Hosting a Green Summer Barbecue

July 2008
To me, eco-friendly to me is synonymous with people-friendly, so when I think of hosting a green barbeque the first thing I think of is providing a happy and healthy atmosphere. To me that means clean, fresh air, free from bugs; vibrant food; colorful flowers; pure, refreshing drinks; and the ability to adapt and adjust to the weather for everyone’s comfort.
To ensure clean air there are a few places to focus. The first is to green up your Tiki torches with vegetable-based biodegradable torch oil instead of the petroleum-based paraffin candles with citronella. You can also buy solar Tiki torches, but be sure to choose those with LED bulbs for brighter light and longevity. Biodegradable torch oil is available online and costs the same as paraffin, not including shipping. Traditional paraffin Tiki oil is not a renewable petroleum product that will also cause air pollution. If you need more light, invest in more solar garden lights.
Citronella candles can help reduce bugs, but choose a paraffin free alternative such as beeswax, and even hemp and soy citronella candles are now available. Check in health food stores and online. Research is showing that the best defense in the backyard is both citronella candles and a repellent to put on your skin. Look for pure essential-oil-based repellents with one or a combination of the essential oils of rose geranium, lemon, and eucalyptus.
Although most everyone uses gas powered outdoor grills, if you use coals, choose wood coals and start them using a chimney charcoal starter instead of lighter fluid which emits unhealthy gases. The chimney starters just require newspaper and a match.
For the long term, go organic for both lawn and garden in your backyard and then everyone can be safe – pets, kids and wildlife, especially birds and beneficial insect such as pollinators. The transition isn’t as hard as you would think and the peace of mind is worth it.
It is a special treat if you can serve fresh, local, farmers’ market fare at your barbeque, including meat and dairy from organic farms where animals are humanely raised and not given hormones and antibiotics. While shopping for food, try to find heirloom vegetable varieties, such as purple potatoes and unusual-looking tomatoes. The flavor tends to be more robust and the uniqueness is always a topic of conversation. Eggs from heirloom chickens are delicious, too, and the egg shells are pretty colors, such as blue. When buying prepared food it is worth taking a trip to a natural food store and buying additive-free and whole food. Consider making colorful fruit desserts with blueberries and strawberries and organic whip cream.
Reusable picnic ware is readily available and so much more appealing and eco-friendly than paper and plastic throwaways. Many companies now sell biodegradable throwaway dinnerware, an improvement but not ideal. You’ll want to avoid as much plastic as possible, and I’d prioritize eliminating plastic food and beverage containers or anything with which food comes in contact. Plastics leech into food, especially hot fatty food like cheese.
Colorful organic flowers are a special addition to any backyard party. Consider buying potted sunflowers for tables and plant them in the garden in the weeks after the event. If you have flowers growing in your garden, make a few fresh-cut flower bouquets.
Pay attention to what the weather will do. If it’s too hot people can quickly become dehydrated, so plan for adequate shade. For blocking both sun and heat, buy natural fiber umbrellas to put over tables and chairs. If it is really hot consider a large tent gazebo to block the sun (the rest of the summer it can offer you a mobile screened-in-sleeping porch!). Expect that your guests will come with their own sunscreen, but they’ll be expecting areas with shade.
Refresh your guests in more ways than one by offering drinks that are not laden with corn syrup, food dyes, sugar, and preservatives. Chilled organic lemonade served in glass bottles, beverages mixed with natural juices, organic wine and beer, all make a wonderful addition.
A fun and festive green barbeque will be more of an inspiration than a tedious example of politically correct behavior. My bet is people will gravitate to the experience and want it for themselves. Who doesn’t thrive when surrounded by clean air, clean water, healthy food and happy friends?
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