Organic Food has moved away from its hippie associations and into upscale supermarkets, acclaimed restaurants, and, yes, even catering.
In many cases, the choice to go organic is in line with the mission of the meeting. For example, caterer and event planner David Casteel of Mitchell's Catering & Events, Raleigh, N.C., worked on an event for the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University in Durham, N.C., that included an organic layered gazpacho and caponata salad martini and a dessert of crêpes with escalloped North Carolina organic mountain apples and spices.
Sure, it sounds delicious, but organic often comes at a higher price tag. “Many clients come in wanting [environmentally friendly menus], and then they find out that it is more expensive,” says Antoinette Benjamin, chef and owner of Food for All Seasons in Ann Arbor, Mich. “They have to make choices about what is more important to them.”
However, finding lower-priced organic fare is feasible. For example, “If there's an abundance of a certain product in a given season, that could drive prices down,” says Henry Stout, owner of Indian Hills, N.Y.-based Full Moon Catering.
Benjamin has her own technique to ensure organic produce at a reasonable price: She grows fresh herbs, heirloom tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, and eggplants herself.
The good news is that getting organic produce is becoming easier. Timothy Bartling, of New York-based Organically Green Catering, participates in a community farm where “farmers can grow a crop knowing that they will sell it at a fair price.” He adds, “I can request what kinds of things I would like grown, at what level of growth they should be picked, and when I need them.”
It's also important to consider where organic products originate. “To be able to have fresh mango in the middle of winter, you have to bring it in from wherever it's being harvested at that time, which is very often not local,” Stout points out, and probably requires a CO2-producing distribution system to get to your table. The more environmentally sensitive route could be “a local farm that isn't fully certified organic, but they're growing with excellent tactics and producing wonderful food.”
Even as green awareness grows, it's still a niche market, Stout notes, with clients who are requesting organic menus making up about 25 percent of his business. But this could be changing. At Back to Earth Organic Catering in Berkeley, Calif., for example, business has grown by more than 100 percent every year for the last three years. As owner Eric Fenster put it, “We know that this is more of a growing wave than a fad.”
Make Your Meals Eco-Friendly
Serve finger foods to avoid using plates.
Buy organic wines.
Give extra food to the local food bank.
Offer teas made from local herbs instead of using individual tea bags.
Decorate with live plants, food, or organic or local flowers.
- Give away centerpieces, or, if available in your region, use a flower shuttle to pick up plants after an event and take them to a retirement home.