Everyone should host at least one party every 12 months – it is your ticket into all the other parties you attend throughout the year. Even if you can’t “do parties” at your home because of limitations in space or other reasons, it’s easy to host friends for a simple happy hour or take your friends on a walk to the local park for a casual picnic.
How we plan for a party and what we eat can help solve the Global Warming Diet, and you can enjoy being part of the solution by following some of the ideas outlined below. For a truly green affair, first aim to reduce consumption and waste and plan for a plant-based, seasonal menu, then offset your carbon emissions. Set a goal of zero-waste – throwing away little or no garbage.
For more information on the topics addressed in this article please refer to the book: Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite out of Global Warming by Laura Stec with Eugene Cordero. (Gibbs Smith, 2008)
1. Send electronic invitations.
Send invitations via your email account or a free online service like Evite.com. These services are easy to use, eliminate paper, preserve some trees and use less energy than mailing out paper invitations.
2. Think about transportation for your guests.
Encourage your guests to carpool and pair up people who live close to one another. For those who come by public transportation, bike, and foot give low-waste door prizes like a coupon for a cup of fair-trade, organic coffee from the locally-owned coffee shop, or a bag of freshly baked cookies made from organic flour and “Bird-Friendly” chocolate.
3. Decorate with creativity – not disposables.
Don’t purchase decorations you use once and toss - use compostable, recycled and recyclable options.
I look outdoors for decorations such as flowers, unique foliage/plants, rocks, interesting branches, fall leaves, etc. Look to farmers markets for freshly cut, organically grown flowers. Highlight the time of year by filling tall glass vases with seasonal produce like lemons, limes, cranberries and winter squash, or with pinecones, leaves and rocks.
Turn searching for recycled decorations at yard sales or thrift stores into a scavenger hunt with the kids. Old clothes are especially useful; they inspire creativity and there are plenty around to reuse. For example, cut up checked clothing for napkins at a Raggedy Ann party, use shiny fabrics for signs or table decorations for a Star Wars theme, and wrap plain glasses in the colors of the season and tie with raffeta.
Choose tablecloths made of organic cotton or hemp. Buy the unbleached, brown paper napkins, or make your own reusable ones from ready-to-recycle, colorful clothing.
Use petroleum free candles like bees wax or soy candles. These natural candles don’t emit sooty fumes and produce a pure and clean-burning flame,
4. Give unique party favors.
Local foods and products like honey, cheese, seed packets, native plants, or even compact fluorescent light bulbs make nice favors. Incorporate them into multilayered table centerpieces for double duty use.
1. Work with seasonal, local and organic foods.
Shop for local produce at your local farmers market and bike there if you can. Try the 100 mile idea – look for foods grown or produced within 100 or so miles of your home, or within, or nearby, your home state. If you’re having a potluck – encourage your guests to do the same. They will enjoy the hunt! (See: Cool Cuisine, chapter 5)
2. Don’t use disposable plastic water or soda bottles.
Cans and glass are easier to recycle than plastic. Try biocompostable or dish- washer safe cups and glasses. Tap your own water to make sparkling soda or purchase it from a home delivery seltzer service that offers refillable bottles. (See: Cool Cuisine, chapter 4)
3. Bring your own bags to the store when you shop.
Keep a running count with your kids of how many trees you save each year by reusing your own cloth bags and eliminating your use of paper and plastic. (See: Cool Cuisine, chapter 4 )
4. Buy in bulk and purchase and serve things with less packaging.
Don’t serve appetizers or drinks with throwaway plastic spoons, stirrers or bowls. Use biocompostable products like peppermint sticks or wooden popsicle stirrers for drinks. For food, try hollowed out cucumbers for individual appetizer bowls, a wide carrot slice when you need a spoon for something savory, and ice cream cone bowls with a thin biscotti spoon for dessert.
5. Grow some of your own food.
If you’ve never tried planting a vegetable garden before, now is the time to begin. Start with easy to grow vegetables such as: radish, squash, beans, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, and herbs. Try growing your own “signature salad” for the event.
6. Reduce the amount of meat you serve or consider a vegetarian menu.
In relation to our diet, animal products are one of the largest contributors to global warming. Plan your menu so that there is less emphasis on large meat portions and replace with either tasty plant-based options, or with grass-fed, pasture-raised products instead (See: Cool Cuisine, chapter 6 for information and recipes).
