Next Thursday is Thanksgiving and, if you're like me and the 88% of Americans celebrating with friends and family this year, you might already be loosening your belt in anticipation of a holiday feast. This remarkable day is famous for celebrating the bounty of our food.
As someone who focuses on food waste - and food waste solutions - every day, this got me thinking. Nationally, we waste up to 40% of our food each year. If we waste 40% of our already large Thanksgiving meals, what are we really throwing away?
A Typical Gathering of Eight
Let's take a typical Thanksgiving gathering of eight people. I wanted to know, on average, how many pounds of food might be served to this group and then, based on national statistics, I assumed that 40% would be wasted. With help from Phood LLC, we started calculating.
Phood's business is food waste tracking and reporting, and together we came up with some really interesting data.
Wasted Food = Wasted Water
The amount of water required for a simple meal based on average portion sizes and eight guests - is a whopping 4,500 gallons. If we waste 40% of this food, we're wasting 1,800 gallons of water.
- Raising the turkey alone consumed 2,352 gallons of water before it became the guest of honor at our table.
- It took another 170 gallons of water to grow the sweet potatoes.
So how much water is flushed away if we waste 40% of the entire Thanksgiving meal?
Think about it this way: on Thanksgiving Day you wake up and turn on your bathroom faucet...and you leave it on for 15 hours! If you have a larger gathering of 16 people, you'll have to run the tap for 30 hours!
Would you ever do that? I bet you wouldn't!
Save 1.1 Billion Miles by Cutting Food Waste
Wasted food also has a carbon impact based on the effort, particularly the embedded energy, that goes in to growing and transporting food from the farm to our dining room tables. If we then don't eat 40% of it, that's wasting the equivalent of the carbon emissions generated by driving about 32 miles in the average passenger vehicle. Nationally for Thanksgiving, that's 1.1 billion miles - plenty for lots of trips to Grandma's house for pumpkin pie - and the equivalent of 100,499 passenger vehicles driven for one year.
Here's What You Can Do
Thankfully, there are several things we can all do to minimize food waste on Thanksgiving, and every other day of the year.
- Shop with a plan. Know how many people you're expecting, think about portion sizes and plan accordingly.
- Embrace ugly fruits and vegetables. That dented apple you use to make your famous apple pie will be equally delicious as it's perfectly shaped counterpart.
- Enjoy the leftovers! Thanksgiving just might offer some of the best leftovers of the year. Enjoy them the next day or get creative with what's remaining and develop some new, interesting recipes.
For more on the methodology used in this analysis, click here.