Potlucks can strengthen bonds in an existing group and attract potential new members. Because everyone brings something to share, they will have at least one thing to eat that they like. You'll have the right amount of food no matter how many people show up. And even if using a green approach takes a little coaching, you may find that your example inspires others to party greener too.
I hosted one of the spring potlucks for the Edible Earthscapes CSA (community supported agriculture) members. The other one will be on the farm, with an optional work session before lunch. These shared meals let the farmers and members get to know each other. We also get to try different ways of cooking the marvelous vegetables from the farm.
Save your guests and yourself the awkwardness of stumbling for names by using name tags. Ask people to name a hobby or hot topic below their names. Now everyone has a reason to look at the name tags. This trick also lets you skip the small talk or same old topics, creating more opportunities for connection. At our party, I found an improv enthusiast who teaches the sort of classes I've been looking for. She was looking for more students.
Go green by saving the name-tag holders that you couldn't turn it at conferences and events. Cut scrap paper to name-tag size. Provide markers instead of ball-point pens for easy reading at a distance.
Right next to the name tags, I put a stack of index cards so people can label their dishes. The food labels let people choose what to eat without making a fuss. Before the party, I label my own contribution so people can see an example. I list the dish's name and ingredients, then add any special features such as vegan or gluten-free. You can also ask people to bring labels with them. Some people will forget to bring labels, though, so have the index cards or scrap paper on hand.
Many years ago, I threw a wine-and-cheese fundraiser with nothing to drink but wine—and decent wine at that! I learned that many of the attendees preferred something non-alcoholic. Now I put the healthiest and thriftiest drinks first, including pitchers of water, iced tea, or lemonade. The CSA potluck was on a chilly day, so people enjoyed having hot tea too.
Paper plates and plastic forks clog up the landfill while disposing of your party budget. Instead, choose plates, glasses, and cutlery that can be washed and used again. I've found glass buffet plates for 25 cents each at thrift shops, about half of what you would pay for fancy plastic disposable plates. Sites such as Freecycle and Craigslist can cut your costs to zero. Borrow what you need from your friends or just ask all the guests to bring their own place settings.
Cloth napkins last for decades. Most of mine came from my mother-in-law, some I bought years ago, and the cute carrot napkin in the picture came from the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville. They don't need ironing if you line dry them or give them a quick shake when they come out of the dryer. Get new life out of old tee shirts by cutting them up into napkins. You don't need to hem them and the designs can make good conversation starters.
Be warned, though, that some people don't get the concept of cloth napkins. I've found paper tissues that had been used as napkins among the dirty dishes. Some people use the napkins but then throw them in the trash! To keep from losing napkins, I label a dish tub “napkins” and put it near the trash. If your crowd seems particularly puzzled, you may want to check the trash for stray napkins.
Encourage the greenest cleanup possible by labeling your recycling, compost, and trash containers. Depending on the crowd and the restrictions, add details such as “glass, cans, and white paper” or “vegetable, fruit, and grain scraps for composting, no animal products please.”
Once you've done what you could to make guests feel welcome and able to help themselves, enjoy your own party. Put a fun topic on your name tag and celebrate the community you are helping to create. Enjoy putting food you can identify on plates that won't leak or collapse, propose a toast and listen to the clink of real glasses or mugs, and drape a sturdy cloth napkin across your lap.
Partying green takes more clean up time than if you just tossing everything into the trash, but not much more. It's pleasant work, too. Often guests will offer to help wash dishes, so clean up becomes part of the party. If you'd rather do it yourself, then load the dishwasher while you remember all the jokes you heard. Dump the napkins into the washing machine while you speculate about romances you may have spotted blooming and fold them while you consider the good advice you got or new friends you made. Add good vibes from your party into your compost heap along with the food scraps to nourish your garden.
Please share your experiences in the comments below.
Photos by Linda Watson (c) 2015 Cook for Good, used by permission.
Check out Linda's website Cook for Good for great potluck recipes and cooking tips. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. She is the author of Wildly Affordable Organic: Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy, and Save the Planet--All on $5 a Day or Less and Fifty Weeks of Green: Romance & Recipes.