I've been thinking about parties a lot lately. I've planned two in the last month. One for my daughter's fourth birthday, and another for my new book, The Conscious Kitchen, which has just been published. Party planning isn't something I do often and so these two have (re)challenged my commitment to doing everything consciously. Conscious, by the way, is the new word for green.
My plan for the birthday party was to bring my china to the venue (a dance studio) for the birthday cake; I don't want to ever have to toss a bunch of paper plates, especially ones used for a few seconds. The china idea was quickly vetoed by other family members as impractical. So I wandered into a local supermarket in search of something disposable, compostable, so-called biodegradable, or at least not bleached with chlorine. They had only one option that sort of fit the bill, and I bought it.
My plan for the book party is to serve local nibbles only. It's still winter and here in New York there isn't much growing (other than in hothouses). So my spread will be cheese, pickles, apples from last fall that have been stored, regional honey, and bread from a local baker. No crudités. So while this might seem strange to some, I'm thrilled to have access to this much.
For drinks, I'm pouring a naturally produced French wine – one study I quote in The Conscious Kitchen says that wine from France takes less energy to ship to New York than wine from California. I'll also serve filtered tap water and seltzer made on site.
Cups, plates, and utensils have been tough. Renting wine glasses from a local catering place is very expensive. They wash their stems in conventional dish detergent and use tremendous amounts of hot water. The other choice is corn plastic cups. These are popping up everywhere lately, encircled by a green halo. But the corn is likely genetically modified and conventionally sprayed. It takes a lot of energy to produce plastic from corn, more than other widely used plastics because of efficiency and economies of scale. Although it is "compostable," there is nowhere to compost it in my town. It's also not recyclable here. So it will have to be thrown out, just like traditional plastic cups. This may come as a surprise to people who think corn plastic is a conscious choice. Theoretically it could break down in a landfill but there isn't enough water/light/microbes/air/enzymes in our overstuffed landfills to make that happen.
These are the sort of scenarios I go through in The Conscious Kitchen. The book talks about what kind of produce, meat, seafood, drinks, and other food to buy and where to shop for it; what kinds of pots, pans, and food storage to use; what sorts of appliances to have in a kitchen; and how to clean up and handle waste. It's all about sharing information and giving choices so everyone can make informed decisions. And along the way there's advice and recipes from Michael Pollan, Dan Barber, Barbara Kinsgolver, Joan Gussow, Alice Waters, Emeril Lagasse, and others.
The Conscious Kitchen is a labor of love, a call to arms, a how to guide. But ultimately the point of paying this kind of attention to details -- when planning parties or making any kitchen-related decision -- is the taste of what you serve. Something about knowing how they were made and by whom actually helps with that. Try it and see.