Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful, yet unfortunately it’s often the most wasteful time of the year. Last year, according to the NRDC, about 200 million pounds of turkey meat alone were thrown out over the Thanksgiving holiday week. In doing that, we’re essentially throwing out enormous amounts of resources along with it—enough water to supply New York City for 100 days, and a carbon footprint equal to that of 800,000 cars driving from New York to San Francisco. Not to mention the nutritional value of all that turkey, at a time when we are at record high food insecurity – nearly 1 in 4 in the Rochester Area.
Here are 9 tips for a low waste Thanksgiving
1) Get ready for the big day:
Anticipate those leftovers so prepare ahead by inventorying what you have in the fridge. See what you can incorporate into your holiday meal and eat up the rest. Your fridge should be as empty as possible, you’ll need the space in the fridge to have your best shot at well-organized leftovers- don’t want those leftover mashed potatoes to hide strawberries spoiling in the back of the fridge.
2) Master the portion planning:
With the COVID 19 pandemic many of us are cooking for less this year, that is often a recipe for more waste. Don’t go overboard, make a few dishes that most will enjoy and skip on some of the dishes that just get tasted. Make and use a shopping list and avoid recipes that use rare one-off ingredients. Know who’s coming and how much they will eat to plan the right amount. A good rule of thumb for an average adult is: protein (4-8oz), starches (4-8oz), veggies (4-6 oz). But for more advanced portion planning savethefood.com has a great portion planning tool; the guess-timator allows you to adjust for big eaters, vegetarians and even a plan for leftovers.
3) Try to FLOS:
No, not just for the dental visits, FLOS stands for Fresh, Local, Organic and Seasonal. With everyone cooking the same things for thanksgiving it puts lots of stress (which often means industrial techniques, storage and transportation) on the supply chain to deliver 40 million turkeys and 80 million pounds of cranberries all on one day, for example. Why not try something different, something that represents your family? While the environmental impact of turkey is not as bad as that of beef, it is still more than fish or chicken which are still more than veggies and nuts, so try to go lighter on the meat and plan for more yummy sides. Check out this interactive guide from the NY Times for more info on the environmental impact of different foods.
4) Take stock of scraps:
Save those scraps, the tips of the celery, carrot peels, even the onion skins – throw in a turkey carcass if you have one and make a great soup stock (a dash of apple cider vinegar is a handy trick to draw out the marrow and add more flavor to the soup). Those excess herbs can be thrown in with olive oil to make some fancy infused oil (give them a little rub or tap with the back of a knife to release the flavor).
5) Don’t sweat a mishap:
Putting a perfect feast on the table can be a challenge for even a seasoned cook let alone those venturing into unfamiliar territory. Whether part of the turkey is still frozen, the gravy has lumps or the mashed potatoes taste like glue, don’t scrap your mistakes there are lots of resources out there to save the day. Of course, there is the Butterball hotline for expert Turkey rescues, call 1-800- BUTTERBALL (1-800-288-8372). Other resources can be found online including All Recipes Thanksgiving Disaster Saver or the Food Network’s 10 Expert Fixes
6) Pace yourself:
When it comes to the meal eating overeating is also a form of waste. Using smaller plates and serving smaller portions with an open invitation to take seconds is a good tool to avoid your guests feeling logy and uncomfortable (also try taking a walk between courses or before dessert)
7) Chow the leftovers:
Don’t let those leftovers languish in the fridge. Plan for ways to use the leftovers, for example have some bread on hand for Thanksgiving sandwiches. Frittatas, soups and burritos are great ways to breathe new life into leftovers. And don’t forget to keep track of what you’ve got going on in the fridge. Make sure that leftovers are visible (try see through containers or labeling) and freeze before it’s too late!
8) Share the love:
At the heart of it all, this holiday is about abundance shared. Have a leftover exchange with friends and family to add some variety and cut down on your own inventory. Check in with a neighbor that could would appreciate/could use a holiday basket. Donate canned or frozen foods to a local food bank, pantry or kitchen.
9) Reuse and recycle the rest:
Consider feeding simple whole foods to pets in moderation (turkey (yummy giblets), sweet potatoes and rice are good bets. Avoid problem foods like chocolate, raisins and chicken bones (The ASPCA has a handy list). Whatever can’t eat or share can be composted. Composting food scraps avoids the creation of powerful greenhouse gases at a landfill and compost returns nutrients and improves our often overworked and undernourished soil. Impact Earth provides local household compost drop off or curbside pick-up service. Backyard composting isn’t as hard as you’d think, nature has been doing it for years. Find helpful resources to get you started at Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Do you have your own tips, stories or strategies (maybe a recipe) to share about reducing food waste?
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And while Thanksgiving is perhaps the most wasteful day of the year, it’s a problem we need to tackle all year round. In the U.S., up to 40 percent of all food goes uneaten each year, at an annual cost of $218 billion. It’s a problem that costs the average family of four at least $1,500 per year. That results in massive amounts of wasted water, landfill use, climate pollution and other environmental damage.