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Thanksgiving — The Frights of the Feast



When Americans think of Thanksgiving, their minds immediately jump to excessively long dining room tables with various arrays of delectable dishes for them to taste. Their mouths salivate over the idea of stuffing themselves near to bursting with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, and let’s not forget, gravy.

After being deemed a national holiday in 1863 by President Lincoln, Thanksgiving has been celebrated for over 150 years, giving birth to hundreds of different traditions across America. Over 90% of Americans take part in this food-based holiday every November, gorging themselves on food, spending the night catching up with family, and tumbling into bed exhausted, but content, at the end of the night.

Most Americans view Thanksgiving as very surface level; there’s not much to it. You eat, talk, and sleep just like any other major holiday in the US. Nope — I’m here to tell you there’s more to Thanksgiving than what meets the eye.

If you look past the mindless chit chat with relatives you haven’t seen in years, going around the dinner table saying what you’re grateful for, and of course, the food, Thanksgiving is one of the most wasteful holidays around.



 

Food Waste


Starvation in the US Almost every family overcooks for Thanksgiving; I know mine does almost every year. Although overcooking can seem like a bad thing, there are easy ways to repurpose your leftovers.

An estimated 305 million pounds of food are wasted every Thanksgiving. The average American consumes 1,996 pounds of food annually. Food waste from Thanksgiving is enough to adequately feed approximately 153,000 people for an entire year.

9 million people die from starvation each year. If leftovers from a single meal could feed this many people, think of how many deaths from starvation could be avoided with leftovers from other holiday meals.

Malthusian Theory The amount of people that throw out leftover food without giving it a second thought is mind-blowing. Food waste is a tremendous problem in today’s world, especially according to Malthusian theory.

If you know anything about Malthusian theory, you know that humans are predicted to exceed the carrying capacity of Earth sometime in the near future. In layman’s terms, this means that the human population will continue to grow so much that there is not enough food to keep everyone alive and we will slowly but surely begin to die off.

Scarcity Food is a scarce resource that takes time and energy to produce. Millions of acres of trees are cleared annually to make room for new plantations and farms. Still, food production can never seem to keep up with population growth.

Food waste only contributes to this issue. If we devote so many resources and so much time to cultivating food for human consumption and we simply throw our extras away, we are not using our resources efficiently.

Deforestation and the construction of artificial irrigation systems for these crops damage our environment significantly. If we continue to waste food at the rate we are now, these things will begin to occur on larger and larger scales until our environment is beyond the point of saving.

Methane Emissions When people talk about emissions, they’re almost always talking about carbon dioxide emissions. But there’s a scarier, 80x more dangerous type of emission that isn’t talked about as much: methane emissions.

Methane is another greenhouse gas that is actually more potent than carbon dioxide. The structure of methane molecules allows it to trap more heat than carbon dioxide, further contributing to climate change.

When food rots in landfills, it undergoes chemical reactions that release methane into the atmosphere. Due to large amounts of food waste being deposited in landfills following nationwide Thanksgiving festivities, methane levels have been known to spike in the days following the holiday.

6–8% of all greenhouse gas emissions could be eliminated if food waste was reduced, especially on Thanksgiving night.

Creative Solutions All of this talk about climate change and emissions can seem overwhelming. Don’t worry, you don’t have to give up the Thanksgiving dinner you’ve been waiting for all year. Here are some tips to help you plan out your festivities in a way that benefits the environment:

  1. Plan Ahead: Determine how many people will be attending your Thanksgiving dinner and buy only enough food for that number of people. This will allow everyone to enjoy delectable Thanksgiving food all while minimizing leftovers.

  2. Freeze: If your family is one of those who loves the look of a huge Thanksgiving feast, go for it. But, take care to freeze any leftovers you may have after dinner. Freezing preserves the food for as long as you want. This means when the turkey cravings start to hit again, you can set out the frozen turkey on the counter to thaw in the morning and have it ready to eat for dinner that night.

  3. Donate: Check with your local shelters to see if they accept food donations. After the festivities have calmed on Thanksgiving day, drop off your untouched leftovers for others to enjoy. Also, if you know of any families in need in your area, most would appreciate a little bit of extra food on the holidays.

  4. Create Something New: It’s a few days after Thanksgiving and you’ve eaten leftovers for every meal; we’ve all been there. Try whipping up something creative with your leftovers. Try a couple of different combos of turkey, potatoes, and veggies in a stir fry or soup to switch things up!

Whatever you do, don’t throw out your leftovers! Try one of these 4 things this year at Thanksgiving. Do your part to help our environment thrive.

