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Starved for green menu ideas this Spring? The period between Earth Day (April 22) and Environment Day (June 5) is a great time of year to serve up planet-conscious food experiences. Here are nine creative ideas to celebrate the planet in tasty style.
Food Saver Supper
Awkward asparagus, bulbous beets, and crooked carrots: challenge your guests to think differently about food recovery by designing a menu of imperfectly delicious, rescued produce. Use it as an opportunity to educate participants about how much food goes to waste. And steps people can take to help, like being willing to pick the less-than-pretty produce from their farmers’ market or grocery store shelves. Talk to your Chef to see if their distributors or local farms offer blemished, excess, and in-season produce for sale. Selections may be especially suitable for soups, pasta, tarts, pies and preserves (yummy!). And with luck, this produce may come at a cheaper price, saving you money! For more inspiration check out these great Feeding the 5000 events.
Mouth-watering water-wise spread
Chicken or beef? Which takes more water to produce? You might be surprised by the water footprints of different foods, and the simple difference you can make by choosing a water-wise ingredient over a less water-conscious choice. For example, it takes three times more water to raise a kilogram of beef compared to chicken. And pasta starch uses 25% less water than rice. Consider providing water conservation information on buffet cards informing attendees about the water-wins your ingredients bring to the meal. To compare the water footprints of different food visit Waterfootprint.org.
Cocktail hour is something to look forward to already. But what if the wine, spirits, fruit and other bits of cocktail-y goodness were also organic? Add to that some locally-grown, organic and seasonal finger food and your guests will feel it’s easy being green! Take the idea farther by asking Chef to prepare two to three special organic cocktails in the name of different “good food” causes, so participants can vote for their favourite. Don’t forget to provide a virgin version for those who avoid alcohol, so they can equally participate. Consider providing a donation to each charity, with the winning spirit receiving the highest value donation.
Fairest of the Fair Fare
Certain menu ingredients are of high concern due to unfair labor practices: coffee, tea, fresh fruit, sugar, honey and spices. Sounds like some great ingredients for a nice continental breakfast or afternoon tea, don’t you think? Consider a Fair Trade Breakfast that not only taps fairly traded ingredients, but also hosts a speaker or display by an organization that does work in this space.
Supper, with a Side of Story
A rich food experience is not just about the ingredients, but the people who make and serve our food. So what is the story behind your meal? For the Responsible Business Awards 2013 Gala Dinner, planners sought out information about who grew and prepared their meal and prepared a short video that elevated a simple banquet to a unique story that helped connect participants to producers – creating an emotional connection.
Ocean Lovers Luncheon
I love seafood, but I sure do feel a lot of anxiety about picking the right kind of seafood to eat! Create a menu that takes the guilt out of enjoying seafood, by ensuring you make sustainable selections. How do you know they’re sustainable? Task your Chef to refer to programs like the Marine Stewardship Council, Ocean Wise, Seafood Watch and This Fish when buying ingredients. Take the experience a step farther by sharing photos or stories about the fisher-folk who caught participant meals. Leave pocket sustainable seafood guides for guests, too, so they are able to find sustainable seafood in future. And don’t forget to have fun with marine-themed décor!
Light a Candle for Carbon
Even though Earth Hour precedes Earth Day, any night is a good night for a nice candle-lit dinner. If your attendees are interested in climate change as an issue, consider dimming the lights, lighting some sustainable candles and serving a carbon-conscious meal. Carbon conscious menus might be 100% vegetarian, or opt for lower-carbon proteins. For example a 500 person banquet serving chicken instead of beef avoids one metric ton of carbon, as the carbon footprint of beef is typically greater than that of chicken. Avoiding ingredients that require air freight is another way to reduce the carbon footprint of your menu. Be careful about local produce, which can be carbon-conscious if grown outside, but can have a big footprint if it requires energy-hungry greenhouses to grow.
Close to Home (local/seasonal)
Instead of serving the same old convention food, provide a close-to-home, seasonal menu. This is a great option for regions where there are local farms and cheaper, seasonal produce is available, but can be a challenge for arid destinations. The Unitarian Universalist Association partnered with the Charlotte North Carolina Farm Fresh program to provide hot food concessions for their General Assembly in a down-home kind of way. They even took the added step of inviting local farmers to set up farm stands in their exhibit hall, so event participants could meet the growers, and buy other souvenir products like preserves, soaps and crafts.
Get Healthy Grub
Every time I go to a conference it seems I forget to pack my healthy diet. Convenience rules the day and good nutrition can sometimes go out the window. In these away-from-home situations, attendees (and your event staff) may appreciate healthier meal and break options to help them feel and work at their best. Labels, mobile apps and signage can take it a step farther by providing nutritional, allergy and sourcing information that helps participants make the best choice for their bodies.
Indigenous Ingredients and Experiences
Particularly memorable meals connect participants with event destinations and the people who live there. One unique way to do this is by preparing traditional meals, using indigenous ingredients and cooking methods. Hiring caterers who are also indigenous brings more authenticity to the experience. Consider venues, ceremonies, entertainment and décor that ties into the theme in respectful ways.
Selecting a green theme for your menus not only helps the planet, but it inserts some fun and creativity into the experience, that also presents sponsorship opportunities. What creative and successful “green menu” themes have you tried?