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How to Reduce Food Waste During Thanksgiving

Updated: May 5, 2021

Since Halloween is over and it’s already November, Thanksgiving is just a couple of weeks away! If your Thanksgiving traditions in any way resemble the typical American traditions, Thanksgiving probably involves gathering with family (or friends), spending time together, being thankful, and cooking as well as eating a lot of food, most of which you won’t finish by the end of Thanksgiving night. That being said, the US Chamber of Commerce estimates approximately 172 million pounds of turkey, 30 million pounds of gravy, and 29 million pounds of vegetable sides are thrown out annually by Americans on Thanksgiving. That is a lot of food to be wasting that is affecting not only your finances but also the amount of food and resources that could be going to people in need. As such, this blog post will cover just exactly what food waste is, why it is important, and what you can do to reduce how much of it your household generates this Thanksgiving.

What is Food Waste, and Why Does it Matter?

First of all, what is food waste? Is it the same as food loss? According to Reset, there is actually a difference between food waste and food loss, with food loss referring to food lost or thrown out during the early production stages (harvest, storage, transportation) and food waste referring to food that is fit for human consumption but is thrown out, usually by supermarkets or by consumers themselves. One thing to note is that the definition of food waste is food that is edible, which means food that isn’t edible or can’t be consumed by humans does not count as food waste.

Now how does food waste, in particular, impact the environment and why should you care if the United States is wasting a significant amount of food every year? Well, when you throw away edible food, you are also wasting all of the resources that went into processing that food, including the water, fuel, land, and electricity used throughout the entire process, from the plantations to the supermarkets. For example, 70% of water around the world is used for agricultural purposes, which means that a significant portion of that water is going to waste due to the proportion of food that is lost or wasted throughout the process. Another example is the 28% of agricultural land that goes towards producing food will eventually become lost or wasted annually around the world. Additionally, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that the carbon footprint of food waste is equivalent to 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, which is a considerably large amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere annually by food that is being thrown away all over the world.

How to Reduce Food Waste

As such, it seems now more than ever that keeping carbon emissions down and making proper use of scarce resources around the world needs to be integrated into our modern-day society, so here are some tips to reduce how much food waste you and your family may generate during Thanksgiving this year.

1. Reduce the amount of food you buy

If you’re reading this blog post, you’ve likely had your fair share of Thanksgiving dinners and know how much food is being wasted at the end of the day. So, the next time you are preparing for the Thanksgiving feast, think about the amount of food waste you and your family generated last year and adjust your Thanksgiving portions accordingly, so that you start off with fewer ingredients and by default will decrease the amount of food waste your household will generate at the end of your meal. Research has also shown that buying your ingredients in bulk actually causes your household to generate more food waste due to the larger quantities of food you now have available in your home, as such you should consider visiting the grocery store every few days as an alternative to bulk buying to reduce your potential food waste. Additionally, if you’re the type of person who might be tempted to impulse buy snacks or food that you don’t eat and will end up just throwing away, make a list or grab a friend to shop with so that you and they can hold yourself accountable and prevent you from impulse buying those snacks the next time you go on a grocery run.

2. Store and reheat the leftovers

Make sure you know how to properly store the leftovers from your Thanksgiving meal, or any other meal for that matter, so that you can reheat it for your next meal. Improperly storing your food is a significant contributor to food waste, as it can cause your food to spoil or rot prematurely, which just leads to most of us throwing previously edible food out. Knowing which types of foods need to be stored in the refrigerator, dry pantry, in a sealed container, away from sunlight, and so on could substitute anywhere between 1-3 of your meals the following week, saving yourself time and money, and you will be reducing food waste that is caused as a result of improper storage of food.

3. Donate the extra food

If you have untouched leftovers from Thanksgiving, meaning you or your family’s saliva hasn’t touched the food in any way, and you don’t want to eat the food as leftovers for the entirety of the next week, consider donating the extra leftovers to a shelter or your local soup kitchen. There are shelters and soup kitchens around the country who are more than happy to accept untarnished perishable food, which means you’ll not only be reducing the amount of food waste your household generates but by giving back to your community and helping out people in need who are a part of your community as well. Make sure to contact your local shelter/soup kitchen beforehand to see what kinds of food you can donate as well as their procedures for donating the food, especially now during the global COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure the food you end up donating can be accepted and won’t end up getting thrown out at the shelter either.

4. Compost the inedible food

If none of the options above appeal to you, or the food you have leftover is inedible, then consider composting the leftovers your family has at the end of your Thanksgiving meal. According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, composting your leftovers and inedible food can potentially divert up to 150 kg of food waste per household annually from the local landfills and garbage collection facilities, which should be enough to give you the incentive to start composting at home. As an additional bonus, you can also use the compost to fertilize the plants you already have at home, or use the newly made compost and the seeds from produce you’ve bought and brought home to start growing your own fruits and vegetables in the backyard.

As you can see, there are multiple ways in which you can reduce food waste and do your part to minimize the food waste problem in the United States, and what a better time to start than during Thanksgiving! Hopefully, as the holiday season approaches you’ll be able to try some of these tips out and let us know if they helped you and your household reduce the amount of food waste generated by your Thanksgiving dinner this year. If you want to learn more about food waste, ways to minimize your environmental footprint, or just environmentalism and sustainability in general, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter, stay tuned for more blog posts, and follow us on Instagram @wellmadewrld !

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