This T-Day, Buy Less Than You Think

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You’re gearing up for Thanksgiving dinner.  Assignments are out to various attendees for sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.  Now, it’s time to figure out what size turkey to buy.

Here’s a hint:  Buy less than you think.  If you’re hosting anything like the average Thanksgiving dinner for ten, almost a third of that dinner will go to waste this year. 

In fact, across the nation, about 204 million pounds of turkey will get thrown away over this Thanksgiving. This costs us money – about $277 million as a nation – and is a waste of all the resources it took to get that turkey to our table.  Resources for which, in theory, we are supposed to be celebrating on this exact holiday!

How many resources?  Depending on which estimate you use, that amount of discarded turkey required over 100 billion gallons of water – enough to supply New York City for 100 days -- and created somewhere between 230,000 – 1 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions.

And it’s not just turkey.  If we apply the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates of how much food is never eaten to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual informal survey of the cost of Thanksgiving dinner, here’s a tally of what actually gets wasted over the average Thanksgiving dinner for ten:



So, what to do? 

  • First, note for people that “there will be a lot of food” at the feast!  If ten people come for dinner, and they all bring a dish for ten, that’s ten servings each person has to eat.  And for fear of running out, most of us usually bring even more than that.  Giving your guests permission to bring just a little less – perhaps enough for eight – will cut down on the overall excess.  Consider buying a slightly smaller turkey as well.

Next, tell your guests to bring containers or be sure you have ample supply on hand so that everyone can leave with a bit of the feast for the next day.  If you’re a guest, you don’t have to “be polite” and insist on bringing nothing home.  Think of it in a different way - perhaps, instead, it’s rude to leave your hosts with the burden of eating all those leftovers!

  • Get creative.  There are thousands of suggestions online for how to use up all that leftover turkey – everything from the standard turkey sandwich to turkey banh mi. Whatever your mood, there’s a way to wrap leftovers into it.
  • Finally, if all else fails, don’t forget about your freezer! Almost any extras you have can be popped into the freezer for enjoyment at a later time. 
  • Show just how thankful you are this season by making the most of the food that has traveled so far to get to your table. Your guests and your planet will thank you for it.