Travel

Record-Breaking Statistics This year, Thanksgiving travel has broken records with approximately 55.4 million people traveling for Thanksgiving. An estimated 49.1 million of those people will be driving to their destinations, whether that be a family’s house or a Friendsgiving event.

Most Americans travel 50 miles or more to visit their loved ones. The average car emits about 411 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. If you assume 49.1 million people all drive 50 miles to their destinations, over 1,100 metric tons of carbon dioxide will be emitted on the days of travel leading up to Thanksgiving in 2023 alone.

This doesn’t even take into account a significant amount of people who traveled more than 50 miles and the other 6.3 million people who traveled by train or plane.

A Look Forward Carbon dioxide emissions are at an all-time high in 2023 and scientists predict that 2024 is on track to be the hottest year on record. If the situation is this dire now, imagine how much of an issue it will be 10 years from now when the US population is even larger and more people begin to travel for Thanksgiving.

It seems as if carbon dioxide emissions are talked about constantly nowadays and many people brush off talk of climate change and global warming because they don’t want to be held accountable for their carbon footprint.

The Gen Z Stereotype As a part of Gen Z, I have been told countless times growing up that it is up to my generation to find a solution for climate change and ensure that our world is able to survive and sustain life in the future. I have always felt unsettled by this idea that previous generations of people get to make the mess and then later generations are stuck cleaning up after them while they turn a blind eye to everything that’s happening because of their actions.

It is up to all of us to reduce our carbon footprints in order to ensure that Earth stays habitable for years to come. There is something everyone can do to keep our planet safe.

Travel Solutions Everyone loves traveling to visit family on Thanksgiving. Here are a couple of ways to cut down on your carbon emissions while still being able to spend the holidays surrounded by family!

  1. Location Choice: If many families members are traveling from all over to celebrate together, host Thanksgiving at whoever’s house is the closest to everyone else’s. This option helps you reduce your carbon footprint and makes it so that your trip is a whole lot shorter.

  2. Carpool: If you live near other family members or friends who are attending the same Thanksgiving dinner as you, consider carpooling. Carpooling reduces the number of cars used for travel, getting everyone to the right place on time all while emitting less carbon dioxide.

  3. Public Transportation: Although public transportation is partially responsible for carbon dioxide emissions, if more people ride the same train or bus, less passenger vehicles are in use and the carbon footprint per capita decreases.


Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, which takes place in New York City every Thanksgiving morning, is a favorite with the American people. It attracts almost 3.5 million people to the city annually with an additional 27.4 million viewers watching from home.

With its gigantic, colorful floats and celebrity performances, how could it not be a fan favorite? However, the parade raises some concerns in the community of environmentalists.

Helium Consumption Several well-known characters have a balloon inflated in their honor each year, Kung Fu Panda, Bluey, and Snoopy among them. Although these balloons are fun to look at, the amount of helium used to inflate them is tremendous.

Earth’s helium supply is extremely limited, so much so that experts are predicting we’ll run out within the next 50 years. 400,000–700,000 cubic feet of helium are used to fill up the Macy’s Day Parade balloons annually. If we continue to consume helium at this rate, our beloved Macy’s Day Parade will only be able to continue for a few more years.

Transportation As mentioned before, 3.5 million people travel to New York City each year to celebrate Thanksgiving by watching the Macy’s Day Parade. Cars, trains, planes, and other forms of transportation are all major carbon dioxide emitters that contribute to climate change. In addition, large trucks are needed to transport floats to the parade each year. Trucks often have higher rates of carbon dioxide emissions than passenger vehicles because they are larger and designed to carry more weight. Overall, the collective carbon footprint for the Macy’s Day Parade is extremely high.



 

Recap

Food waste is a huge issue each Thanksgiving with a whopping 305 million pounds of food wasted, enough to feed over 150,000 people for an entire year. Millions of travelers on Thanksgiving travel far and wide to spend time with their families for the occasion, raising their carbon footprint and contributing to climate change. The well-known Macy’s Day Parade is slowly draining our limited helium reserves as huge floats are inflated each year.

When you’re asked what you’re grateful for at Thanksgiving dinner, I bet you usually say your parents, a close friend, or food. I bet you haven’t expressed your gratitude for the environment, nature, or the outdoors.

This year, switch it up for a change. Say it confidently and clearly, “I am grateful for the environment.” After all, without a healthy environment, there’d be no turkey on your Thanksgiving table.

Happy Turkey Day everyone! If you liked this blog and want to see more content like this in the future, follow the Environmental Defense Initiative on Medium and our other social media platforms.






Author: Emma Mazzotta

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