Planning a Sustainable Menu

Planners who wish to offer attendees a sustainable menu have what can be a bewildering plethora of choices to make. Given that what you ultimately select can have a measurable  impact on an event's environmental footprint, it helps to have a working knowledge of the various terms applied to food that connote different aspects of sustainability. What, for example, qualifies as a "locally produced" food, and why is that considered an earth-friendly attribute?

The goal of this checklist, provided by Cressida Slote, sustainability project manager at MeetGreen, not only is to inform event organizers of the ecologically sound options that exist, but also to recognize opportunities for educating attendees on the benefits of making healthful and environmentally responsible choices. Here are some questions to keep in mind.


These foods generally are in-season and climate-friendly, requiring less energy to store and transport. They are typically fresher than out-of-state produce, not having had to sit in distribution centers, and serving them supports the local economy.

 Where are your select menu items sourced or produced?

 Are they grown or produced within a 250-mile radius of your event location? (Such a range qualifies them as locally produced.)

 If those ingredients aren't local, are alternative, more local menu items available?

In-season produce is generally fresher, tastes better, costs less and is more nutritious than out-of-season produce.

 Where and when is the event taking place?

 What is in season during that time? Check with to examine options.

 Based on your budget and supplier availability, can your menu include seasonal options?

They contain fewer pesticides, and they are often fresher because they lack preservatives. Organically raised livestock are not given antibiotics, growth hormones or animal by-products in their food.

 Are the fruits and vegetables served at your event among the "Dirty Dozen"? The following 12 items are most likely to have pesticide residue if they aren't organic: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes.

 Is the produce being served among the "Clean 15"? These are least likely to have pesticide residue and include corn, avocado, pineapple, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papaya, asparagus, mango, eggplant, honeydew, kiwi, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit.

 Are the meat and poultry on the menu certified by any of the 94 certifying agencies that work with the USDA?

Produce that is deemed less than cosmetically ideal for supermarkets is generally discarded and wasted.

 Is there an Imperfectly Delicious Produce program that could benefit your event? For details, click here.

 Is there a way to publicize your use of the program? Spread the word. As much as 40 percent of produce grown worldwide winds up as waste because it is deemed defective.

 Do your coffee and tea supply chains follow responsible social, environmental and economic practices? For more: Go to Fair Trade - coffee and tea