Though it may seem obvious, staying mindful of the small stuff during holiday meals and parties can make a huge difference in offsetting your environmental impact. Here are a few tips for entertaining without sacrificing your eco intentions or your friends' and family's expectations.
Studies show that Americans throw away about 1.3 pounds of food on average every day, so you can imagine how easily that could skyrocket this time of year. The solution is basic math. "If you're having a cocktail party, plan on six to eight hors d'oeuvres per guest; for a small dinner, you'll need six to eight ounces of protein per person; and for more than eight people, do a buffet," says Nicole Aloni, whose book, Secrets from a Caterer's Kitchen, has a handy food-quantity chart.
Trick your party-goers' eyes
"People want to see a lot of food even if they don't want to eat a lot of food," says Akasha Richmond, owner of Akasha restaurant in Culver City, Calif. Instead of making pies, for instance, whip up six- or eight-inch tarts. "That way," says Richmond, "people get to sample everything, and there's not as much waste."
Shop local, sustainable and organic
It's worth repeating: Buy sustainable seafood or humanely raised meat, or serve a great vegetarian recipe, and plan your holiday menu around that. Visit your local farmers market, or, if options are limited, check out heritagefoodsusa.com to order once-endangered varieties of poultry and unique seasonal ingredients like Guajillo honey.
Use real silverware and cloth napkins
Not only is real cutlery more sustainable, it confers special-occasion status on your event. If you must use disposable, opt for good quality plastic ones you can use repeatedly, or choose biodegradable plates and cutlery made from bamboo or corn to reuse or recycle later.
Compost your leftovers
If despite your best efforts, you still have extra food scraps, start or add to your compost heap or indoor worm farm. Just be sure to avoid putting meat, bones or oily fats into the worm box, as they may emit odors and attract mice.
Give to food banks
Food is great, but donating cash can go even further toward helping your local hunger-relief organization. "Because we work directly with most of the major manufacturers, we're able to purchase food at drastically reduced prices," says Ross Fraser of America's Second Harvest, a nationwide network of more than 250 food banks.
These days, there's a slew of reusable bags to take with you on grocery-shopping trips. Envirosax offers a bevy of colors and styles, and ChicoBag's carabiner-equipped totes clip easily to purses, backpacks and belt loops. And, if guests want to take home the extra desserts and goodies, opt for biodegradable doggie bags, like TreeCycle's recycled boxes or the Biodegradable Store's corn containers.
Dine by candlelight
Soy, vegetable-oil and pure beeswax candles are your best bets since they burn cooler — and thus longer — and don't contain paraffin, a petroleum product found in most conventional candles. Even if the energy you save can't be measured, hey, everyone looks better by candlelight.
Story by Jessica Tzerman. This article originally appeared in Plenty in December 2007. The story was added to MNN.com.