As meetings incorporate more and more green programs, the most delicious way to accomplish your eco-event goals and educate your attendees about your actions is through food and beverage. Below are tips to work with your caterers to provide green food to reward your attendees during their long meeting days.
When building your menu, start where your meeting is taking place and incorporate one or two local items into it. Is there a local specialty or crop that is grown or raised in the area? What about local wine or microbreweries? For instance, highlighting “Atlanta’s own Sweetwater Brewing Company” or “Fresh Squeezed Florida Orange Juice” at a meeting in Orlando illustrates thoughtfulness in your menu selections, while supporting the local communities that you are meeting in. Or, maybe a local food purveyor can come and serve or pour for your guests as an additional way to promote their business.
By ordering local food, you support the local industry you are meeting in, plus reduce the number of miles your food is traveling to your event. Of course, you aren’t expected to know what the local specialties are, so ask your catering sales manager or Food & Beverage manager for their recommendations.
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Despite my personal love, it is true, tomatoes are not naturally harvested in winter. Any tomato you eat in winter months is probably picked from the vine while still green, shipped up from South America and ripened with ethylene gas. Yum! To help you know what’s truly seasonal, look to the Web for resources. Epicurious.com has a great guide that you can search by state and month to learn which foods are local and seasonal. In New York and California, the Local Foods Wheel is a fun tool, as well. Choosing seasonal foods for your menus not only gives you the freshest items to feed your guests, but seasonal items are also more readily available locally.
Organic food means that the cultivation process has been certified that no synthetic products were used. For most of farming history, this was the case. In modern agriculture, not so much. Since it isn’t the norm in food buying, organic food tends to be more expensive (though prices and availability are getting better). Fortunately, everything on the menu doesn’t have to be organic. Start with one or two items and go from there.
Other ways to incorporate green into your menu: biodynamic wines; grass-fed beef; cage-free chicken; and vegetarian options, which, in general are considered more eco-friendly. For seafood, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program can help you with sustainably fished options. They even have wallet-sized information cards in both English and Spanish that make nice giveaways for your attendees or staff.
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Lastly, what is your plan for leftovers? Ask your venue for recommendations (in the early planning stages of your event) for a local food bank and pick-up service to donate unused food and beverages. Another option, if available in your area, is composting. Composting food waste reduces the amount of waste going to landfill which can, in turn, help your waste diversion ratios. But more on that in another column.
Remember, these are conversations to have when designing your menus, so be sure to engage your F&B stakeholders!
Johanna Walsh is an eco-event planner and consultant based in San Francisco and New York City. She is the founder and manager of Twirl Management, a firm that develops and promotes environmentally responsible opportunities for events. Twirl is a Certified Green Business by the City & County of San Francisco. Walsh sits on the Board of Directors for the Northern California Chapter of the Green Meeting Industry Council.