Large events, from weddings to corporate functions to even your parents’ 50th wedding anniversary bash, provide a double-edged sword when it comes to going green. On one side, as events like these often focus around food, such gatherings provide the ideal opportunity to showcase local, seasonal and organic fare. But then there’s the other dark side of the catering and event planner world, where efficiency, cost and disposability typically rule the bottom line.
Enter Greg Christian, owner of Greg Christian Catering and Events, Chicago’s “Conscious Caterer” on a mission to bring the healthy, sustainable food message to the event scene. Wearing his white chef coat like a cloak of armor, Christensen proves that commitment, passion for healthy food and a dedication to constantly questioning and evolving can prompt true change.
Christian’s journey toward sustainability sparked when his young daughter’s asthma improved significantly through eating organic foods. “But I was living two lives, eating organic at home and using conventional foods in my businesses,” Christian confesses. “I realized I couldn’t live these two separate lives anymore and I started literally diagnosing where my food inputs came from on a world map.” This mapping system prompted not only change, but a deep sense of humility for Christian. “I’m humble and honored to be part of the global food system,” adds Christian, an emotion fueling his catering company’s constant quest to buy from area farmers, run a zero waste kitchen and continually work towards further greening his operations.
Planning an event you would like to keep green? Here are five tips to get started:
1) Write Your Priorities into the RFP
When you’re working with larger outside venues such as hotels, include specific local food requirements into the “RFP,” the “Request for Proposals.” This is typically the first step in the event planning process, where event details such as the date, guest number and other needs are specifically outlined so the potential venue can provide an accurate estimate.
Christian recommends specific, strong language in the RFP detailing your food priorities, such as “Ten percent of food to be provided by local farms.” By concretely stating your requirements up front, venues need to prioritize your needs. “Take out words from the RFP like ‘if available’ that give venues and caterers an easy out,” advises Christian.
2) Be Seasonal Minded on Menus
Get out of expected event menus when it comes to menu items and let the season be your food planning guide. Chocolate-dipped strawberries and January don’t mix in most parts of this country. When planning a winter event, a bread pudding or warm cobbler with frozen fruit from last summer would make perfect seasonal comfort fare for dessert.
3) Sprinkle in Serendipity
Give up a bit of control and let Mother Nature guide your final menu. Part of the challenge for caterers like Christian is clients have a very fixed idea on what needs to be on the menu, while local produce availability may vary depending on what area growers end up harvesting that particular week. Describing a side dish on the menu as “chef’s choice of locally grown, seasonal vegetable” gives much more opportunity to take advantage of peak flavor.
4) Showcase the Growers
Connect your guests with local ingredients by letting folks know what farms or producers provided the food, either on printed menus or with descriptive cards on a buffet table. A card stating “Fair-trade, Organic Sumatra Coffee from Equal Exchange” next to the java carafe transforms the dessert table to an educational platform and conversation starter.
5) Connect with Like-Minded Businesses
Connecting with a caterer such as Christian or hotels and restaurant that share your green values makes sustainable event menus much easier. Green business organizations are sprouting up in many cities, readily connecting you with such options. Greg Christian Catering is a member of the Chicago Green Business Directory, sponsored by the Foresight Design Initiative. The Green Events Source provides a national resource of event-related businesses prioritizing sustainability.
Businesses like Christian remind us that sustainability is a journey, a continual effort to keep learning and improving ourselves as we collectively essay to leave this world a better place. “I just found out it takes 53 days for coconut milk to get to me,” adds Christian. “I’m now thinking to just take that off our menu options. Those travel numbers simply are not sustainable.”
Photo Credit: John Ivanko