Living green doesn’t have to mean you can’t indulge in something every now and then; it just requires those indulgences are done mindfully, and without excess. If you’re worried about food waste and the carbon footprint of supermarket produce, that doesn’t have to mean you can’t throw a great dinner party once in a while – you just need to consider what goes into creating your party, and how to ensure it has the least environmental impact possible.
From decor to drinks, transport to table setting, it’s easy to make greener choices when you’re planning your next dinner party. For anyone who isn’t sure where to start, here are some things to keep in mind.
Opt for Seasonal, Local Produce
One of the biggest factors in your food’s carbon footprint is how far it’s traveled to reach you. Read the packaging in any UK supermarket and you’ll find fruit and vegetables from Spain, Mexico, Thailand and the Netherlands, to name a few. All of these items – which are typically plastic-packed – have racked up air miles and fuel use on their journey to get to you.
A common reason for supermarkets importing produce from other countries is there is a demand for it out of season, or because the local climate simply doesn’t allow for the production of that specific item. For example, buyers in England are unlikely to ever find tropical fruits or central American grains that haven’t taken a long-haul journey to the supermarket shelf.
Instead of raiding the shop for items that are as bad for the planet as they are cheap and convenient, look to local suppliers for in-season produce. Greengrocers and farm stores who source their produce from within a few miles are always going to be the greener option, and buying seasonal goods means no industrial-scale heated greenhouses or other fuel-heavy methods have been involved in production.
Ditch Plastic Decorations in Favor of Organic Materials
It almost goes without saying, but decorating with plastic-based confetti or other synthetic materials isn’t going to be the greenest way to get your dinner party table looking its best. If you’re keen to create a centerpiece or add a little sparkle to place settings, look at organic materials instead.
Dried flowers are a great way to create a stunning centerpiece that won’t wilt ahead of the day, or for a simple way to add glitz, biodegradable glitters should be just the ticket. Recycled paper confetti, beeswax or soy candles scented with essential oils rather than chemicals, and all kinds of other green options are out there to make throwing an eco-friendly dinner party easy as you like.
Cook Veggie or Vegan Cuisine
According to the UN, high consumption of meat and dairy produce in the western world is a key driver for climate change, with meats like beef and lamb responsible for huge amounts of carbon emissions. One serving of beef is responsible for almost eight kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions, compared to less than one fifth of a kilo of emissions for a portion of legumes.
Even when you consider cheese in your dishes, it’s worth noting dairy milk causes more than three times the emissions soy or oat milk require, and that’s in spite of the air miles often involved in dairy-free milk alternatives.
There’s no perfect answer to what is the most eco-friendly dinner party dish, and sourcing eggs from a neighbour’s hens is arguably far more sustainable than buying tofu in packaging from a local shop, even if the beans it’s made from have been grown in the UK. That said, vegetarian and vegan dishes are just about always more eco-friendly and sustainable than meat or fish, and it’s advisable to take this route if you’re worried about your own carbon footprint.
Get Drinks with a Lower Carbon Footprint
Sadly, it’s not just food you need to consider when you’re cutting the CO2 from your dinner party planning. Some drinks have higher carbon footprints than others, and the BBC’s Climate Change Calculator notes serving wine is actually more eco-friendly than opting for beer. As a result, you might wish to steer guests away from lagers and ales, and offer wine instead.
If your nearest stores don’t offer much in the way of organic wines, it can be easy to find these via online wine suppliers. If you’re keen to cover all bases, you can filter your search for wines that are vegan too, for added dinner party host points.
Encourage Guests to Ride-Share, Carpool, Walk or Cycle
Cutting down the emissions from your food, drinks and decorations is all good and well, but if you’ve got eight guests arriving in eight different vehicles, things still aren’t as virtuous as they could be.
If it’s feasible for people to walk or cycle then this is naturally an ideal choice, but realistically, it’s likely that ride-sharing, carpooling and public transport will be more practical for many. Encourage your dinner guests to hitch lifts with each other, and make sure people are aware of any nearby public transport stops that will enable them to reach you by bus or train.
Compost Food Waste
Finally, and probably the least glamorous bit of the whole thing, spare a thought for leftovers and food waste. About one third of all the food produced in the world each year goes to waste, with those of us in wealthy countries wasting as much food each year as is produced in all of sub-Saharan Africa put together – more than 220 million tonnes.
Hopefully you’ll be able to send any leftovers home with friends, and store things for another day – but peelings from prep and any uneaten food scraps can be re-purposed into compost, either straight into your garden or via your food waste bin. It’s a tiny and effortless gesture, but one that helps to put nutrients back into the earth and ensure food waste isn’t really wasted at all.
Author bio: Tabby Farrar is a professional writer based in the UK, who also runs the sustainable living and travel website Just Can’t Settle.