Talking Turkey

We’re not having a turkey (or any meat) at our Thanksgiving table this year. And that was a pretty non-controversial decision in my family.

But if you are trying to talk your family into a vegetarian Thanksgiving, or are taking heat for leaving the turkey out, then I’ve got some useful numbers for you about Thanksgiving turkey consumption:

Amidst groans about being more stuffed than the bird itself, Americans will toss a whopping $282 million worth of uneaten turkey into the trash this Thanksgiving, contributing to the $165 billion in uneaten food Americans waste every year. Along with trashing uneaten turkey, they’ll be wasting the resources necessary for its production — meaning 105 billion gallons of water (enough to supply New York City for over 100 days) and greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 800,000 car trips from New York to San Francisco. That’s enough turkey to provide each American household that is food insecure with more than 11 additional servings (17.9 million American households suffer from food insecurity).

Nationwide, consumers will purchase around 736 million pounds of turkey this Thanksgiving, of which about 581 million pounds will be actual meat. The USDA reports that 35 percent of perfectly good turkey meat in the U.S. does not get eaten after it is purchased by consumers (and that’s not including bones). This compares with only 15 percent for chicken. Why the disparity? “Possibly because turkey is more often eaten during holidays when consumers may tend to discard relatively more uneaten food than on other days,” the USDA writes.

And unless we take action to prove the USDA wrong, we’ll be throwing away about 204 million pounds of that meat and about 1 million tons of CO2 with it. Per pound, the resources needed to produce that turkey are equivalent to driving your car 11 miles and taking a 130-minute shower (at four gallons/minute).* And that’s to say nothing of the vast amounts of antibiotics used to produce turkey meat, leading to antibiotic resistance, which you can read more about here.

And that doesn’t even take into account what the turkeys actually go through to get to a table.

So instead of eating a turkey, how about adopting one?

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