Ah, summer. It’s time to take a break, relax and let your environmentalism speak for itself, in a fun way. Everyone eats, and what could be better than a secretly propagandizing green dinner party to convert your not-so-eco-minded friends to the green way?
Start, as all good dinner parties do, with the drinks. Cocktails are nice for openers, and can easily be greened. Choose a local liquor, like Core vodka, made from upstate apples at a Columbia County orchard. Or track down a bottle of Marakame tequila, produced by a company that employs Huichol Indians and contributes to numerous community-development programs. (Sigh, if only we could grow agave in New York.) Instead of corn-syrupy mixers in plastic bottles, try muddling some local mint and berries with sugar, adding liquor and a splash of water or cider, and voila! A mean green drunk-making machine.
For drinks with less kick, source your wines locally. Bridge Wines, on Broadway in Williamsburg, features wines from the North Fork of Long Island and pairs them with food from the area. Many city wine shops have sections featuring New York wines, grown from Long Island to Dutchess County to the Finger Lakes. A couple of upstate vintners sell at the Union Square market. Don’t forget local beers; from the always summery Brooklyn Brewery Weisse to Blue Point’s Summer Ale, there are plenty of choices. Much as it galls me, I have to suggest the Whole Foods beer room on the Bowery: they fill half-gallon bottles, which you can bring back again and again, with fresh local beers, for a waste-free super-green beer-loving experience.
Make sure to use real glasses (or cups or mugs), even if you have to bring out some jam jars — plastic cups, plates and cutlery are really, really lame and ugly. If you’re low on any of these reach out to a friend and borrow — or head to East Village Thrift Store on Second Avenue and 12th Street, which always has heaps of second-hand crockery and cutlery for next to nothing. Or ask your guests to bring their own — it’s a great way to show how easy it is to throw a fork, spoon and cup into your bag and eliminate the need for disposables at work, while traveling, and everywhere else.
While you’re at it, make sure you buy wines with real cork stoppers — not only are they compostable and biodegradeable, cork is an infinitely renewable resource, and cork plantations are remarkable for their bio-diversity. The harvesting of cork is one of the best models of sustainable agriculture we have — people benefit from maintaining a healthy, natural landscape teeming with hundreds of species of plants and animals. Migratory and wintering birds rely on cork forests for food and shelter, and should the plastic cork take over, numerous species like the Iberian Lynx, Imperial Eagle and Barbary Deer would face certain extinction. Go cork!
Food-wise, let the season be your guide. Go to the Greenmarket, any greenmarket, and let what you find determine your menu. Local cheeses are easy and delicious as openers, especially paired with fresh local breads. Fresh eggs make fantastic devilled eggs or Spanish Tortilla, a potato and onion omelet served at room temperature in yummy wedges. Make a huge salad and toss in anything you find at the market. Potatoes are in season — make a sophisticated (and healthy) potato salad with a balsamic, olive oil, mustard and caper dressing, instead of gloopy mayo.
For dessert, local fruits are popping up all over — blueberries, raspberries, peaches, plums and apricots will be ripening in the coming weeks. Serve with Ronnybrook Farms’ crème fraiche or whipped cream, a dollop of Hawthorne Valley Farm yogurt and local honey or maple syrup.
If you’re usually a meat eater, try a little experiment and throw a vegetarian dinner party. If anyone notices, you can talk about how meat production is our single greatest contributor to greenhouse-gas production, and encourage your guests to go veggie at least part of the time. One kilo of beef (2.2 pounds) has the same environmental impact as driving for three hours and leaving all your lights on while you’re gone. Yikes. Time to cut back.
Whatever you do, or serve, make conversation, and (nicely!) try to educate as well as entertain. The deliciousness factor will speak for itself — let that be the opening to bring up larger issues of local economies, food miles, the benefits of organic and more. We all eat, and we can all make a big difference by being informed about what we eat and acting accordingly. Bon appetit!