7. Be sure to serve vegan appetizers or entrees.
Serving plant-based foods at a party not only improves the Global Warming Diet but also keeps your guests feeling great. How many parties have you left feeling bloated and overloaded? That’s a sure sign of a meal too high in fat and rich foods. Incorporating cheese, egg and meat-free foods creates a healthful balance, adds exciting new flavors, greens your event and pleases your guests, all at the same time. (See Cool Cuisine, chapter 8 for a flavor-rich vegan appetizer recipe)
8. Choose foods from the Most Local Plate.
Fruits, vegetables, cheese, and beer are some of the items on the “Most Local Plate”. These are foods produced in most, if not all, of the 50 states of the United States. (See: Cool Cuisine, chapter 5). Local, artisan cheese and roasted vegetable platters are perfect menu items for your next party. They are simple to prepare, can be put out before the guests arrive, and can be left out with no additional fuss. Learn how to find, cook and present these foods in chapters 9 and 11 of Cool Cuisine.
9. Insist on Sustainable Seafood.
Serving seafood at your event? Make sure it is sustainably grown. Download a wallet-sized list of what is available in your area from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood program: www.mbayaq.org (See: Cool Cuisine, chapter 3 for how global warming is affecting our oceans).
10. Serve green drinks.
Organic spirits and “green” wines (sustainably grown) are becoming more popular and there are some excellent choices. Unfortunately, the “USDA Organic” label isn’t always enough to really know what is the best quality. Look for products from smaller companies that can be contacted for information on growing and production practices (See: Cool Cuisine, chapter 3 for information and chapter 4 for recipes).
11. Offer rainforest certified coffee and chocolate.
Organic, fair-trade and shade-grown products can still be problematic to our diminishing rain forests. Look for one of two seals: “Smithsonian Institute Bird-Friendly,” or “Rainforest-Friendly.” To accompany your coffee, don’t forget to serve organic cream, organic GMO-free soymilk and fair-trade, organic sugar (See: Cool Cuisine, chapter 3)
12. Hiring a caterer?
If you can’t find a “green” caterer in your area, ask your caterer if they’d be willing to use some local, organic or seasonal foods. Offer to pick up things from the farmers market and drop them off at their kitchen. And while you’re at it, drop off your own platters to reduce disposable containers used in food transport.
13. Choose the right tableware.
Invest in a sturdy set of dishes and eating utensils that can be washed in the dishwasher, and let people borrow them for their parties as well! It is purported that less energy is used to wash dishes in a dishwasher than by hand. If you must use disposable tableware – use products that break down in your compost pile like polylactic acid (PLA) cups made from corn, forks made from potato starch, and plates made from sugar cane fiber. Find these products online at places such as www.worldcentric.org.
1. Set out tubs for waste collection.
You will need 3 large tubs – one for recycling, one for compost and one for trash. It’s also helpful to set up a small display showing what goes where, so guests know exactly what to do. If using biocompostable tableware and utensils, make sure that your guests know to place these in the “compost” tub. Make a sign that reminds everyone “This is a zero-waste event.”
2. Compost your food waste.
Food scraps make up a large majority of the waste stream. If you don’t have a compost pile or worm bin, start one – they are amazingly easy to do and offer a great sense of satisfaction. If you can’t start a compost pile, ask a guest to add the waste to their pile or feed it to their chickens. I find composters to be surprisingly accommodating and helpful in this regard. (See: Cool Cuisine, chapter 7 to learn how to start your own compost pile)
3. Clean up with green cleaning products.
Natural cleaning products are gaining in popularity and work well in the kitchen. Wash your tablecloths, napkins and towels, and clean counters, dishes and tabletops with biodegradable, earth-friendly detergent. Use only as much as needed. If you must use paper towels for cooking or cleaning, get unbleached, brown paper towels. And for whatever waste you have (hopefully, it's not too much), use biodegradable trash bags; either brown paper bags or biocompostable ones. Find all these products at natural foods stores, online, and even at some of the larger chain grocery stores.
Got leftover carbon waste? We all do. It comes from the energy used to do things like drive to the store to pick up party supplies, grow the food for the meal, and manufacture our chips and salsa. After reducing and recycling as much as possible, consider offsetting (mitigating) what’s left. Carbon offsets are payments you can make to a third party to remove or offset your own carbon emissions from the atmosphere. They can help to create new industries that work towards improving the Global Warming Diet and global warming in general, for example in areas such as renewable energy. Learn more about carbon offsets in the Cool Cuisine appendix. You can offset the miles your guests drive to get to the party through sites such as www.Acterra.org. Click Cool-It.
Chef Laura Stec partners with EcoSpeakers.com to lecture and consult with corporations and institutions on ways to bring in regionally responsible food systems into their food service.
Cool Cuisine: Taking The Bite Out of Global Warming
Authors: Laura Stec with Eugene Cordero
Publisher: Gibbs Smith
Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite Out of Global Warming is a smorgasbord of scientific fact and culinary art where the reader learns new ways to look at the climate crisis.