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Question Your World: What Are The Numbers Behind Thanksgiving?

Every November, our nation takes an evening off from the regular run of things to gather with friends, family and loved ones to reflect on all the things that we are thankful for. Thanksgiving is one of the most celebrated holidays in the United States of America and like everything else, it too can be viewed through the lens of science. Let’s take a moment to dig into the numbers behind this autumnal holiday.

3.1 billion

One of the best parts of the Thanksgiving meal is sweet potatoes! In the United States, we harvest nearly 3.1 billion pounds of sweet potatoes every year.Many of which get turned into pies and sides for the feast at the end of the month.

48.7 million

Not everyone lives close to family, right? Many people make quite a trek to be reunited with their loved ones for the big feast. In fact, 48.7 million Americans will be traveling 50 miles or more for this holiday.

46 million

Gobble gobble, it’s turkey time. The nation sells about 46 million turkeys for Thanksgiving. This adds up to over 644 million pounds of turkey being served in homes across the nation during Thanksgiving.


In order to feed all those family members we’ll clearly need a lot of food distribution. In the United States, we have 65,975 grocery stores and specialty food stores - most of which use Thanksgiving as an excellent opportunity to ramp up marketing, specialty items and sales. No wonder we have over $600 billion in grocery store revenue throughout the nation.


Did you know that the ingredients in your holiday dinner probably traveled at least 1,500 miles to arrive at your table? Because the US winter is generally inhospitable to certain foods that we like to have in our holiday dinners, we tend to use ingredients from at least five different countries outside of the states. If you source your food more locally, your meal’s “food mileage” can get down to around 45 miles.


Sure, this holiday is mainly known for turkey, but there are a lot of other components involved in this festive meal. Cranberries are one of the most popular dishes for Thanksgiving, with the United States producing about 859 million pounds of cranberries every year. Special shout out to Wisconsin for supplying a bulk of that. Wisconsin alone yields nearly 521 million pounds of cranberries annually!


Some people love turkey so much that they end up living in a place named after their favorite meal. 396 people are residents of Turkey City, Texas. Cities are of course usually considered bigger than towns, so it’s no surprise that the smaller (only slightly smaller) population of 296 people live in Turkey Town, North Carolina.


Preparing and eating just one serving of your typical holiday meal generates about the same heat-trapping gas footprint as driving your car for 12 miles. Consider this when you’re sourcing your ingredients and food options this year!


You’ll save on your energy bill by cooking enough turkey for a family of four in your dishwasher instead of your oven (no, seriously). Just put the turkey in Tupperware and run it on the the pots & pans cycle about three times (hold the soap). Throw the steamed turkey into the broiler for 10 minutes before serving and voila!

Keep in mind there’s a lot more science involved this season than just the numbers behind Thanksgiving. For those interested in raking falling leavespumpkins, and the impacts of tryptophan, there is plenty of cool science out there. This would also provide some great reading material for the big feast as you gather around with your loved ones.

From all of us to all of you, Happy Thanksgiving!

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