This Thanksgiving, around 46 million turkeys will be killed and cooked for people’s tables – the equivalent of the entire population of California. This is followed by another 22 million at Christmas and another one 19 million at Easter. Turkeys, for some reason, have become a cultural staple at major holidays. But this addiction to turkey meat is costly – for ourselves, the birds and the planet as a whole.
According Carnegie Mellon University research, the carbon footprint of a 16-pound turkey is a total of 34.2 pounds of CO2 – the same amount produced by rolled biscuits, turkey gravy, roast Brussels, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and apple pie combined. An estimated 786,600 tons of CO2 are released when the majority of the world buys a turkey on Thanksgiving, equivalent to the annual energy consumption of 100,000 homes.
And then there is the problem of food waste. According to the USDA, consumers are estimated to waste about 35% of purchased turkey, increasing the environmental impact of turkey by 54%. Not only is the meat not consumed, but it also usually goes to landfill where, like other waste, it takes up space and releases even more greenhouse gases as it decomposes.
While turkeys are generally the worst environmental products on the table, foods such as butter, milk and cheese also produce large amounts of carbon dioxide. The best option for environmentally conscious consumers is plant-based meals. According dietitian Kate Geagan“plant-based foods have always been shown to have a lower carbon footprint – so these nuts, chestnuts, mushrooms, etc. are much more efficient to produce in total resources than conventional animal products, especially Red meat.”
And carbon dioxide emissions aren’t the only impact turkey consumption has on us and the world. As they are raised for slaughter, the vast majority of the 46 million turkeys that make up our Thanksgiving dinners are subjected to horrific conditions. Most are confined to tiny cages, which are usually never cleaned during their short lives, leaving them to live in their trash. Many turkeys were beating their bloody chests against cage bars in desperate efforts to return to their natural environment.
Source: Andriy Blokhin/Shutterstock
Unsurprisingly, in these conditions, many birds fall ill. The meat industry “solves” this problem by inserting antibiotics into the food supply of animals, which can prevent disease and make them grow faster.
Anyone who has ever received an antibiotic from the doctor knows that you receive very specific instructions on how to take the medicine: you must take it for several days, no more, no less, even if your symptoms have disappeared. This is to prevent the bacteria from developing resistance to the antibiotic, in which case that particular antibiotic is no longer effective against that disease. But when much of our food supply — and our Thanksgiving dinners — contain a slew of antibiotics, unregulated by medical professionals, bacteria can develop immunity quickly and easily.
Source: Jun Goto/YouTube
And that’s exactly what happened. According to the CDC, more than 2.8 million people in the United States contract antibiotic-resistant infections and more than 35,000 die from these infections. The CDC has confirmed a link between these deaths and factory farming practices.
Luckily for us, there are plenty of alternatives to eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Lasagna, stuffed squash, and vegetable pie are some classic vegan options to try at the table. For those reluctant to ditch traditional flavors, there are also plant-based meat options, such as the widely acclaimed Tofurkey. There are countless ways to enjoy your Thanksgiving meal without an actual turkey.
Simple ways to help the planet:
- Eat less meat: To download food monster, the largest plant-based recipe app on the App Store to help you reduce your environmental footprint, save animals, and get healthy. You can also purchase a paper or electronic copy of our favorite vegan cookbooks.
- Reduce your fast mode footprint: Take the lead by mobilizing against fast fashion pollution and supporting sustainable and circular brands like small rescue that raise awareness of important issues through zero-waste recycled clothing designed to be returned and remade again and again.
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- Do what you can: Reduce waste, plant trees, eat local, travel responsibly, reuse things, say no to single-use plastics, recycle, vote smart, wash cold, get rid of fossil fuels, save water, buy wisely, donate if you can, grow your own food, volunteer, save energy, compost, and don’t forget the microplastics and microbeads lurking in household products and routine personal care!
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