It's that time of the year again - party time. Whether it's St Patrick's Day, Easter, birthdays, Christmas, weddings, Thanksgiving, Halloween or Hanukkah, we all enjoy letting our hair down and having fun with friends and family! And with these events, come the mountains of munch-ables - tasty treats of every shape, colour and ingredient. But how green is our spinach really, and should we be looking at making our shindigs a bit more sustainable?
Avoid menu mayhem with perfect planning
Are you the type who needs to prepare and plan everything by yourself, from the get-go, with a note book and fountain pen as constant companions? Or do you prefer to leave the creativity to an elite team of party professionals? Whether you're the latter or the former, make sure your event's catering is sorted from the start.
Party planners, wedding co-ordinators and caterers are all in agreement that the food at your function makes or breaks the event. Considering that catering costs makes up between 20-30% of the bash's budget, you should think smart and sustainable to make sure your fabulous food is as good for your guests as it is for the environment. So, grab your scribble pad and jot down some notes on going green when catering for your next big event.
Native nibbles - why buy local?
The best bit of advice that is being planted in catering circles, is bringing in local produce for your party. Given that few crops grow in New York City, London or Tokyo, we can draw up a menu with food stuffs from just outside the city borders, which will score some major brownie points with your guests and Mother Nature. At the heart of all arguments for eating locally grown produce, is the need to cut down on what have become known as 'food miles'. These refer to the distance that food travels from where it is produced, to get to your party platter. Travelling large distances increases the amount of environmental pollution produced by planes, trucks, and cars.
An important question to ask yourself at this point is, 'does the party food need to have travelled further than most of the guests?'. In some parts of the world, nearly half of all food is imported from abroad and over half of the organic food for sale is imported. This reliance on other countries makes the food we serve at parties a lot less eco-friendly. Some scientists advise that if you buy locally produced foodstuff - especially from within 50 kilometres of your home - you do more for the environment than buying organic goods. Another bit of techno-expertise is that the more time food spends getting to your plate, the fewer nutrients they have. But this is for another article entirely.
Top tip: Support local farmers by buying locally produced food.
Green Rating: 4/5
Difficulty Rating: Easy - a bit of extra effort
Aliens among us
To add to your sustainable menu, avoid exotic foods, as these will most certainly have been flown in. Some foods just cannot be grown in your area because they are not adapted to the climate, soil or water conditions. Check what grows where you live and make the most of it; you'll also be supporting your local farmers.
The who's and the how's
What can you do about getting local produce onto your event's menus? Look into co-operative farming companies, or farmers who sell seasonal produce at markets, or support green grocers, butchers and fishmongers who sell local and seasonal goods. Some people have no idea that great food is being grown within a stones throw from their doorsteps!
You might not have the luxury to support this environmentally-friendly option, if you live in built up areas which are far removed from fertile farmlands, but if you do have the choice, consider adding local produce to your events menu to ensure sustainable starters, mouth-watering mains and delicious desserts.
If you are going to make your party ultra-green, think beyond boundaries. Seasonal fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, fish and other delicious delicacies can all be added to your event menu to ensure that your guests are nibbling on eco-friendly fodder. Seasonal foods are more likely to have been grown locally too, so it's a double whammy for your sustainable soirée. However, be careful of some pitfalls, because local producers can grow fruit and vegetables out of season, which usually means using artificial heating and lighting in tunnels or greenhouses to stimulate growth in simulated conditions. These practices also carry significant environmental costs, from increases in energy to water use.
However, be careful of some pitfalls, because local producers can grow fruit and vegetables out of season, which usually means using artificial heating and lighting in tunnels or greenhouses to stimulate growth in simulated conditions. These practices also carry significant environmental costs, from increases in energy to water use.
Make sure you focus on sustainable
Apart from choosing local and seasonal food for your event, also opt for produce that you know is coming from sustainable sources. A great example here is when you're thinking of serving fish. Look into buying your fish from local farms, species which are seasonal, whether the fish was line caught, or comes from stocks that are not heavily impacted by over-fishing. A good tip is to buy fish from a reputable fish shop where the staff know how the fish were caught, where the farmed fish came from, and how they were farmed. Check out the Marine Stewardship Council for information on fish species that are listed as sustainable.
Back to basics - going organic
Organic food has shed its hippie reputation and been given an ultra-chic status. Although this transition has taken some time, even the catering industry is showing significant interest in serving green greens at events. So follow suit, and serve up some organic goodies at your next party. People often choose organic food because they think that it tastes better, is more nutritious, and has added environmental benefits and animal welfare perks. One may decide that they want to eat organic food because it's produced by greener farming methods, or because eating food grown using pesticides must be bad for ones health. Thus far, scientists haven't come to any agreement about whether or not organic food is safer and more nutritious than the non-organic equivalents. So make sure to look at the evidence available and make up your own mind. What isn't disputed is that conventional, intensive farming methods and the use of pesticides and other chemicals are incredibly damaging to the environment.
Shopping statistics show that organic food is more plentiful and in demand than it used to be, so options are on the increase, while the prices you pay are coming down. In the U.S and Europe, it is estimated that shoppers buy 10 times more organic food than they did a decade ago. With this in mind, consider adding them to the list of must-haves on your menu. Again, consider the local, seasonal and sustainable points raised above first, or you may find yourself in a conscience conundrum.
Coin toss for tossed salad
Given that organic products come with less of an environmental price tag than non-organics, it may often be the case that local farmers are unable to use these methods to produce their fruits and vegetables. If this is the case, what is a party planner to do? Do you go for organic goods on the grounds that you don't agree with the use of pesticides in farming, or do you go for the non-organic, local produce on the grounds that they've travelled fewer food miles and are responsible for fewer greenhouse gas emissions?
Many scientists think that buying locally produced food is more important for the environment than buying organic. The decision is far from simple, but don't be put off. If you are making decisions on whether to buy organic onions or local lettuce for that summer salad, know that whichever option you choose, your choices in green catering are making a difference.
Even as green awareness grows in the catering industry, it's still a niche market. From a commercial side, clients requesting exclusively organic menus make up about 25% of some food service businesses. What is interesting to see, is that the 20-somethings are definitely talking about it, the 30-somethings want this option for their weddings, and the 40-somethings want this for their parties and family gatherings.
Whether you're planning a boozy brunch with your college mates, or a white wedding for your nearest and dearest, consider going green when thinking of food for your festivities. By buying local, seasonal, sustainable and organic produce, your menu has less of an environmental footprint, and your guests will be amazed by your eco-savvy sense of taste.
Top 5 Tips for Green catering
- Purchase produce that is sourced from local farmers. This way, the ingredients for your eco-savvy event do not chock up food miles, and you support the local economy.
- Buy foods that are grown according to times of the year. Seasonal produce is often grown locally too - a doubly delicious addition to your menu.
- Opt for menu items that come from sustainable stocks, and which do not jeopardise future harvests.
- Choose organic varieties where possible, due to the pesticide-free farming practices used in growing these fruit and vegetables.
- Resist the urge to splurge on foreign foods, as often they collect more frequent flyer miles than some business executives, contributing to global warming and the demise of local farmers' livelihoods.