There's more to a sustainable dinner than the local or home-grown food (or wine!) on the plate. You can make small, simple adjustments when it comes to the setting and decor that make the overall meal a more conscious, thoughtful experience. Start with grandma's china, for example.
First off, we'll say that there are tons of products you can buy if you're in the market for new tableware. Recycled wine glasses, organic cotton napkins, and sustainable cork trivets are everywhere. Go wild. But these tips are more about tiny things you can do without accumulating more stuff.
• Use cloth napkins. This goes without saying, and we're guessing most of you use cloth instead of paper napkins. They're not just greener; they look nicer. If you don't have any and don't want to buy new ones, use your kitchen towels! Faith uses these IKEA Tekla towels. Yours don't have to match. And when you're having an extra messy, sloppy meal, a big kitchen towel is a welcome accessory.
• Use a potted plant instead of flowers. We know, we know. Flowers are awesome. We have them in our house all the time, and there are plenty of sustainable, fair trade options available. But, again, if you don't have those options, or don't want to buy anything, use a pretty potted plant from somewhere else in your house. Other ideas: small pots of herbs (that might be hanging out on your windowsill) or the dessert you'll be serving later, just set up on a cake plate as a centerpiece.
• Use oven-to-table dishes. This is a very small thing, but you'll wash fewer dishes if you serve the main course straight from the dutch oven or casserole you cooked it in. We like the look of a big pot on the table; there's no need to transfer food to a platter or serving bowl.
• Watch unnecessary silverware. We can't count how many times we've cleaned up after a dinner party and thought, "Wait. Did people use the knives? They look clean. Are they?" And then we wash them anyway. Don't feel the need to have a full place setting of silverware out. If you're serving fork-tender meat, skip the knife.
• And unnecessary glasses. We do love our pilsner glasses, but they take up a ton of room in the dishwasher. The greener option would be to embrace the beer bottles and tag them with rubber bands so guests can identify theirs. And you can't have friends swigging directly out of wine bottles, but unless you're having a tasting, you can use the same glass for different reds.
• Borrow some china. This goes for any sort of fancy plate or specialty platter you might need. Surely someone you know has it, whether it's a pitcher for margaritas or a deviled egg platter. Go scavenge through your grandmother's china cabinet. Or, if you do want something pretty and unique, buy vintage, pre-owned china at a flea market.
• Make cookies. Yes, we said this had to do with the tableware, not the food. But if you serve cake, pie, or ice cream, you're washing an entire second set of plates and utensils. Anything you can pick up and eat requires less energy.
We know these are small measures, and they're just a start. What other green tactics do you take when setting the table for a party?
By the way, the photo above encapsulates the kind of borrowed, thrifted, cobbled-together table setting we love. It's from this slideshow at Country Living.
(Image: Steven Randazzo/Country Living)