Food waste crisis in America heightened during the holidays
According to Brightly Eco, 200 million pounds of turkey are thrown out during Thanksgiving. That’s the equivalent to the weight of 10 Eiffel Towers worth of food.
“In America, we waste a lot of food,” biology and environmental science teacher John Gallo said. “In terms of an environmental issue related to food waste, what does not end up in our stomachs or in compost bins, typically ends up in landfills.”
Especially during the Thanksgiving holiday, copious amounts of food are thrown away. Once it ends up in landfills, its decomposition process can have a large impact on the environment.
“Should the methane reach the atmosphere, it is great at trapping heat there,” Gallo said. “The bottom line is reducing, recovering and recycling food, keeping it out of landfills, is a good way to reduce our impact on the environment.”
According to BrightlyEco.com, a blog that talks about being conscious consumers, some of the most popular dishes on the Thanksgiving table such as turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pie are the most toxic to the environment due to the high amounts of carbon they emit during the decomposition process. The biggest contributor of all of these is turkey as the carcass and excess meat is often thrown out.
Although food waste is most prevalent during Thanksgiving and the holiday season, the United States, in general, has a huge food waste problem year round. The United States Department of Agriculture reports that there is a 31 percent food loss at both the retail and consumer levels.
Adam Redling, editor of Waste Today, argues that “our relationship to food is purely transactional.” People tend to buy food for convenience and are quick to throw out what they do not want.
However, consumers are not the only ones contributing to the food waste problem. Farmers overproduce and only sell their best looking products. In addition, according to Waste Today, grocery stores overstock shelves and put restrictions on sell-by dates forcing them to throw out food after a short period of time.
The best way to reduce food waste is to redistribute it to food banks to feed the hungry, according to the International Food Policy and Research Institute. Food banks tend to receive increased food and monetary donations during the holiday season.
“The community tends to be more in tune with community needs during the holidays for both giving funds and volunteering,” Jeff Smith, senior manager of communications at The North Texas Food Bank, said. “The NTFB generally raises about 50 percent of our operating funds from Sept.-Dec., due to fundraising efforts and year-end gifts.”
Although this increases the amount of food NTFB that may be wasted if not used, the food bank’s “client choice” operating model decreases food waste as clients only choose food they are likely to eat.
“From the Food Bank’s perspective, I think we are consistent in making sure that food is not wasted throughout the calendar year,” Smith said. “The NTFB partners with more than 400 food pantries and organizations across North Texas and most of the food pantries in our network had a ‘client choice’ operating model. That means that individuals that go to that food pantry can select the items that their family wants (much like shopping at a grocery store), eliminating food waste.”
In order to redistribute wasted food to the hungry, organizations and manufacturers participate in food rescue. According to the San Luis Obispo Food Bank in California, food rescue is the process of reducing food waste, and gleaning or collecting excess food and redistributing it to those in need.
“For the food bank, we do work with food manufacturers to rescue food that they might not be able to sell,” Smith said. “[They collect] irregular shaped, dented cans, etc.”
In 2015, the USDA and The United States Environmental Protection Agency proposed the United States 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal which seeks to cut food waste in half by 2030. EPA reported that long term solutions to reduce food waste includes policies and actions “to promote successful interventions and tools to advance the sustainable management of food.”
Students can reduce their personal impact on the environment by saving and recycling food. This can include packaging leftovers and saving them for the weeks to come, having more vegetables and less meat on the table and more. In addition, students can practice buying only the foods they need or less food overall.
“The bad news is that we’re extremely wasteful,” Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland said in an interview with the New York Times. “The positive side of it is that we have a real role to play here, and we can effect change. If we all reduce food waste in our homes, we’ll have a significant impact.”
Senior Amelia Sinwell celebrates Thanksgiving with her family of six plus eight more extended family members.
“Usually everything gets eaten at dinner— partly because we know how much to make at this point and partly because we all eat ridiculous amounts for a family of girls,” Sinwell said. “Everything that doesn’t get eaten is used for meals over the next week, and at that point, the rest is thrown out.”
Leftovers at Sinwell’s house are eaten, though inevitably, there is some food waste by the end of the week. As for turkey leftovers, they usually make soups or sandwiches.
“We love Thanksgiving food though, so most times [we don’t] even need to be creative— we just eat straight stuffing and mashed potatoes for every meal,” Sinwell said. “Things go bad, though, so there is usually a fair amount of food waste as the stuffing gets soggier and the turkey gets staler.”
In addition to helping the environment by preventing food from ending up in landfills, students can volunteer for local nonprofits such as NTFB. “There are a number of ways students can give back during Thanksgiving,” community service coordinator Courtney Phelps said. “Most soup kitchens, meal delivery organizations, etc. will have opportunities during Thanksgiving.”