If your family is anything like mine, this Thursday you may end up with several pies more than anybody can eat, not to mention several pounds of leftover turkey and all kinds of sides that taste oddly wonderful in a sandwich. There may be so many appetizers you don’t even want the turkey dinner afterward. In a peculiarity that may be unique to my family, I’ll be scrambling around trying to get people who never think about waste to scrape their plates into a makeshift compost bin, rather than landfill them.
You may also be mindful of the fact that the National Resources Defense Council’s 2012 food waste study found that Americans waste 40 percent of their food “from farm to fork to table.” Imagine you’ve just gone grocery shopping and you’re carting 10 bags of groceries to your car. Four bags fall on the parking lot black-top. Oranges, celery, butter and turkey go flying. You keep walking and leave it there. That’s essentially what we do when we waste food.
Food waste increases over the holidays. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects that Americans will throw away more than 200 million pounds of edible turkey meat this Thanksgiving holiday. This plays out that each household will waste about 35 percent of edible turkey meat.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are five tips for reducing waste (which translates to saving money), and making the most of what you already have this Thanksgiving.
- Use what you have. Check your cabinets, freezer and fridge before going shopping and use what you have before buying more. By buying less in the first place you’re practicing “source reduction.” This is the most powerful way to prevent waste.
- Use the numbers. How many people will attend your meal? Party planners recommend planning for 1.5 pounds of uncooked turkey per person. So a gathering of 8 would need a 12 pound turkey; 12 guests = an 18 pound turkey, and so on. Plan for 3 – 4 ounces per side dish per person. The internet is full of party planning websites that provide portion guides for everything from soup to nuts.
- Do you really need more than enough? Standard entertaining wisdom emphasizes abundance. In my family, the worst thing that could happen at a gathering is for there to be only just enough food. But the fact is, “just enough” is enough. Consider if you really want tons of leftovers. What if you prepared for exactly what you need? It might provide an opportunity to talk about food waste with your family.
- Instead of leftovers, have “planned overs.” Plan for what you will do with leftovers. Turkey is easy – there’s a million ways to serve up cold turkey. My favorite: a turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, potato chip toasted sandwich with a generous schmear of mayo. But don’t throw out the giblets or the carcass. Use the neck and the carcass and cook on low for a few hours to create a turkey broth. If you don’t feel like soup the next day, freeze the broth for the next time you want one. Strain the bones, and compost them. Or, if you don’t compost, keep them in your freezer and drop them off at a compost collection site such as Vermont Compost on upper Main Street in Montpelier, or the CVSWMD Additional Recyclables Collection Center in Barre.
Check out lovefoodhatewaste.com for hundreds of recipes for leftovers.
- Get freezing. Plate up a few individual turkey dinners and store in your freezer for eating later in the year. Who doesn’t like a little Thanksgiving in March?
- Compost. You knew I was going to say it. If you still have leftovers (and you will), and if they aren’t edible, compost them. Please don’t landfill them. Food waste comprises over 1/5 of materials that go into the landfill. Aside from the fact that we have only one operating landfill left in the state, we know that organics such as food scraps convert to methane when decomposing in the anaerobic conditions of a landfill. Methane is a greenhouse gas over 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide according to the EPA.
Got ideas, questions, and comments? Check us out at cvswmd.org, or call the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District at 802-229-9383 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.