Behind the delicious foods, Thanksgiving has a dark side

Kirthi Dronamraju

The shame of chowing down enough turkey to feed an entire village of Pilgrims isn’t the only reason to feel guilty this Thanksgiving. The environmental impact of a turkey feast for eight is approximately 44 pounds of carbon dioxide, a gas that contributes significantly to global warming. At the root cause of all this damage are a few of the staples that make up our dinner table this Thursday.

1. Gobble gobbling up the Earth’s atmosphere

About 60 percent of the Thanksgiving carbon footprint comes from the life cycle of the turkey alone. Though red meat like beef generates the greatest amount of greenhouse gases, farm-raised poultry like turkey is still considered to be “high impact.”

If you couldn’t care less about climate change (or remain one of those that deny its existence), something to take into consideration is the tremendous amount of waste involved in making a turkey dinner. It’ll takes at least 915,200 barrels of oil to produce and ship all the turkeys Americans eat, according to the Center for Food Safety.

So if you’re feeling a bit guilty this Thursday, pardon the turkey, make less of it and try composting your table scraps.

2. Planes, trains and automobiles

The average Thanksgiving meal hosts two, four-person families. The average distance an American family travels to get their turkey fix is around 200 miles.
From farms to groceries, the average American meal travels more than 1,500 miles in its journey to be consumed. Each mile driven emits about one entire pound of carbon dioxide gas — that’s a whole lot of greenhouse gas that’s emitted, and considerably more than the turkey alone.

3. The many, many beige foods

When pointing fingers at the culprits of harm, it’s easy to single out the ham or turkey, but those 1,500 miles the average Thanksgiving meal travels also includes all your favorite sides.

But that’s no reason to forgo, or even eat less of, your mashed potatoes or stuffing. Experts at the University of California at Berkeley suggest making a trip to your local farmer’s market, and getting familiar with the produce you consume. Even if you can’t afford the sometimes lofty prices at these sustainable markets, it’s useful to know which crops are in season and which aren’t, so you can avoid those that are shipped in from overseas.

Much of the traditional Thanksgiving fare is in season in numerous regions of the United States — cranberries, potatoes, pumpkins and apples are just a few examples of items in abundance this time of year.

4. Thanksgiving is a pile of garbage *ahem* makes a pile of garbage

Save, recycle and compost! With the amount of food that goes into preparing a traditional Thanksgiving feast, it’s inevitable that a large quantity will go wasted. In fact, the USDA found that the United States is particularly versed in wasting in general, with 35 percent of the food supply being wasted. Food waste is the largest subscriber of greenhouse gas emissions in landfills, and it only increases during the holiday season.

While you’re composting your biodegradable scraps instead of sending them away to landfills, consider going completely paperless at the table. Stick with reusable forks, knives, spoons, plates and glasses, as well as cloth napkins (not paper ones) and tablecloths. And rather than throwing away meals, freeze or recycle them for delicious leftovers.