Thanksgiving: A Celebration of Pollution

Lichtenstein, R. (1961). Turkey [Photograph]. Observer. https://observer.com/2017/11/best-thanksgiving-themed-works-of-art/

Thanksgiving this year is a little different from the rest. COVID-19 has forced many families to celebrate alone or with restrictions. This year, however, Thanksgiving should also be looked at from a different perspective: an environmental perspective. It might not seem like Thanksgiving, a once a year holiday, would have any environmental impact at all or even have a personal impact. It all has to do with how people gather their food and how they come together to celebrate this holiday. 

It is known that eating plant-based food will greatly reduce the CO2 level in the environment. A vegan diet, for example, will reduce many things such as “greenhouse gases, but also global acidification, eutrophication, and land and water use” (Vegconomist, 2019). A typical Thanksgiving meal consists of the staple turkey dish. The CO2 emission of cooking a 16 lb turkey will vary from state to state because of their means of preparation. States that use more socially friendly means of preparation like in Main or Vermont (relying on renewable energy) will have a much lower CO2 emission during this time than states such as Wyoming or Kentucky (relying on coal). To take into account the worst-case scenario, which would be using coal to prepare the dinner, Carnegie Mellon University researchers conducted a study to find out how much CO2 is actually emitted when cooking such a big bird. In the case of using coal, Wyoming, for example, “emits 32 pounds of carbon dioxide” (Rea, 2016).  Wyoming currently has 578,759 people living in it and there are 230,630 households in the state. (United State Census, 2019) If every household prepared a turkey on Thanksgiving that would equate to 7,380,160 pounds of CO2 emitted in one day. Using a CO2 calculator from the Guardian, a round trip from the LAX airport in Las Angeles to New York’s New York John F. Kennedy airport would produce roughly 1537 pounds of CO2. The people of Wyoming would be able to fly roughly 4801 round trips from LA to NY. This is just an example of the state with the lowest population using coal. This number would be substantially bigger in states with a higher population like Kentucky. To understand this emission on a smaller scale, the total emission of a one 16 pounds turkey is “equivalent to one dish of turkey gravy, cranberry sauce, roasted Brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes, rolled biscuits and apple pie combined” (Emanuelli, 2020). For future holidays, in order to lessen the CO2 emission during Thanksgiving dinner, it is recommended to obtain food from a plan-based source. This doesn’t imply to transform the entire dinner vegan, but to become conscious of what is being bought and if something can be substituted for something plant based- do it! There are many vegan meat substitutes called meat-analogue or “mock meat” that can help lower the carbon footprint. There are other things that can be done to ensure an eco-friendly Thanksgiving like staying local.

This year, despite being advised “nearly 7 million travelers have gone through TSA checkpoints” (Root, 2020) as of Wednesday, November 25, 2020. Even though this is much less than the previous years, it can still have a great toll on the Earth. This also doesn’t account for the food being imported  from different countries during this time. It would be a wise decision to also be conscious of where the food is being bought. For example, cheese from Europe would be more harmful  to the environment than cheese made in Wisconsin. In order to limit wasteful or non-needed carbon emissions, buying food from local farms or markets is better. By supporting local farms and markets the economy in that region is also being boosted. The food grown locally also helps in well being because the nutrients are fresh due to the fact that the crop is in season and just cultivated.

Holidays seem to be a secret killer when it comes to global carbon emissions. It seems to slip the minds of people that even the smallest of things can impact the Earth greatly.  For future holidays to come, it is best to keep the Earth in the back of our minds. By doing so and keeping a conscious mind of what is being bought, we can help reduce carbon emission everywhere. Ultimately, that is the goal, to better the state of the planet for habitable use for years to come. With the current state of the world, it is important to keep the Earth in mind for this exact reason.

Works Cited

Emanuelli, Alexandra. “The Environmental Impact Of Your Thanksgiving Dinner.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 26 Oct. 2020, http://www.huffpost.com/entry/thanksgiving-dinner-ecological-impact_l_5db07ef7e4b0d5b78944bc6e.

Jasinski, Nicholas. “Hedge Funds Are Finally Beating the Market in 2020. Here Are Their Top Holdings.” Barron’s, Barrons, 25 Nov. 2020, http://www.barrons.com/articles/hedge-funds-finally-beating-market-in-2020-here-are-top-holdings-51606258710.

Kommenda, Niko. “How Your Flight Emits as Much CO2 as Many People Do in a Year.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2019/jul/19/carbon-calculator-how-taking-one-flight-emits-as-much-as-many-people-do-in-a-year.

“New Study: Vegan Diet Reduces Carbon Footprint by 73% – Vegconomist – the Vegan Business Magazine.” Vegconomist, 19 July 2019, vegconomist.com/society/new-study-vegan-diet-reduces-carbon-footprint-by-73/.

“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Wyoming.” Census Bureau QuickFacts, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/WY.

University, Carnegie Mellon. Thanksgiving Dinner’s Carbon Footprint: A State-by-State Comparison – Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences – Carnegie Mellon University, http://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/news/news-stories/2016/november/thanksgiving-carbon-footprint.html.

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One thought on “Thanksgiving: A Celebration of Pollution

  1. […] million Christmas puddings. There is a lot to unpack from just this singular statistic.  From Eco-Youth’s previous article about Thanksgiving, it can be estimated that a regular 16 pound turkey can weigh 32 pounds. With just England alone, […]

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