As the days of November tick by and Thanksgiving draws ever closer, it's impossible not to enter a grocery store and now be instantly greeted/accosted with amped up sales and the mass overhauls to utiilize every last inch of floor space with even more food than a grocery store already deems "normal."
While I realize that the majority of us do actually eat more than usual on Thanksgiving (statistically, the average American consumes as much as 3,500 calories at Thanksgiving dinner), I also find it exceptionally hard to imagine that we’re really actually using up all this extra food that's being carted in for our purchase.
So, as much as I love the holiday and as wondrous as I find it to be, the sad fact remains that in general, this day of gratefulness and the biggest "food day" of the year also happens to be one of greatest when it comes to waste.
In reading up on Thanksgiving day food waste, I found many articles related to American food waste in general. The numbers are pretty staggering, and in light of this day coming up, I think they're useful to reflect on. Some of the more telling statistics come from a recent study at the University of Arizona Bureau of Applied Research. According to them, average food waste in the U.S. looks something like this:
- Just 5% of our leftovers could feed 4 million people around the entire world for a day
- American retailers (restaurants included) throw out approximately 35 million tons of food every year
- Those 35 million tons of wasted food equates to approximately $30 billion dollars lost
- American households toss out approximately 14% of what they buy
- That 14% equates to approximately $43 billion dollars of food waste
- And, 15% of that waste was food tossed that was never even opened and not even expired
Now, I don't know about you, but to me, those numbers sound dismal, really dismal. But, just as dismal as what's happening now, think about what could happen with some change. In fact, according to the very same study:
If we reduced our food waste by just half, we could reduce negative impacts on the environment by up to 25%.
Now, in my mind, a 25% change in negative impacts seems pretty spectacular, and all that would come simply by cutting down food waste and in turn reduce countless side effects of growing food like soil depletion, landfill use and the amount of fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides that we would go through.
It’s the encouraging numbers like that one that inspire me to eliminate food waste wherever and whenever I can in my daily life. After all, it’s the small decisions that really add up.
For example, let’s take just the turkey on Thanksgiving. According to a study by the University of Manchester, a turkey dinner for a group of 8 will produce around 44 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. Over half of those emissions come just from the life cycle of the turkey, and according to the Center for Food Safety, it’s going to take nearly 915,000 barrels of oil to produce and ship the turkeys we will consume this Thanksgiving. Just think of the difference we could make if half of us ate just half the amount of turkey at Thanksgiving that we normally do. What if half of us gave up turkey altogether?
Here’s my idea: Why don’t we all, as a green conscious, collective group vow to start today with less food waste on the biggest food day of the year? Do we really need 3,000 calories for just dinner?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Thanksgiving dinner something fierce and I’m all for leftovers, but the point is that there’s no need to do either in excess. Thanksgiving dinner is just as delicious with normal servings as it is with over 4 times the amount we would normally eat in one sitting (it’s probably more delicious this way actually).
Leftovers are great, if we eat them; in fact, making extra all at one time and then re-serving for extra meals is a very green, energy saving idea. It’s the leftovers tossed in the garbage that are not so green. Maybe we only make 3 sides instead of 6. Maybe we potluck style it so that each family only has to bring one dish. Maybe we plan the leftovers in such a way as to guarantee their incorporation into next week's menu. Maybe we take whatever is leftover to the food shelter or to a neighbor family who could use a little extra.
No matter how much or how little we make, let's end the day having wisely used our resources. And, in that, we can be thankful.
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by Tyler Love