To all of you who kind of want to be more sustainable but kind of think it sounds too tricky, we hear you. We’ll admit that it can be tough to navigate what’s good and what’s bad in this crazy world of greenwashing and information overload, but it’s really not so hard to be the eco-warrior you always wanted to be.
With a few simple swaps, you can throw the sustainable dinner party of your dreams.
So what does a sustainable dinner party even look like? Well, we’re focusing on removing the elements that place stress on the environment. The easiest way to think about it is:
1. Reducing your contribution to landfill; and
2. Buying produce and products that are created in a way that doesn't harm the environment.
So, What’s On The Menu?
The simplest and easiest way to cook sustainably is to do it plant-based using fresh fruit and veg that is in season. Now, I can see you rolling your eyes but hear me out. Vegan eats can be super tasty, not to mention easy on the purse strings. There’s also nothing better than making a secretly vegan meal for your friends. The trick is to have lots of small share plates so no one even realises there was no meat on the table.
Our favourites? Veggie curry and dahl served with rice, raita, pickles and poppadums—condiments are your friend here. Middle Eastern food is also a winner with dishes like hummus topped with mushrooms, falafel, tabbouleh and stuffed eggplant taking the focus away from meat, while Mexican lends itself well to vegan eats thanks to all the beans. Bonus points if you cook up a tin of jackfruit and fool your friends into thinking it's pulled pork.
If there’s no way in hell you’ll cook a meal for your mates that doesn’t feature meat, try and find ethically raised meat or look for a regenerative farm in your area and ask them where they sell their meat, the planet and your taste buds will thank you for it.
If you're into seafood, a little research is all it will take to find a fish shop close by that supplies sustainable seafood.
Prepare To Shop Sustainably
We’re all aware we need to cut back on our plastic bag use and kudos to us; we’ve significantly reduced this over the years. But be honest, how many times have you gone to the supermarket with your calico bag, only to find yourself using four or five of the plastic bags in the fruit and veg section to hold onto your tomatoes, apples and spinach leaves? Guilty. Come prepared for things like fruit, veg and nuts with handy (not to mention cute) reusable produce bags which can be thrown in the wash. For those of you who want to look the part while saving the world, this woven shopping bag is perfect and it’ll be hard to leave behind.
The Best Places To Shop
Now that you’ve accessorised, you’re ready to shop, so how do you source sustainable ingredients? Obviously, you want to avoid plastic packaging (or any packaging) wherever possible and while it’s not always the case, shopping locally does tend to be more sustainable.
Your best bet is to hit up your local farmers markets and your bulk food stores. Most will let you take your own containers, but if not you can at least use paper bags which you can use again the next time you go, or you can compost them (more on that later). Right now, loads of local suppliers are offering deals while they can’t supply their usual customers—restaurants and cafes—so keep an eye on those for some seriously epic produce that will wow even the pickiest guests.
What To Drink
Unfortunately, you’ll only be able to serve tap water at the dinner party. Kidding!
The natural wine world is absolutely taking off and we are here to reap the organic, sediment-y benefits. Run-of-the-mill wines tend to contain pesticides, fungicides and added sulphites which can contribute to hangovers for us and much worse for the environment. While we’re not saying you definitely won’t get a hangover with natural wine, we will say that the process used to make these wines eliminates the need for things like pesticides, leaving the soil healthier, the grapes tastier and the end product much better for you and the planet.
If you want to up the party vibes with a cocktail or two, make your meal ingredients work for you and garnish your cocktails with citrus peels from the lemon you juiced or the leftover rosemary sprigs you couldn’t quite finish. It should go without saying, but skip the straws.
This might surprise you, but beer drinkers can lighten their environmental load but choosing cans over bottles—aluminium is lighter to transport plus easier to recycle—or you can take your own vessel to one of the many bottle shops who will fill a growler straight from their taps.
Don’t Forget The Clean Up
Your eco-friendly dinner party might have been a roaring success, but you’re not quite done yet. What you’re throwing away, wrapping up and cleaning up needs a bit of thought too.
Plastic wrap contributes to the larger plastic pollution crisis as it’s difficult to recycle and made from potentially harmful chemicals, especially as they break down in the environment, but there are plenty of easy alternatives. The most sustainable option is to use the containers you already own or put leftovers in a bowl and cover it with a beeswax wrap. If you’re on the hunt for new storage solutions, look for BPA free alternatives, like these reusable food grade ziplock bags or if you need something a little more solid, a bamboo lunch box.
If you’ve got way too much food leftover and you’ll never be able to get through it, gift some to your guests, they’ll be stoked to have a meal the next day. You can also check out Spare Harvest—an app that helps you unload unwanted food to people who can make use of it or compost it for you, you might even be able to swap it for some freshly grown veg— or ShareWaste which will find a local composting centre for you to drop off food scraps and paper bags so you can save them from landfill.
Oh and don’t forget to remind yourself of the recycling rules in your area before you start throwing everything in there.
If you’re all out of detergent, try these eco-friendly cleaning products that actually work.
Image credit: Nancy Hanna