Growing up I remember my parents hosting huge parties. Fancily dressed men and women would pile in to the house. We would throw their coats on my parents’ bed, take any food or drink they had brought to share to the kitchen and then the adults would move around the den, dining room, kitchen, hallway and even the good sitting room eating, drinking and making lots of noise.
Labour was cheap for my parents. They had kids! We prepared and served food, a favourite being the hors d’oeuvres, as we called them. Cubes of fresh pineapple wrapped in bacon and skewered with a toothpick. Platters of cheese and crackers. Pretzels and Pigs in Blankets.
Pigs in Blankets! We loved wrapping the little pieces of hot dog – kosher all beef hot dogs at my house – in dough straight from a can, and watching The Pillsbury Dough Boy deliver pastry fluffiness every time.
I don’t remember food miles or local produce ever being mentioned! However, I am pretty sure my family were pioneers in eating raw veggies with dip. Cauliflower, broccoli, carrots accompanied by dip made from mixing sour cream with instant onion soup. Pioneers, I say!
We’ve come a long way since then.
My parents lived through WWII and the Cold War; survival was definitely on their minds – but techno fixes and instant foods were “liberating” women – or freeing them from the shackles of house work – and sending them in to the work force.
Today, sustainability is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. While our reliance on technology is ever-increasing, impending climate change is forcing us to consider that gentler approaches might be necessary for planetary survival.
So you want to throw a sustainable dinner party? It’s not that hard. Here are some tips to help you down the path of ethical merry-making!
First off, you need to decide what you mean by sustainable.
Are you concerned about your event’s carbon footprint, waste, food miles, food production practices, organics, labour model? Is cost a factor? Do you hope to minimise your impact or possibly even contribute towards a greater good? Do you want to prepare food yourself, find catering or perhaps host your party in a restaurant? How will you travel to prepare your event and how will people travel to join it? Is meat even ethical? What about alcohol?
It’s enough to throw your hands up in the air and instead focus on mindfully sipping another golden latte! Nevermind that. This doesn’t need to be stressful. This can be fun.
No matter how you map it, some of these sustainability guidelines will help you head in the right direction.
1. Act from your heart
Ethical eating apps might help you with some ideas. Some, such as Noshly might provide general help with info re additives, but you really need to use a local one for ingredients and products. And then just do your best!
Your primary aim is to bring people together joyfully and the recipe for that is simple: Act from your heart!
2. Try a freegan meal
Those on a tight budget could try a freegan meal: Only source what you can scavenge, harvest, dumpster dive or access through exchange! That is a challenge in itself – and your party goers might like to join in. Most of us probably have at least a little to work with, so let’s see what our options are.
3. Tread lightly on the Earth
Central to our awareness of the need to reduce our footprint on the planet is the growing understanding that the indigenous people who walked before us tended the land, waters and their inhabitants with care and respect.
Not only are the world’s First Peoples at the frontlines of out of control climate change, they are at the forefront of addressing it. A resurgence of emphasis on indigenous knowledge is simply common sense. This includes reconnection with traditional plants and foods and their sustainable harvest or cultivation.
To incorporate native foods in to your menu, you might like to start small with herbs and spices. For example, in Australia, macadamia nuts (yes, they are native), wattle seeds, bush tomatoes and native pepper are available from various outlets. Lemon myrtle, rosellas, bunya nuts and lily pillies might even be found with urban foraging. Kangaroo is available from many Australian supermarkets and local seafoods can be caught or purchased. Outlets such as Bush Food Shop provide plenty of options to start you on your way to using native ingredients.
If you prefer to leave the catering up to the experts, you can choose a few dishes, a fully catered meal, sweets, or even demonstrations from chefs who focus on native ingredients.
In my local region of Brisbane in Australia, workshops, catering and fine foods are available from Native Culinary Ecstasy. Native Sweetness provides treats produced with traditional ingredients. And there is at least one food truck, Clinto’s Kupmurri Food Truck & Catering, focusing on indigenous foods and cooking methods.
