This is tough to swallow. A traditional Thanksgiving dinner for an eight-person family—the turkey, the stuffing, the hours of oven time—is as harmful to the planet as a three-hour car trip.
The full spread releases the equivalent of approximately 30 kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to Sarah Bridle, a researcher at the University of Manchester and author of the forthcoming book Food and Climate Change Without the Hot Air.
And if you’re one of those families that likes things a little less traditional, serving up a beef roast instead of turkey, prepare for your emissions to triple.
Emissions for three types of Thanksgiving meal
If half of Americans ate a traditional Thanksgiving meal, the emissions would about equal the emissions of 500,000 people making round-trip flights from New York to London.
To put this in context, the average American’s diet produces 3.58 kg of carbon dioxide emissions each day. That’s as much as the traditional turkey Thanksgiving dinner alone.
Reducing the carbon footprint of Thanksgiving
Luckily there are things you can do to reduce that impact. The most effective option to reduce the emissions of your dinner itself is to make vegetarian or vegan dishes. If you simply can’t fathom a meatless Thanksgiving, reducing the amount of meat, and increasing your vegetable portions will also yield emissions benefits.
If none of that is possible, you can eat less meat ahead of Thanksgiving to lower your emissions before you splurge. Think of it as a personal carbon budget. Ultimately, what matters more is a long-term change in eating habits.
“The easiest place for most people to start is with quantities. We don’t have to be absolutist about completely cutting out specific foods,” Bridle told Quartz. “Try to find out what are the biggest contributors to climate change in your diet, and consider eating smaller amounts of those foods.”