Holidays, Thanksgiving especially, are about spending time with loved ones and being grateful and thankful for our blessings, including the food on our tables. Yet, according to the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) every year about 200 million pounds of turkey meat go to waste on Thanksgiving Day alone. The food waste registered on this day, is so much more serious than the turkey meat itself, in fact, when considering the carbon footprint of food, you have to look at the whole picture of waste resources, meaning you also have to take into consideration the amount of food, water, and labor that went into raising those turkeys.
To put numbers into perspective, the wasted resources into the biggest dinner of the year, is equal to the amount of water necessary to supply New York City for 100 days, or to 800,000 cars driving from Los Angeles to Florida.
All of this though, is only a fraction of the estimated 5 million tons of food in total that Americans toss between Thanksgiving and New Year's.
Avoiding food waste this Holiday season, is far less complicated than you might think....all it takes is a little organization and advanced planning.
Here are some suggestions:
Plan the menu and the portions properly
The easiest way to not make food waste is to not cook more food than you really need, so start off by finding out how many people are coming and plan appropriate portion sizes with this Guest-imator. Make sure you are aware of allergies or other requirements you need to take into consideration when planning your menu, and be realistic about how much time you have to dedicate to cooking.
Once you have this information start making a list of dishes that everyone can enjoy and decide what you can make yourself and/or what you can delegate to others. Don’t go overboard with the amount of choice, and don’t be afraid to cut dishes that you know will barely get touched, but that you keep making year after year, simply because they are traditional holiday staples. Try to select recipes that need ingredients you can already find in your pantry, and if the dishes you choose require ingredients you don’t regularly use, be sure to only purchase the exact amount you need for that specific recipe.
Although going vegetarian isn’t necessarily going to cut down on food waste, it is true that reducing meat is the most effective way to shrink our personal climate footprints at meal times during the holidays. Nevertheless, if you do decide not to skip the traditional turkey dish, at least try to opt for a bird that is organic and free-range.
Shop locally and organically wherever possible
Aim to build your meal around local, in season, produce and ingredients, including beverages such as local wines, beers and cider.
If you can skip the pre-made, pre-cubed, spiraled and shredded produce that comes in non-recyclable plastic bags and clamshells, buy whole produce at your local farmer’s market. Yes, cooking from scratch may take a bit longer, but at least you’re guaranteed its freshness, are spared wasteful packaging, and you’ll be supporting local farmers. That said, if supermarkets and bagged produce are your only option or are more affordable, consider transferring the produce that comes in bags and clamshells into a cloth storage bag or glass container at home to keep it fresh. Try to repurpose the containers, if not, be sure to properly dispose of them. Wherever you ultimately choose to shop, still keep in mind the seasonality of what you are purchasing.
Save scraps and compost
As you prep your holiday meal, set up a big bowl or bag right next to your cooking station to make sure none of the food scraps accidentally get thrown into the trash. Once the container is full, transform those scraps into a delicious homemade vegetale broth or even a stew, which you can then refrigerate or freeze in jars or ice cube trays for a later date.
If you have bigger pieces of surplus vegetable (onions, carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower), how about turning those into home-pickled vegetables?
Whatever can’t be repurposed into other dishes, be sure to compost, and whatever you do, remember that throwing leftovers down the drain is an environmental hazard.
Prep for leftovers!
An unofficial Thanksgiving tradition is to repurpose leftovers into meals for days to come. If you’ve planned to transform your leftovers into new recipes, or if you think you won’t get tired of eating the same dish over and over again, great, enjoy! If not, send your family and friends home with something! In order to not wrap anything up in plastic or tinfoil, ask guests to bring stainless steel containers of their own, but just in case anyone forgets, remember to get some reusable containers of your own out, so that you’re prepared to send leftovers out the door without creating more waste.
Another way to avoid food going to waste is to store items properly when placing them in the fridge.
Set the table correctly
The most sustainable way to set your table is to use real plates, cutlery, cloth napkins and glasses. If you don’t have enough table settings, borrow from a friend or family member or ask guests to bring their own.
Serve dishes out of glass Pyrex or ceramic bowls that come with lids, this will make clean-up quicker if you decide to keep your leftovers, or if you decide to give that dish to a guest to take home.
Ditch the plastic and the store-bought decorations and use ingredients (pumpkins, winter squash), or natural elements from outside (local flowers or foliage) to add some season coloring to your table.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a dishwasher, make sure it’s emptied out before everyone arrives, that way to can load it up as plates get emptied, and by the end of the day you’ll have a full load to run.
Do your bit
Food waste is a direct contributor to climate change, and although many causes of climate change depend on big corporations, cutting down on food waste, is something you can take with your own hands to help the planet and raise awareness about the amount of food that ends up in the trash this time of year!
Happy Holiday season!