Eat, drink and be eco-friendly

Having an environmental conscience at this time of year isn’t easy. Here are a few ways to party hard and ease up on the planet.

illustration Gillian MacLeod

Ah, Christmas: "tis the season for conspicuous consumption. Environmental principals begone—let's go shopping!

But baby Jesus wasn't born so you could make a mess of the planet! From bird-strangling tinsel to garbage bags filled with shiny paper and plastic bows, does waste really need to be a prerequisite for the holidays? Your annual holiday party is a good place to start cleaning up your act. There are plenty of ways to throw a smokin' bash without leaving a trail of yuletide destruction in your wake.

From natural decorations to re-usable glasses and local brew, here are a few tips to ensure your holiday party is as green as Christmas morning—thanks to global warming—is bound to be!

InvitationsHere's an easy place to start: Forget sending cute party invites—or cards, for that matter—in the mail. This is the digital era, baby! Send your invitations and greetings by email or through Facebook—not only will you save on paper, you won't have to buy all those pesky stamps. Include detailed transit instructions with your party invites. Also encourage your guests to walk, bike or carpool to the party or make sure they have a designated driver. An added bonus: less drunk driving on the way home.

Party prepJust because you're expecting a big crowd doesn't mean you get to shed your environmental principals and turn to disposable plates, glasses and cutlery. Plastic cups just aren't classy—not even the ones that look like wine glasses.

Why not rent a flat or two of real wine glasses? Renting a dozen glasses from MacFarlands (453-0110 or visit will only set you back $6 (or if you want to get fancy with martini glasses or champagne flutes, you're looking at $12 a dozen). For an extra fee, you can even have them delivered. (Though that does raise the question of whether the CO2 emissions are worth it. Party planning just got that much more complicated!) While you're at it, why not lease extra plates ($6.60/dozen) or cutlery ($3.60/dozen)—the company can even supply ice buckets or serving dishes. And as Megan Barss of MacFarlands says, "the nice thing about renting dishware is that we do the dishes!"

If you really must use disposable products look for the greenest items you can find. Planet Organic sells single-use wooden cutlery by WUN that's biodegradable and composts in about five months. It's made of waste-stock birch and aspen timber and sells for $5.69 for a box of twelve pieces. Look for chlorine-free unbleached paper plates by 7th Generation ($6.99 for 40) or Earth Safe ($2.99 for 15). Ideally, you should forgo the paper napkins printed with cutesy holiday prints in favour of re-usable cloth napkins. But again, if you must go disposable, look for 100 percent recycled paper (Cascade makes "em: $4.49 for 250 at Planet Organic). And avoid serving food or drinks that require toothpicks or straws—and those little umbrellas?

Yeah...forget about them.

FoodNothing ensures party success better than a spread of fabulous food. The best way to stay environmentally responsible is to serve locally sourced fare—not only will you be supporting local producers, but your food will be freed from having to make the long, fossil-fuel-burning journey to your plate. Places such as the Halifax Farmers' Market and Home Grown Organics are perfect places for stocking up on local food—even in the winter, there are plenty of tasty options that will make for great party snacking. Look for cookbooks that promote in-season eating to find some creative recipes. Locally made dips, breads and cheeses will have your guests eagerly congregating around the food table.

If you'd rather have your shindig catered, call on Terroir local-source catering. Owner Sean Gallagher set up shop three years ago. Catering with a twist, his menus roll with the season, depending on what is available. "I wanted to show people all the amazing stuff you can do with local ingredients," says Gallagher, who caters everything from simple parties to fancy functions. "I want to show people how blessed we are." Contact Gallagher by email at

Drinking Fortunately for us, there's plenty of fabulous local wine, beer and spirits we can turn to when it comes to environmentally responsible partying. Local breweries Propeller ( and Garrison ( both make a range of tasty brews using all-natural ingredients, right here in Halifax. A great green-party-option is to pick up a Growler: each 1.89 litre glass jug (almost equivalent to a six-pack) is refillable at $8 a pop after you've paid your $8 deposit. You'll be creating less waste because the jugs are cleaned and re-used over and over again. Propeller's tasty line of all-natural sodas—

including cream soda, ginger beer and root beer—are another great option to have on hand at your party. The designated driver will certainly thank you.

"Shipping wine around the world when there is beautiful wine available right here makes no sense," says Hans Christian Jost, of Jost Vineyards in Malagash, Nova Scotia. From the Sainte Famille winery in the Avon River valley, to Domaine de Grand Pr<0x00E9> and the Blomidon Estate winery, there is a whole range of excellent Nova Scotian wines which are a great option for holiday entertaining. Sample them at the Halifax Farmers' Market or pick up a bottle at your local NSLC.

If you're after something stronger, try whisky from the Glenora Distillers in Glenville, Inverness County—they make the award-winning Glen Breton Rare, Canada's only single-malt whisky. As Bob Scott, executive vice president of the company, says, "You're drinking the spirit of Nova Scotia."

Decorating While Christmas may not be Christmas without a tree, remember that not all yuletide greenery was created equal. Skip the pesticide-laden trees from the grocery store parking lot in favour of an organic tree from the Ecology Action Centre. Grown in Lunenberg County, the trees are FSC certified (meaning they've been sustainably grown) and won't bring toxins into your home. Order one from the EAC's booth at the Halifax Farmers' Market or by calling 429-2202. A six- to eight-feet-tall tree will set you back $27—taller than that and they're $30. Buying a living tree with roots intact is another great green option. That way you can plant it in your garden in the spring. Alternatively, try decorating a substantial house plant: Nothing says holiday like a bauble-laden palm tree. And when it comes to decorating, skip the tinsel and string your tree with popcorn and cranberry garlands instead. They'll look all down-home pretty and you can feed the birds with "em later.

No holiday party would be complete without twinkling lights—just make sure yours aren't energy hogs. LED lights are your best bet when it comes to decorating. A string of 35 lights uses only two watts of electricity while the old-school incandescent ones you still see strung up on front porches suck up seven watts of electricity per bulb! LED lights come in lots of bright, festive colours and they last 100 times longer than traditional bulbs.

Let there be light, indeed!

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