: putting volunteer translators on the county payroll. That way, if a voter doesn’t bring a translator to the ballot box, there’s someone inside the polling place who can help.

Next year’s elections are expected to drive large turnout, and the model could serve as an electoral blueprint for expanding language access in one of the country’s most diverse counties.

“We wanted to come to something that would help the Korean group but others as well. Something that was scalable to any part of the county,” said Roxanne Werner, the county clerk’s director of community relations. “There’s no reason we can’t also hire poll workers who are bilingual in other languages or familiar with American Sign Language.”

Population growth has pushed Harris County across federal thresholds that require offering ballots and other election assistance in four languages: English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese.

Harris is under the most language requirements in the state and is just one of a handful of Texas counties that must provide assistance in languages other than Spanish to voters unable to speak or understand English well enough to participate in elections. But the federal Voting Rights Act’s complex formulas to determine mandatory language assistance — a combination of languages spoken, citizen population and literacy rates — leave behind tens of thousands of residents who speak languages like Tagalog, Hindi, Arabic and Korean.

Nearly 9,500 Harris County residents speak Korean at home, and nearly half are not considered fluent English speakers, according to 2015 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A separate provision of the Voting Rights Act allows voters with limited English proficiency to bring someone who can help them cast a ballot. But advocates for the Asian American community have labored to convince counties across the country to voluntarily provide assistance for voters whose numbers haven’t reached federal thresholds for mandatory assistance.

Recruiting bilingual poll workers is “standard practice for election officials who want to serve all voters,” said Jonathan Stein, a staff attorney and voting rights program manager with Asian Americans Advancing Justice’s Asian Law Caucus.

“Recruiting bilingual poll workers to serve in one or two polling places is really simple, straightforward stuff,” Stein said. “I mean that is step one in providing language assistance to communities in need.”

Some counties and states, including California, have adopted lower thresholds to trigger mandatory language assistance, targeting specific precincts and neighborhoods where data shows voters may need assistance. Places like Cook County, Illinois; Philadelphia County; and Los Angeles County have blown past the Voting Rights Act’s requirements and voluntarily offer fully translated ballots, voter registration applications or other election materials in various languages beyond those required by federal law.

Although it’s difficult to pinpoint how many voters are helped by language assistance programs, research that more generally measures program benefits has found that they lead to greater voter participation and more elected representatives from the communities.

Pointing to those types of local efforts helped Korean American advocates and community leaders make their case with the Harris County clerk’s office during a series of meetings this year. And the longevity and growing popularity of Korean American Early Voting Day proved there was a “huge need” that Norman and her cadre of volunteers were trying to address, said Jerry Vattamala, director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s democracy program, who took part in the discussions.

Their lobbying resulted in a commitment by Harris County officials to go beyond federal requirements and hire multiple Korean-speaking poll workers. Beginning with the 2019 constitutional amendment and mayoral election, those poll workers would be assigned to a voting site in the Spring Branch area — home to what’s known as Houston’s largest Koreatown — and be on hand for the surge of elderly voters expected to participate in Norman’s get-out-the-vote effort.

The message the advocates brought to the county clerk’s office, which had inherited the conflict from a previous administration, was that the Voting Rights Act offered a floor and not a ceiling for language assistance. “There’s nothing stopping you from doing more,” Vattamala said.

And there were lessons to pull from Harris County’s history.

Two years before the county was required by federal standards to provide election assistance in Chinese, advocates in 2009 lobbied for three key election materials to be translated and disseminated among the county’s Chinese American community — an effort that paved the way for a smoother rollout of mandated Chinese language assistance years later, according to those involved in the process.

Left unresolved in the back and forth with the Korean American community was advocates’ desire to work within the state’s 100-foot protected zone. County officials said it wouldn’t be practical to have representatives and volunteer translators from multiple communities inside the lobbies of polling places.

But the groups and the county came to an agreement on the poll worker front, and Norman offered names of two of her volunteer translators who ended up working inside the polling place for the 12-day early voting period in the most recent election. Since then, the county has also made small changes to its poll worker application form in hopes of encouraging people who speak various languages to apply to work the election.

“They know the neighborhoods where those might be needed,” Werner said. “If there’s other groups that are interested in that, we’d be happy to have them.”

It’s virtually impossible to measure the breadth of language assistance that the two Korean American poll workers stationed at Trini Mendenhall Community Center provided while on the job in the November election.

The county doesn’t track assistance based on language, though Werner said she checked on the polling site during early voting and found that the team “was happy to have someone who spoke Korean.” And Norman’s volunteer translators still showed up on Korean American Early Voting Day, milling around just past the 100-foot markers, ready to help.

Sunhi Case, one of the translators turned poll workers, said she was busy helping elderly Korean American voters during her morning shifts, particularly during the weekend that overlapped with Norman’s get-out-the-vote effort and on a weekday when a senior center that caters to Korean Americans provided transportation for at least 30 voters. The steady flow of assistance included walking voters through the check-in process and translating the ballot for them.

The effort helped Hyesook Song, a 72-year-old Korean American, vote for the first time last month.

Speaking through an interpreter, Song laughed when explaining that she wouldn’t have been able to cast her first ballot had a Korean poll worker not been in the room to explain how to use the voting machine and to make sure she properly selected the candidates she wanted to support.

“If there is nobody there, she wouldn’t even think about it,” her interpreter said. “She said she is very thankful as a U.S. citizen to participate in the political process by casting a ballot. She felt very good because her voice was heard this time.”

This article first appeared on the Texas Tribune. Click here to read it in its original form.