How to Cut Down on Food Waste This Thanksgiving

Growing portion sizes and a confusing expiration date system contribute to a growing problem

Roast Turkey
flickr/Jess J
It looks like everyone will be eating plenty of turkey sandwiches for days to come.

How much thought have you given to food waste lately? Probably not much. But it's a growing problem with major consequences. Dana Gunders, a project scientist working out of San Francisco with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), specializes in issues of food and agriculture and also contributes to the NRDC staff blog Switchboard. Gunders has studied issues of food waste for some time, and with the arrival of Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season, she has expressed some particular concerns.

Here are some staggering statistics from the NRDC:

  • This Thanksgiving, Americans will toss a whopping $282 million of uneaten turkey and about 204 million pounds of that turkey meat into the trash, attributing to the $165 billion in uneaten food Americans waste every year.
  • The USDA reports that 35 percent of perfectly good turkey meat in the U.S. does not get eaten after it is purchased by consumers (and that's not including bones). This compares with only 15 percent for chicken, "possibly because turkey is more often eaten during holidays when consumers may tend to discard relatively more uneaten food than on other days," the USDA writes.
  • Along with the meat, Americans will be wasting the resources necessary to produce that 204 million pounds of turkey that never gets eaten — meaning 105 billion gallons of water, enough to supply New York City for more than 100 days, and nearly 1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to 800,000 car trips from New York to San Francisco.
  • That is nearly enough turkey to provide each American household that is food insecure with more than 11 additional servings. According to the USDA, 17.9 million households in the U.S. are food insecure.
  • Per pound, the resources needed to produce that turkey are equivalent to driving your car 11 miles and taking a 130-minute shower (at 4 gallons per minute).


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