For more information on the topics addressed in this article – please refer to the book, Cool Cuisine – Taking the Bite out of Global Warming (2008)
Everyone should host at least one party every 12 months – it is your ticket into all the other parties you attend throughout the year. If you are hosting Thanksgiving or any other holiday party this year, why not add ‘a touch of green’ to the affair? For starters – consider a plant-based, seasonal menu and set a goal of throwing away little or no garbage at the end of the event.
Here are more ways to create a low-waste, high-vibe, environmentally friendly holiday event.
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 a 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.
Planning the Menu
1. Work with seasonal, local and organic foods
Shop for local produce at your local farmers market and bike there if you can. The Thanksgiving meal is packed with seasonal produce – root vegetables, winter squashes, cranberries, persimmons, and pomegranates; take full advantage of the selection wherever you shop. If you’re having a potluck – encourage your guests to do the same. Enter your zip code at www.sustainabletable.org for ideas on where to buy local foods in your area.
2. Purchase a heritage and/or organic turkey
3. 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)
4. Bring your own bags to the store when you shop
Keep a running count with your children 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 )
5. 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.
6. Reduce the amount of meat you serve or consider a vegetarian menu
Animal products are one of the largest diet 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 shrimp or crab 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! 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.
Green Cleaning after the Party
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.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! Let’s change the world with great tasting food!