How to decrease food waste during the holidays  

For college students, everyone is always looking forward to the holiday season. Getting to go home, spending time with family and friends and most importantly—eating. 

For many people, the most important part of the holiday season is the celebration around food, but some often do not stop to realize the consequences of the food waste they produce. 

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that household waste increases by about 25 percent, on top of the millions of pounds that are already wasted each month. 

According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), each Thanksgiving there are over 204 million pounds of turkey wasted. If each turkey weighs in at around 15 pounds per turkey, that translates to over 13.6 million turkeys wasted each year on the holiday. 

Senior musical theatre major Victoria Brown said, “Food waste is always a big problem in my house because there’s only four of us and the idea of Thanksgiving is that there should be this big table of food and we want to have that ideal. We always end up with more food than we need.” 

But it’s not just about the actual food being wasted. For each of those six million turkeys, there are countless resources that go into the final product that ends up on the table or in the garbage. The National Turkey Federation states that it takes about 40 pounds of feed to raise your average 15 pound turkey. 

Because of this, the production of turkeys results in the wasting of 480 million pounds of feed. Not to mention the financial cost on the American public— approximately 293 million dollars, according to the NRDC. 

So what solutions are there to this immense problem that is created during this season? First off, an easy solution is to know who you’re feeding. Knowing how many people are attending family events and approximately how much food they will be able to eat can help alleviate food waste by planning how much will be consumed. 

An easy tip— buy less than you think you need. If there does happen to be leftovers, look into recipes that can repurpose the food into other meals to extend the life of the food. And, as a bonus, it means less time spent preparing meals and more time relaxing.

Don’t be afraid to opt for vegetarian or vegan options. Many of the typical Thanksgiving foods are meatless or dairy free, so you can hold on to holiday traditions and be sustainable at the same time. 

Junior musical theatre major Alison Fisher shared her experience about being a vegan during the holiday season, saying, “I find being a vegan during the holiday season to be a time to share delicious foods no one has tried before. I think some people don’t realize just how yummy vegan food can be and the difference it makes to support sustainable vegan brands rather than the meat industry.”

The appetizing autumn root vegetables, cranberry sauce and more are all great options. Some of the other typical foods are not always vegetarian or vegan, so look for recipes and ingredients to be sure. For example, many stuffing recipes use chicken broth, and mashed potatoes recipes use milk. Gravy is a difficult substitute, but it also provides an opportunity to discover new and innovative recipes to work into the holiday traditions. 

The food waste crisis affects millions of Americans every day and even more individuals throughout the world because of carelessness with the wealth this nation has. 

This holiday season— think about what you’re eating. Making conscious decisions to utilize all available resources to produce less waste will make a much bigger impact than it seems.  You could challenge yourself to strive to follow the credo that Chef Anthony Bourdain shared in the film “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste,” “use everything, waste nothing.” 

Emma Harris

Rider Eco-Rep

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