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Image copyright: Frederik Van Oudenhoven
A feast.

A Quartzian feast

As many Americans gather for a traditional Thanksgiving meal (although it may look a little different this year), we at Quartz are taking some time to reflect on the food we eat, how it’s grown or made, and how it makes its way to our plates.

From supermarket sweeps to delivery deluges to the sad desk lunch, how we eat has changed in 2020. The pandemic has also laid bare how many have been left behind by the modern global agricultural system, including the food insecure and the immigrants we rely on to harvest, pack, and ship our food. But no matter where you are in the world or what you’re eating, one thing that hasn’t changed is the simple pleasure of sharing a meal—even if it’s just on Zoom.

Ready to dig in?

Why do Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving?

This photo shows some of the food from a Thanksgiving dinner.
Image copyright: AP Photo/Bree Fowler
Dinner fodder.

There is only a tenuous connection to the original Pilgrim feast with Native Americans—a journal entry lists “wild fowl” on the menu—but the association began when Plymouth governor William Bradford’s journals were reprinted in 1852 after being lost for a century.

“Since Bradford wrote of how the colonists had hunted wild turkeys during the autumn of 1621 and since turkey is a uniquely American (and scrumptious) bird, it gained traction as the Thanksgiving meal of choice for Americans after Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863,” Mental Floss’s Ethan Trex writes.

Charting turkey size

While demand for smaller turkeys is up in 2020 due to pared-back Thanksgiving gatherings, turkey farmers have been raising larger than average turkeys all year. Data from the US Department of Agriculture show the average weight of turkeys prior to slaughter this year has been higher than the multi-year average, and about the same as last year. A 16-pound store-bought turkey weighs about 20 lbs at slaughter.

Franchise frenzy

Image copyright: 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
Drive-through fast food has been a bright spot for the restaurant industry.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed our relationship with fast food. Recent financial disclosures and earnings calls from some of the world’s largest quick-service restaurant companies give us a detailed idea of how they are adapting as a result.

Quick, convenient, low-contact meals from fast-food chains have helped many people through the pandemic. Drive-through business has boomed as people avoid going indoors and try to keep their distance. Many in the industry have focused on maximizing contact-free experiences like delivery and curbside pickup. Find out more about how the fast food industry is navigating the pandemic in our latest field guide to how we eat now.

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Jollof rice, by the digits

Image copyright: Reuters/Temilade Adelaja

Given Nigeria’s ethnic heterogeneity, it’s pretty difficult to settle on a national dish. But Jollof rice—a spicy rice dish that cuts across ethnic divides—might be as close as it gets.

Since the ingredients for Jollof are so commonly available, the dish can be used as a benchmark to illustrate food inflation realities in Africa’s most populous country. Here are a few figures to keep in mind to understand Nigeria’s current economic situation and how its national dish fits in:

300: Ethnic groups spread across the country’s 36 states

56.6%: Share of consumer expenditure in Nigerian households taken up by food in 2019

475 to 1: Exchange rate of the Nigeria naira to the dollar in November. At the start of the year it was at 362 naira, according to AbokiFX.

70%: Tariff on imported rice intended to encourage local production; so far it’s failed to slow down imports which are essential to satisfying local demand

42%: Rate at which Nigeria’s agricultural sector and crop production has declined since 2016

📬 Keep up with developments and emerging industries in Africa.

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The carbon footprint of a traditional Thanksgiving meal

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 who crunched the numbers.

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.

A graphic showing the emissions for three types of Thanksgiving meal.

Luckily there are things you can do to reduce that impact. Amanda Shendruk breaks it down.

The tart truth about cranberries

Workers harvest cranberries from one of third-generation farmer Larry Harju's bogs in Carver
Image copyright: Reuters/Brian Snyder
A third-generation Massachusetts cranberry grower tends his product.

The secret of the cranberry’s success has always been stealth. After two centuries of cranberry-free Thanksgivings, the fruit became a holiday staple thanks to US general Ulysses S. Grant’s 1864 holiday feast. It slipped into lunch sacks across America by pioneering juice boxes, and craftily came to dominate grocery juice aisles by commingling with apple juice. A little shape-shifting allowed dried cranberries to infiltrate baked goods and trail mixes. And in recent years, it crept its cryptic creep over to China.

Continue down the 🐰 hole in the Quartz Weekly Obsession on cranberries from the archive.

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Still hungry for more knowledge? Try another bite of Quartz’s food coverage.

An animated gif from the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special showing Snoopy and Woodstock eating pumpkin pie.
Image copyright: Giphy