According to the Environmental Protection Agency, as much as 40 percent of food produced in America is thrown away every day, amounting to 1,400 calories per person per day, $400 per person per year, and notably, 31 million tons of food added to landfills each year.
If you’re suddenly feeling a little bit sheepish about the Chinese leftovers you tossed, the baked chicken parmigiana pasta you brought for lunch only to abandon it in favor of going out for sushi or the wine bottles you forgot to recycle, use your next party as an opportunity to be a little kinder to the planet. Whether you’re celebrating Earth Day or simply trying to reduce your overall carbon footprint, you can throw a fun, festive affair with a bit of creativity (and little to no know-how).
When planning the menu for your event, think local. Shipping ingredients from another part of the world requires a tremendous amount of fuel. Look to your nearest farmers’ market or CSA (community-supported agriculture) for in-season fruits and vegetables, as well as meat, eggs, and dairy products. They’re fresher, taste better, and are oftentimes priced the lowest.
If you’re having a backyard barbecue, serve up grass-fed burgers or antibiotic- and hormone- free stuffed turkey burger, which typically require fewer pesticides, fossil fuels, and additives than the alternatives. If you’re planning a wine and cheese party, skip the fancy French cheeses and choose an artisanal brand from a nearby farm. I love to serve honey with a cheese plate and opt for Madhava Natural Sweeteners brand. The company donates 10 cents from every jar sold to non-profits working to save the vanishing bees and enhance sustainability as part of its new “Sweet Earth Project.”
For a Sunday brunch, think frittatas made with organic eggs, whatever veggies are in season, and cheeses, all sourced from your area. Alongside, serve chocolate chip scones or cherry lime scones using fresh eggs and buttermilk from the farmers’ market. Use our Recipes to plan your menu according to the season and your personal preferences.
When planning your menu, be sure to plan for any vegan or vegetarian guests who may believe in “eating low on the food chain.” Offer an avocado, beet and grapefruit salad, crispy plantains and guacamole or sweet and savory apricots to satisfy anyone in attendance.
For dessert, look for a brand that makes conscious efforts to give back to the community and respect our planet. The Crave Bar is a local Chicago brand that begins with premium vanilla ice cream, hand-dipped in rich dark chocolate and dusted with sea salt and crunchy pretzel bits. The dessert’s “stick” is edible — so no trees are killed in the making of the packaging.
We also love the chocolates from Vosges Haut Chocolate. The gourmet chocolatier uses 100% renewable energy at their manufacturing facility and boutiques in Chicago, New York and Las Vegas. Their facility and production processes have been certified as an organic manufacturing facility and whenever possible, they use organic sugar, butter, cream and nuts in our chocolate confections. Their organic chocolate is also Rainforest Alliance certified, which encourages cocoa farming practices that are sustainable over the long term by maintaining a healthy environment, decent working conditions and fair wages.
No party is complete without plenty of delicious libations, both of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety. Fresh basil lemonade is the perfect way to hydrate on a hot day. I also love setting out a pitcher of ice water flavored with cucumber, lemon slices and lime slices.
Serving a signature cocktail simplifies matters and allows you to take advantage of local, seasonal ingredients. In the late spring and early summer months, when strawberries are at their seasonal prime, whip up a batch of strawberry sangria or strawberry mojitos
For those who want to sip a glass of wine, Bonfire Wines, new brand of delicious affordable wine in red and white blends, are served in a special pouch that has 80% smaller carbon footprint than the equivalent volume of glass bottle. Local wine is another great option if Bonfire Wines aren’t available yet at your local Whole Foods or Mariano’s grocery store, as nowadays wine is produced in every state in the U.S. When it comes to beer, local is also best—shipping Belgian beer to the U.S. requires a lot of fuel. Add regional flavor to your meal with a brew from your favorite local brewery or a growler from a local brew pub.
There’s nothing greener than plants. Sage Living Wall, a Chicago based company that also creates vertical gardens for home and commercial spaces, offers one of a kind centerpieces for your dining table. The Herb Studio Garden is perfect for home cooks who want to brighten up their kitchen with herbs for centerpiece or garnish and the Succulent Studio Garden will help anyone keep a green thumb (even those who have difficulty keeping plants alive).
Fresh flowers are also an easy option if you need some pretty, simple arrangements for your tables. Place a metal floral frog or water-soaked florist foam (available in the flower section of the supermarket) in your vases and insert a few freshly cut roses throughout. Poke takeout chopsticks into brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as radishes, radicchio, and even red-skinned potatoes, then push into the empty spaces to fill out the arrangement. As with food, when shopping for flowers, it’s always best to look for local, organic options.
If you’re hosting your party outdoors and you want to avoid glassware or serve ware that could break or become damaged, Preserve Products has a great line of cups, plates, flatware and more – all made from 100% recycled plastics. The company also has its own recycling program that allows more people to recycle their #5 plastics. Then, they use those recycled yogurt cups and other #5s in their products.
Whole Foods’ 365 store brand has durable plates and bowls that look like sturdy paper ones but are actually made from renewable and biodegradable sugar cane. I also like to look for plates, chopsticks, and other utensils made from bamboo, a fast-growing renewable and biodegradable resource.
Instead of wasting piles of paper towels and paper napkins, pick a cloth option. If you don’t already have a stash of cloth napkins, I love the tea towels from Anthropologie, which you can also use to wash and dry dishes — you’ll get lots of use from them beyond entertaining.