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Six Steps to Hosting a Sustainable Dinner Party

by Meghan

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You already use green cooking products — you have special electric cooktops, cork cutting boards, and even a bamboo silverware holder — so why not go all out and prepare a completely sustainable dinner for your friends and family? After all, going green is more than about using non-wood products and Energy Star appliances. Have you thought about whether or not your food is local? Or whether your protein sources use high amounts of energy? What about your mood lighting? Is your tableware contributing to America’s extreme amounts of annual waste? Even the post-dinner games you play can have an environmental impact.

If none of these questions has ever crossed your mind, don’t sweat. Just follow this simple guide and impress your friends and family with your dinnertime eco-suaveness (while helping our planet at the same time).
(1) FOOD

It’s hard to resist the craving for a juicy, restaurant-style steak, oozing deliciously at the light-pink center. But when you get the urge for beef, remind yourself that it takes 16 pounds of feed and an average household’s one-month supply of water to produce a one-pound steak, according to eartheasy.com. On top of that, Methane produced from livestock upkeep is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas. So when you’re cooking for a large group, serve seafood instead. Fish releases less carbon emissions than land-based animals, and it’s better for you, too.

Below are some of the lowest and highest environmental-impact seafoods, according to Earth Easy’s Sustainable Seafood Guide. Each is ranked based on the status of its wild population, its fishing methods, the impact on its natural habitats, management initiatives, and bycatch (other species that are caught and wasted while attempting to catch the target fish).

Lowest Impact (Best to Eat)
Pacific Halibut
Pacific Albacore Tuna
Blue, Dungeness or King Crab

Moderate Environmental Risk
Atlantic Lobster
Sea Scallops
Rainbow Trout

Highest Impact (Best to Avoid)
Alaska King Crab
Tiger Prawns
Shark


For your side dish, prepare an organic salad. Earth Easy claims that organic produce soon will not only be easy on the Earth, but also easy on your wallet. It may become less expensive than traditional produce due to the rise in oil prices, which raises costs for chemical fertilizers. The company says the price for these fertilizers rose 200 percent in 2007 alone.

(2) DRINKS

You can’t have a seafood dinner without good brew. And you can’t enjoy good brew without knowing it’s sustainable. Below are Eat. Drink. Better.’s top five picks for green beer, concocted in different regions throughout the world.

New Belgium Beer
It was the first wind-powered brewery in 1999, and today, on top of its completely sustainable practices, the Colorado-based brewer donates one percent of proceeds to environmental causes.

Steamwhistle
You can get it only in Canada, where the brewery uses recycled grains and deep lake water cooling to make its beer and relinquish air conditioning during the chilling phase.

Long Trail Brewing Company
Prepared in Vermont, the company sends its leftover mash to farmers to use as cow feed. It even uses grease from its kitchen to fuel on-site vehicles.

Sierra Navada Brewing Company
This creative brewery diverted 97 percent of its total waste from landfills in 2007 and has been honored with the California State Waste Reduction Award.

Brooklyn Brewery
In 2003, it became the first New York brewery to use 100-percent wind-powered energy.

(3) TABLEWARE

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology says average Americans use 650 pounds of paper per year; on top of that, they each produce a whopping 1,600 pounds of annual garbage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In this case, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, so stay away from paper napkins, plates, and placemats. Not only do they seriously contribute to our landfill surplus, but also they’re a bit tacky for a dinner party.

(4) LIGHTING

Light pollution is irritating and uneconomical, and according to Sustainable Table it can even change plant and animal behavior. If you want to be completely sustainable, impress your dinner guests with one of these cutting-edge lighting options.

Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs
While they cost more upfront, experts say you can save more than $36 when buying a CFL instead of a conventional light bulb. They’re guaranteed for 8,000 hours, as opposed to the mere 500 to 2,000 hours you get from incandescent bulbs.

Light-Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs
These come in all shapes and sizes, and with the holidays just around the corner, they could help you save a bundle on your electricity bill. While traditional holiday light bulbs use 6 watts of energy, LEDs use only .08 watts.

Natural Light
We can’t forget about the best light source of all: the sun. The Efficient Windows Collaborative suggests using a low-emittance (low-E) coating on your windows, which helps keep heat outside in the winter and inside in the summer. It even protects furniture from fading, so you can keep the shades open all year round. 

(5) ENTERTAINMENT

Nowadays, something as simple as buying a board game could be detrimental to our forests. If you really want to leave your guests ooh-ing and ahh-ing (and you have some free time before they arrive), try crafting a couple game boards from old wood or corkboards. Or, for an even easier solution, Planet Green suggests cutting faces from magazines and gluing them to index cards to make your own Guess Who? people. Even simpler: Play charades. No game board necessary.

How to make an eco-friendly game table.

(6) DESSERT

A sustainable dinner party wouldn’t be complete without an organic dessert. Try Bon Appétit’s fancy-schmancy Warm Rhubarb Compote with Walnut-Coconut Crunch.    

imagephoto credit: Bon Appétit April 2008.


Ingredients:
4 cups 1/2-inch pieces trimmed rhubarb (about 1 1/4 pounds)
2/3 cup plus 5 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup crème de cassis (black-currant liqueur) or Chambord
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup 1/4-inch-thick strips unsweetened flaked organic coconut
2/3 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
Wildflower honey (for drizzling)

Preparation:
Bring rhubarb, 2/3 cup sugar, and crème de cassis to boil in heavy medium saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until rhubarb is soft, about 10 minutes. Transfer to refrigerator to cool slightly. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated. Rewarm, if desired.

Place walnuts and remaining 5 tablespoons sugar in medium nonstick skillet. Stir constantly over high heat until sugar melts and turns deep amber color, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add coconut and stir until well combined, about 30 seconds. Press onto bottom of pan. Cool in pan. Break into shards. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.

Divide rhubarb compote among 4 large wineglasses. Spoon dollop of yogurt atop compote, drizzle with honey, and top with walnut-coconut crunch.

If you don’t feel like baking, order a fresh dessert from Diamond Organics online bakery, delivering fresh goods from California’s central coast.

I hear oohs and ahhs already.
 

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