11/23/2011 12:44 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Thanksgiving for Seven Billion

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to come together with family and friends and share an abundant feast. We have consensus to eat heartily and share no guilt on Thanksgiving. On the way to the table few Americans contemplate the 45 million turkeys killed, cooked and eaten on Thanksgiving. We sharpen our carving knives, with nary a blessing towards the dead bird in the center of the plate. The Pilgrims did not eat the traditional meal we serve today. Originally, Thanksgiving was simply a day of giving thanks, not a day to remember the Pilgrims. The Victorians added the turkey and stuffing.

So, what about our "global family" sharing our table? What are we, as a single humanity, eating on Thanksgiving, or any day? Everyday, seven billion people eat, somehow. Because all seven billion of us share the same resources, we all sit at the table. How can we make the earth's resources sufficient for everyone?

Being a restaurateur and a mother, I spend a lot of time thinking about food and how to feed both my customers and my family. When I think about how to feed the world, it seems logical that a plant-based diet is the solution.

On the level of "one person, one plate," a plant-based diet yields a longer, healthier life. Just ask Bill Clinton or Steve Wynn. It took personal health challenges to turn these two guys around. On the level of many people, many communities and many plates, eating meat-free is the most sustainable food choice. The whole planet is stressed, and not just because of population growth. Climate change is here and with it comes increased droughts, floods and other natural disasters.

Whether you're eating turkey or faux turkey, we have a lot to be thankful for. A warm dry home surrounded by people we love gives us nourishment and gratitude. From our position of relative comfort, let's look at some options for feeding the "seven billion at our table."

According to the New York Times, between 2009-2010 the world produced enough grain to feed 11 billion people, but humans consumed less than half of it. Where did the rest go? It was distributed as animal feed, and went toward bio-fuel production. It's easy to see how the less meat we eat; the more grain will be available. Eliminating meat from our diet creates more food for people. Reducing our meat consumption conserves resources and spares the environment. The U.N.'s Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that meat production produces more greenhouse gasses than all the SUVs, cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined. It takes 300 gallons of water per day to produce a vegetarian diet but more than 4,000 gallons of water per day to produce a typical meat-based diet. More than a billion people live without an adequate supply of fresh water, yet we spend two thirds of the world's fresh water on raising meat.


Resources matter. While Monsanto engineers GMO foods to grow in drought-stricken regions of the world and chefs like Dan Barber turn to fish farms so they can keep fish on their menu, I am in favor of new ways to make better use of the earth's resources. There are a few ways you can start right at home.

According to a recent article published in Good, a third of all food grown in America is either thrown away, spoils, or is eaten by pests. OneEarth, an online survival guide for the planet, quotes an N.I.H. study that says Americans waste an average of 1,400 calories daily per person, which is equal to about two meals.

On your next trip to the grocery store, be mindful of how much you buy. What does your family usually eat and how much? Can you use leftovers the next day? Consider donating food to non-profits like Feeding America, which can help you find a local food bank. And remember, eating vegan and vegetarian is the most healthy and sustainable way to go.

All seven billion people of us sit at the table together, not only this Thanksgiving, but also every day of the year. I think we can all do something to help feed them.