How to throw a green party: eco-friendly food and more

According to the Clean Air Council, every day 43,000 tons of food are thrown out in the United States , and each year Americans toss out enough paper and plastic cups, forks, and spoons to circle the equator 300 times. That's the bad news. The good news is that with a bit of creativity and a little know-how, you can throw a fun, festive affair without it taking a major toll on the environment.

When planning an environmentally friendly party menu, leave your global appetite behind and think local. Shipping ingredients from another part of the world requires a tremendous amount of fuel. Look to your nearest farmers' market or CSA (community-supported agriculture) for in-season fruits and vegetables, as well as meat, eggs, and dairy products. They're fresher, taste better, and are oftentimes priced the lowest.

Beyond "local," there are a number of other labels and designations to keep in mind, including organic, biodynamic, and sustainable. Organic food is regulated by the U.S.D.A. and must meet certain standards to be certified as such. While there is debate over the value of the U.S.D.A. organic label and how much it corresponds to the original goals of organic farming (which prioritize local and sustainable agriculture), you can assume that any food bearing the U.S.D.A. organic label is free from artificial pesticides and fertilizers. Like organic, biodynamic farming eschews pesticides and fertilizers. It's also a sustainable, self-contained system in which everything on the farm is reused or recycled, with the goal of enriching the biodiversity of the land. There are a variety of ways to define sustainable agriculture, but in simplest terms, it aims to sustain rather than degrade the environment while also being econonomically viable. For more information on these labels, consult, a Web-based resource run by the Consumers Union.

It can be a little overwhelming at first, but with a little thought and a bit of planning, creating a delicious, environmentally friendly menu is easy: With the right ingredients, you can turn almost any recipe into a green one.

If you're having a backyard barbecue, opt for grass-fed burgers and steaks, which typically require fewer pesticides, fossil fuels, and antibiotics than the corn-fed alternative. Hosting a wine and cheese party? Swap imported Brie for artisan cheese from a nearby farm, and pair it with wine from the same region.

For a Sunday brunch, think frittatas made with organic eggs, whatever veggies are in season, and cheeses, all sourced from your area. Alongside, serve locally baked pastries, rolls, and muffins, or make your own sweets with fresh fruit from the farmers' market. Use our Advance Search to find recipes to match the season and your personal preferences.

When planning your menu, also keep in mind that a lot of green-minded folks are committed to a vegetarian diet (for various moral and ecological reasons, including the idea that "eating low on the food chain" has a smaller impact on the environment). Offer at least one dish that's completely free of animal ingredients. Flavor-packed vegan dishes such as Ditalini with Pesto, Beans, and Broccoli Rabe or Avocado and Mango Salad with Passion Fruit Vinaigrette will satisfy everyone on your guest list.

Danny Seo is the author of several books, including Simply Green Parties and Simply Green Giving. He is the environmental lifestyle contributor for CBS's The Early Show and cohost of HGTV's Red Hot and Green. Seo also works with JCPenney as its Green Living Partner. To learn more about Seo, go to