Environmental Impact of Holiday Eating

By Jubilee Lopez

Catlin Gabel School, Catlin Speak

In a recent Sports Illustrated article, it notes that Eric Wood of the Buffalo Bills, gained “an impressive 7.4 pounds in turkey, stuffing and pie weight, bumping his total up 309.6 pounds.” The article concludes with: “So if you are looking for some motivation to go for another helping of mashed potatoes next year, try to keep Wood’s personal record in mind.”

With games such as this we should consider another measurement of pounds; pounds of carbon.

Americans should consider the environmental impact of their gorging.

In the United State, Thanksgiving has turned from a holiday focused on giving thanks and more about the consumption of copious amounts of food.

“The carbon footprint of the first Thanksgiving meal was approximately zero. Seventeenth-century farmers grew food, ate food and used those calories to grow more food. The energy loop was closed, and the climate was unaffected” according to the Washington post.

However, now the typical Thanksgiving dinner (turkey – mashed potatoes – other vegetables – pumpkin pie – etc.) has a more severe environmental impact.

First, consider the turkey.

According to information from the by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), this year more than 235 million turkeys were raised. The majority of these turkey’s were raised in Minnesota, Arkansas, North Carolina, Missouri and Virginia. As we eat our turkey in Oregon it is important to keep in mind that it most likely came from across the country. Think of the carbon emitted while transporting it!

A 3.5 ounce serving of turkey is  responsible for 2.4 pounds of carbon dioxide and comparable, in terms of emissions, to driving 3 miles. But of course, with seconds that translates to about six miles.

Next, the potatoes.

Though meat is worse for the environment than plant-based food, due to the depletion of natural resources such as water. For a reference, according to the Water Education Foundation, it takes 2,464 gallons of water to produce one proud of beef.

Though it is a vegetable, potatoes, a Thanksgiving favorite, are a carbon-intensive food because of the transporting and cooking methods used.

“One cup of mashed potatoes will release approximately 1.5 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents.” Because we likely  indulge in seconds, this, according to the same article, “means the equivalent of driving 3.7 miles” as told by the Washington Post.

The other greens, compared with potatoes, have a much smaller carbon footprint.  A cup of broccoli is only responsible for 0.4 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents and going back from seconds only means about one mile of driving.

Lastly, another staple of Thanksgiving, for those of age, is the alcohol.

According to research conducted by the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER), as shown in the graphic, in North America 2390 grams (converted to about 5.3 pounds) of carbon comes from each bottle of wine. Say that you have a big group of people and get two bottles, that means more than 10 and a half pounds of carbon just coming from wine.

Documents like “The Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change and Health” compiled by the Environmental Working Group (based on national averages), make it possible to estimate the effect that the production, fertilization and transportation of your meal.

Food mile calculators, like the one found at foodmiles.com, are other helpful resources.

The more food the more pounds of greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere. And eventually, your drive to dinner may emit less carbon dioxide than the food from your meal.

If you’d like to lower the carbon footprint of your diet there are plenty of options. In 2013, Bon Appetit launched a Low Carbon diet. To learn more about this diet and get tips on eating low carbon go to eatlowcarbon.com.

As we continue through the holiday season and get ready for Christmas, we should consider making it a vegetarian holiday to compensate for all your turkey eating. Americans should think less about the joy of food consumption and more about the environment, even during the holiday season.

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (www.wantnewsforteens.com).

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