Everyone has a preference for how their Thanksgiving turkey is cooked, from deep-fried to oven-roasted to grilled and beyond. I came across an interesting piece that estimates the emission intensity of different turkey cooking methods based on fuel emission intensity and energy efficiency, with some surprising results. A big takeaway for me is that, even though there could be an environmental benefit to making people cook turkey a certain way, the value of personal preference can’t be disregarded. This reveals a lesson for energy policy in that regulators shouldn’t try to control everything emissions-related because we can’t expect them to be able to account for preferences.

Chester Energy & Policy broke down the emission intensity of turkeys cooked using various methods. The least emission-intensive was a spatchcocked turkey cooked in a gas oven at 2.2 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2)—better than in an electric oven at 3.6. Sous vide turkeys were also very eco-friendly at 3.3 pounds of CO2, and gas was better than electric for oven-roasting (4.6 versus 7.7 pounds). Deep-fried turkeys were more emission-intensive at 10.3 pounds. Grilled turkeys varied greatly depending on fuel type, with propane at 15.9 pounds and charcoal at 38.5 pounds. A charcoal water smoker was the worst of the bunch at 90.8 pounds.

First, this data tells me that I can one-up my environmentalist friends by learning how to spatchcock a turkey. But it also shows that regulators would likely assume that regulating Thanksgiving turkeys could help cut emissions. In the past, I’ve covered how regulators like to force the action when literature shows there’s a “cleaner” way of doing something—mainly because regulation is the only tool they have to pursue their targeted outcomes. In this case, since roasting a turkey is hypothetically more emission-friendly than smoking it in charcoal, in a regulator’s mind, charcoal smokers should be banned.

This may sound completely ridiculous until you recall the recent debate about whether to ban gas stoves.

What regulators can’t properly account for is that, to some people, a charcoal-smoked turkey is far preferable to an oven-roasted one. Similarly, one person may prefer to use a gas range while another prefers electric. Food is one of the simplest ways we express preferences, and there’s no denying that different people prefer different food cooked in different ways.

All this to say that Thanksgiving can help us understand why freedom and liberty in environmental policy are worth preserving. It also helps us understand why regulations that pose a minor inconvenience to some people can cause a big problem for others (e.g., a wealthy suburbanite is probably less concerned about the Biden administration’s electric vehicle proposal than someone living in an apartment with limited on-street parking).

This is why the R Street Institute loves market-based policies that allow for the expression of consumer choice over regulatory mandates. Happy Thanksgiving!

Every Friday we take a complicated energy policy idea and bring it to the 101 level.