Americans throw away about $160 billion worth of food a year, $290 million of which comes from the Thanksgiving holiday leftovers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr)
El Rancho High School

Opinion: Too much turkey — holiday food waste must end

Potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, turkey, stuffing, pudding, and pie. You enjoyed all these this Thanksgiving right? Well so did your trashcan.

Christmas isn’t the only holiday that has been over saturated and commercialized in America. Thanksgiving, unique to our country, is the holiday-to-end-all-holidays when it comes to food choices and serving sizes. Families travel far and wide, even more often than Christmas, to gather at grandma’s house and stuff their faces.

Some families even celebrate Thanksgiving twice or thrice in a weekend. Skinny jeans who? Never heard of her. Assuming your aunt seasoned the food, most of these big meals end up eaten quickly, but with all the “mistake turkeys,” burnt bundts, and crusty cranberry sauce left uneaten, Thanksgiving quickly turns into Trash-giving.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans throw away about $160 billion worth of food a year, $290 million of which comes from the Thanksgiving holiday leftovers. That’s a lot of turkey!

Supermarkets are just as guilty, tossing nearly 10 percent of groceries at retail level, while Americans discard another 20 percent at home, resulting in the majority of landfills being taken up by uneaten food. Much to the dismay of environmental protection acts, nine out of the top 10 supermarket chains were able to meet waste reduction guidelines as set by The Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Agency.

As non-decomposable waste accumulates in landfills and oceans, natural resources are being consumed faster than we can replenish them. We must find ways to reduce our ecological footprint before the crisis unfolds further.

Part of the mass waste phenomenon is the misconception of the meanings of food labels like “best by,” “sell by,” and “use by.” Many assume that as soon as once a non-perishable snack surpasses the date on the sticker, it must be discarded, when in reality food companies use these labels as suggestions indicating when the food would be most enjoyable. There is nothing wrong with those Ritz crackers from September; they’re just a bit soft now, is all.

“Ugly food” is also a major problem in retail grocery markets and homes, as much of shelved produce becomes trashed simply because of its appearance. Fortunately, organizations like the Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign encourage kids and families to purchase this produce for its equal nutritional value and worth. You can always repurpose your sad-looking fruits and vegetables into new dishes like smoothies, sandwiches, and stir-fries, which is something that Whole Foods does to reduce their waste. And don’t throw away that spotted banana just yet, just because you find it unappealing, turn it into ice cream!

Portion sizing seems to be a major issue in America, as Americans continue to bite off more than they can chew, and dump the rest of their plate when they realize their mistake. Even restaurants feed into this consumerist trend by stack plates miles high with pancakes, steaks, and bread, — most of which will end up in the garbage, or in a doggy bag. Of course, Thanksgiving is also a day to give back to the community and make sure everyone is fed and appreciated. Food banks, soup kitchens, and other organizations have provided the opportunity to help reduce waste by giving it to the less fortunate. To avoid leftovers and the eventual fridge-purging, you should only cook the foods you know you will eat, be moderate with your servings, and if you are still hungry, go back for more!

The hardest step is getting started, but it’s easier than it seems. By following these new waste management guidelines, we can all do our part in improving our lifestyles and preserving the environment. Take it easy on your wallet, your stomach, and your trash cans this fall, and be conscious of your kitchen waste. As American music icon Weird Al Yankovic once said, “Just Eat It.”