I love to entertain. In the past six months, I have thrown a
rock star-themed birthday party for my daughter, a Hanukkah party
for four families, an Oscar party for my girlfriends, an elegant
dinner party for eight and numerous coffee klatsches and casual
Sunday night suppers.
I spend weeks planning the menu and decor. I choose a theme,
pore over my cookbooks and shop for decorations. But one thing I
have never thought about, until now, is the environmental impact of
my choices. If it was the dead of winter and I wanted to make a
dessert with raspberries, I would buy the raspberries-never mind
that they were flown in from halfway around the world. And if I had
more people than plates, I would buy plastic plates and
I know now that my old way of entertaining was not especially
environmentally friendly. Like many others, I am trying to think
about my carbon footprint. I am trying to waste less. But I was not
sure how to achieve these goals and continue to entertain in
Luckily, there are many people in our community thinking about
how to make all aspects of our lives greener, including how we
With a little information and planning, it is possible to throw
a party-be it a kid's birthday party or an adult dinner party-that
is fun, tasteful and environmentally friendly. By thinking outside
the typical decor and tableware choices and paying more attention
to buying seasonal, local, and organic foods, your next party can
also be a green party.
Using your own plates and silverware is the most environmentally
sensitive option, but most of us only have enough to serve eight or
10 guests. When you are hosting a large gathering, are you stuck
using disposable plates and cutlery? Not at all, says Pamela
Brookstein, the chair of the Green Chavurah at Oak Park Temple.
Brookstein's first suggestion is simply to invest in more dishes.
She hits the Salvation Army and thrift stores to find inexpensive
options. What about the fact that the plates do not match?
Brookstein doubts anyone cares. The variety makes for a more
colorful table, she says.
We do a number of things to
go green. We compost, we recycle, we have a garden, my husband
bikes to work, and our baby wears cloth diapers. If only I can come
up with a way for my kids to remember to turn out their bedroom
lights when they leave the room!
Another Oak Park mom who aspires to green living, Deb Wellek
Wolkstein has hosted zero-waste birthday parties for her children
using reusable plastic dishes. She recommends dishwasher safe
Preserve Tableware, which is made from recycled plastic and is
BPA-free. A pack of eight large plates costs $7.
For table coverings, Wellek Wolkstein eschews plastic and even
cloth-which needs to be washed and is not very kid-friendly-in
favor of plain butcher paper. She then custom decorates the butcher
paper with soy wax-based crayons. Leave the crayons out during the
party so kids (and adults) can add to the decorations, she
Butcher paper can be composted when the party is over. For
napkins, Brookstein uses inexpensive cloth bandanas that can be
re-used and look rather festive to boot.
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When it comes to the menu, start with the locally grown,
seasonal crops and build from there. In other words, no more
raspberries in January! Strawberries, rhubarb, salad greens,
artichokes and asparagus are all coming into season now and you can
even start to find some locally grown crops.
There also are many artisanal food producers here in the Midwest
that make exceptional products any host would be proud to
For example, instead of selecting Californian or European
cheeses for your next party, buy Wisconsin cheeses. To make that
cheese plate really special, garnish it with delicious Fig Earl
Grey jam, made by Rare Bird Preserves, a small-batch preserve
company in Oak Park. For dessert, treat your guests to the Rich
Chocolates & Candies Windy City Truffle collection. The
indulgent truffles are made in Chicago with cream from Illinois
Another important part of planning a green menu is to cut down
on meat, since raising animals for meat is the single biggest
source of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. Not only is a
vegetarian menu more environmentally friendly, it can also save you
quite a few dollars. The key, of course, is to serve delicious and
satisfying vegetarian fare so your guests do not feel cheated.
If you really want to serve meat, chicken, turkey and duck have
a much lower environmental impact. However, if you are also
concerned about animal welfare issues, you may want to select USDA
certified organic poultry, which guarantees that the birds were
never given hormones or antibiotics and were raised humanely.
Lastly, to throw a green party, avoid big bouquets of fresh
flowers. Most flowers are flown in and are raised in an
energy-intensive manner. Look for locally grown plants to decorate
your dining room. Brookstein suggests buying three or four bold
stems, such as Gerbera daisies and floating the blooms in shallow
bowls of water for a low-impact, yet elegant, look.
Emily Paster is a mother of two and a freelance writer living in
River Forest. Her food and parenting blog is called West of the
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