Reduce Food Waste this Thanksgiving: Prep Less, Eat Less and Be Thankful for Enough


food waste

Thanksgiving is about counting our blessings and taking the time to be thankful for all that we have in our lives. However, we should all be careful not to take that sentiment too far, turning an appreciation for what we have into an unnecessary practice of gluttony, excess and, ultimately, waste.

Here is why food waste is a problem, especially during Thanksgiving, and what you should do to avoid becoming part of staggering food waste statistics.

Sure, Thanksgiving is a time to go little overboard with what you consume, but at some point there is a line that would be better not be crossed. Instead of preparing more food than you can actually eat, or tossing out leftovers, respect your actual hunger level and avoid filling yourself to the brim or creating more waste than necessary. Food waste has hit new levels of embarrassing and there are ways you can be part of the solution, not the problem.

Did you know that during Thanksgiving 2013, 204 million pounds of turkey were thrown out in the US? That’s an equivalent of $277 million, 100 billion gallons of water and 1 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent gas emissions.

While Thanksgiving exhibits a peak in food waste behavior, it represents nothing special in the grand scheme of America’s food waste habits. Each year, Americans throw out 40 percent of the food supply, an amount that tallies to approximately $165 billion – for a family of four, such food waste is equivalent to $2,275 per year. It’s no wonder food waste makes up most of the solid waste in U.S. landfills.

Imagine this: if we cut the losses in the U.S. food supply by a mere 15 percent, we would save enough food to feed 25 million Americans per year. The USDA estimates that 17.9 million households in the US are food insecure. Such a fact reflects poorly on our excessive habits (not just at Thanksgiving). When Thanksgiving rolls around and excessive food preparation and eating behaviors are for the most part celebrated, it’s important to use the opportunity to consider your own actions.

So many resources go into the production of the 204 million pounds of Turkey that never got consumed. The resources that went to raising these birds are equivalent to the amount of water it would require to supply New York City for 100 days and to the level of greenhouse gases used in 800,000 car trips between San Francisco and New York.

Knowing the effects of food waste and how our resources can better be appropriated, try to make shifts in your Thanksgiving menu. Make less, serve less and reuse all the leftovers. If it is clear that you have far too many leftovers to eat yourself or by your family over the next week, try donating some leftovers to nearby shelters or individuals who you know are in need.

food waste

As for eating leftovers yourself, there are many interesting and exciting ways to re-use them without getting bored. Get creative with sandwiches, soups, salads and casseroles, re-using turkey and vegetables in ways that accent and add more texture to new dishes. You don’t have to just heat up leftovers and eat them as they are. Whatever you do, avoid making trash out of perfectly good food.

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Photo Credit: tuchodi, Kristen Taylor

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Aylin Erman