Have a low-carbon summer feast

Summertime is all about getting together with friends and enjoying good food and drink in the great outdoors. The choices we make can reduce our impact on that outdoors and global warming without getting in the way of our enjoyment of the event.

We’ll start with the beverages since that’s where the guests (and hosts) will likely start. I was interested in finding out what was the most environmentally benign beverage and called my local recycling coordinator who wasted no time in telling me that tap water was my best choice. So I refined my query, I had heard that recycling 30 beer cans saved the equivalent of a gallon of gas - how many beer bottles, I wondered, would be equivalent to 30 beer cans. He did some research and we ran the numbers and it turns out that 385 beer bottles has the equivalent embodied energy of 30 beer cans. He pointed out that there was some minimal adjustment needed to account for the transportation cost of imported beer so this calculation was most accurate if applied to domestic beer in both bottles and cans. Ah-ha! I said, this gives me an environmental rationalization for buying that nice local microbrew! Maybe even to buy it in kegs and keep a kegerator in the garage! Actually he replied, the kegorator idea is a no go due to the carbon footprint of the refrigerator (regardless of the impact of the increased beer consumption) However, if you consider that there are 22 shots of bourbon in a bottle that likely has the embodied energy content of two beer bottles this gives you an environmental justification for drinking bourbon on the rocks or mint juleps. If a single beer can equals 12.83 beer bottles it is equivalent to six bottles of bourbon in terms of its carbon footprint. As a dedicated environmentalist I found his logic irrefutable.

But what about the kids? We needed to get them off the cans and plastic bottles that impart bisphenol-A into soft drinks, but “let them drink tap water” was not going to fly. We decided we’d have less of an insurrection if we made up a sun tea and fruit juice concoction. (And the cost works out to our advantage as well.)

The main course? Certainly not pork barbeque, though as a North Carolina boy I run the risk of getting my tires shot out for saying so, I’ve seen first hand the environmental cost of factory pork farming and one of the major precepts of sustainable cuisine is to eat less meat and more local vegetables. Lamb, even that shipped from New Zealand, has a low embodied energy content in comparison to grain fed pork and beef. Of the factory farmed meats, chicken has the lowest carbon footprint overall considering both embodied energy content and methane production. We can make points on both carbon footprint and embodied energy content by preparing meat and vegetable shish kabobs on the grill with range fed lamb tips or chicken thighs and local farmers market vegetables and Yukon gold potatoes. In general our goal is to reduce meat portions to less than ¼ lb per person by filling in the plate with delicious local vegetables and starches.

For the sides we’ll keep the theme going and instead of hitting the local grocery for tubs of coleslaw and potato salad we’ll sauté up some summer squash and onions and make up a great green salad with ingredients from the farmers market.

As for dessert I’d say the best thing to do is ask the kids what they want and make it happen. It is summer after all.

The Menu

Canned BeerMint Juleps or Bourbon on the rocks
Canned Soft drinksIced sun-tea sweetened with fruit juice
Shrimp cocktailSalted nuts, cheese and toast, carrot sticks
Barbequed pork sandwichesLamb or chicken shish kabobs with local vegetables and quartered Yukon gold potatoes
Cole slaw and potato SaladFresh local salad with vinaigrette dressing

Dessert, whatever the kids want!

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