4. Practice eating local
While accessibility to native ingredients varies depending on where we live, eating local is an easy way to tick many sustainability boxes. It reduces food miles, helps build community networks and economies, may address labour condition concerns and also may address animal welfare concerns.
Sourcing food directly from farms, farmers’ markets, coops or community supported agriculture projects, such as Food Connect, will not only help your feast be ethical, but it will make it interesting. Designing menus around seasonal local foods is fun – and educational!
5. Discover new drinks
Of course, you will probably want something to drink too! If alcohol is on your OK list, it’s no longer hard to find organic, pesticide-free, locally produced beverages. Plenty of people are brewing alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and, as fermenting is in, you could source a local kombucha that both kids and adults can enjoy OR you can make your own.
Roman, a sustainable building engineer, and Jana, a childcare worker, have made it their mission to live sustainably in the city and to help others do so. Alternative energy, honey bees, chickens, water harvesting plus more – they have done it all! You can get tips and recipes from their website SpurTopia. If you have 10 days and some honey, you can make your own mead!
6. Make it a pot luck party
DIY is great but there is no need to do all of the prep for your party on your own. In fact, it would be down-right unsustainable to do so.
If you’re are doing it at home, build community and share the load by organising your party as a pot luck. Why not work out your sustainability guidelines with your friends? Or ask your guests to make a contribution of some sort – a poem, game, song, story, performance, craftivity – or some time prepping food, minding children or washing up?
7. Get creative
Unless your family is already the Von Trapp family singers, ask your friends to perform or have a Party Choir – prepare some songs and sing along – like in the good ole days!
Dress up community minded as well. If people are keen for glamour, make a budget for op shop/thrift store outfits, organise to have a clothes swap, have an eco-theme – a recycled clothing fashion parade or disco. Provide the materials and have people design their outfits as part of the party.
8. Avoid waste
Reduce plastic and waste by using your everyday dishes, glasses and cutlery – no straws, please. Ask people to bring dishes if needed or, you want to go disposable, order eco-friendly party-friendly kits. Make finger food or family size dishes so that people can share. This will reduce the need for dishes and cutlery.
And make sure you finish as sustainably as you start! Have containers ready to share leftovers, wash up with environmentally friendly soaps, compost scraps or feed them to chickens or have a leftovers party!
Not so long ago, people didn’t have the option of plastic everywhere. Making a table centerpiece out of natural objects was commonplace. Nuts and dried fruits decorated cakes. Table clothes were made of cloth. Cake was served on plates, a leaf or paper. Believe it or not, all of these things are still do-able!
If you’re keen to reduce plastic and waste, using your everyday dishes and cutlery is simple, straws are a no-no and, while poppers are super-convenient, paper or reusable cups and tableware are preferable. But that means washing! If you need your tableware to be disposable biodegradable cutlery and tableware are readily available, even in party-friendly kits.
9. Dine out
If, after all these tips, you’re thinking about outsourcing the labour and venue, many charities, educational organisations or social enterprises have facilities that train people, provide them wages and/or contribute to their community in other ways.
In my neighbourhood, social enterprise Mu’ooz aims “to give work experience, training and employment opportunities to African refugees, helping to break down the cross-cultural barrier.” They serve shared meals on banana leaves on or with enjera – a type of bread – which is used to scoop up the food. No cutlery or plates required plus delicious food that gives back to the community.
10. Raise some sneaky funds
Not matter how you go about it, you can get your party to keep on giving by making it a fund (and awareness) raiser for something you care about, inviting your neighbours, people new to the neighbourhood or those who might be feeling isolated.
11. Celebrate the 9 Rs
The check list is long for sustainability these days. There are at least 5 R’s that you could consider when planning your party: Refuse – Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – Repair (borrowed from Spurtopia).
I’d like to add a few more: Do your Research! Then Relax. Remember that what you are aiming for is Respect for the Earth and to build Relationships! For your dinner party to be sustainable, that is all that is required!