Event Menus Go Green

By: Kristin Clarke

Tips for getting your association involved in sustainable food and beverage.

Today, "green dining" means more than eating salad. It refers to environmentally friendly food and beverage menus that are fresh, locally sourced, organic, seasonal, and sustainable. Sustainable food and beverage (F&B) offers a range of opportunities to provide imaginative, healthy fare that starts conversations, encourages interactions, and showcases regional cuisine.

To get involved in green F&B:

  • Contract chefs with ties to local farmers to ensure ingredients are fresh, seasonal, and sustainable. This cuts carbon emissions from transportation, fosters the local economy, and stabilizes availability and quality.
  • Move from exotic floral centerpieces to edible arrangements of fruit or mini desserts, as well as living plants or ice. This often saves money, lightens the carbon footprint, and inspires interaction among diners.
  • Follow the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sustainable Seafood guidelines, which help ensure that threatened fish and shellfish species are not depleted.
  • Work directly with farmers two or three years out from a conference to identify seasonal or organic ingredients that will be grown specifically for the event.

Many planners have been sourcing Fair Trade-certified coffee and tea for years. Fair Trade certification ensures that farmers and workers are paid fair prices and wages, have safe working conditions, conserve the environment, and use community-development funds to reinvest in their communities. More than 9,500 Fair Trade-certified consumer products are now available in the United States.

Sourcing more locally, though—such as a "locavore" menu, in which ingredients come from as close to the venue as possible—is a much stronger trend. Local options can save money, introduce unique flavors and cooking techniques, offer a chance to try unusual items, and integrate stories into the dining experience.

Andrew Morrison, executive chef at the Fairmont Pittsburgh, encourages planners to "think beyond the menu to create that wow factor. For example, we make handmade soaps in our kitchens using all-natural ingredients and tallow leftover from the side of grass-fed beef we purchase each week. They make great gifts, and guests are always impressed by the story behind the soap."

For more ideas on going green, check out the Sustainable Leadership newsletter.

Kristin Clarke is a business journalist and editor for ASAE. Email: [email protected]

Kristin Clarke

Kristin Clarke is books editor for Associations Now and a business journalist and sustainability director for ASAE.