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How to Host a Zero-Waste Holiday Dinner


It’s no secret in our home and among our friends: I love to host — parties, dinners, dinner parties, happy hours, anything that brings our loved ones together. 

I blame (READ: credit) my mother. She was the consummate hostess, and I have very fond memories of constant parties at our house — in every season.

*In the summer, she hosted neighborhood picnics and potato sack races in our backyard!

*At Christmastime, she hosted holiday parties and even arranged visits from Santa!

*In the spring, she hosted brunch and Easter egg hunts.

*And I have oodles of photos of my mother in every Halloween costume imaginable as she this holiday very seriously.

She loved bringing people together, and I just wish I could tell her how much she inspired this quality in me — without even realizing it.   

And so this Thanksgiving, eight of us will sit down to dinner together, and in keeping with my intention to live “zero waste,” I thought I’d share with you how I’m able host dinner without buying any “stuff.” Now, for me the term “zero waste” is aspirational rather than rigid. No one is truly zero waste, but for me it means:

  • valuing what I choose to bring into (or already have in) my life/home
  • giving away or refusing what I don’t or can’t value/use
  • taking responsibility for whatever goods I do bring into my life/home
  • avoiding single-use plastic/plastic packaging as much as possible

With that as my guide, it’s very easy to look around my home and see what I already have that can be used for decorating and table-scaping.

THE TABLE

I have had the same couple sets of plates for decades — and one in particular is perfect for fall and winter.  I let the season, my mood, and the light dictate the decor, and this year…it’s  warm greens and browns. 😊

–>CENTERPIECE: This beautiful stag is our year-round centerpiece,  because…deer! But for the Thanksgiving dinner, I added height by propping him up on a cake stand and created a bed or rosemary for him to stand on. 

–>ELEMENTS FROM NATURE: On that note, I use a lot of natural materials whatever the season — going outside and gathering leaves, pinecones, flowers, branches — and in this case, cutting rosemary from the numerous rosemary plants we have.

–>NAPKINS & TABLECLOTHS: We use cloth napkins every day as a matter of course, and of the yellow, brown, and green ones we rotate, the brown seemed perfect for this table. I’ve had these leaf napkin rings for eons, and they’re perfect for fall and winter. I have a few different runners for the table, but I don’t tend to like to use placemats. I find it’s just easier to wipe the table than wash table linens. That’s just me.

–>PLACE SETTINGS: I wanted to personalize the place settings, which also makes it easier for everyone to know where to sit, so I printed out everyone’s names on cardstock — using paper I already had and ribbon and string I picked from my “gift-wrap” drawer. I also pulled out these little bud vases, which you can easily find these in thrift and second-hand shops. Or, alternatively you could just tie the rosemary together and lay down on the plate.

–>CHAIRS: As we have only 6 chairs for our small dining room table, instead of buying additional chairs, we borrowed 2 from a neighbor.

THE FOOD

Even though we’re hosting, our friends are also contributing dishes (such as  bread stuffing, green bean casserole, mushroom gravy, salads, pumpkin pie, and apple cobbler. I, however, am in charge of the main dish and some sides:

Oh, and cranberry sauce. Here’s a confession. My husband loves the cranberry sauce from a can, which actually works out well from a zero-waste perspective. As I said, it’s not that zero waste dictates we don’t buy anything; it means we take responsibility for what we do buy.

(SIDE NOTE: Because glass and aluminum are both materials that still have a value in the marketplace and are thus recycled again and again and again (unlike plastic, which is either NOT recycled or able to be recycled only once or twice before losing quality and thus being sent to the landfill). Plus, most plastic is just packaging and just goes straight to the landfill. Listen to my podcast episodes on this topic in Food for Thought.)

–>That means if I have the choice of buying something in a glass container, aluminum can, or plastic container, I’m going to choose glass first (because I wash and keep the bottle/jar), aluminum second (it gets properly recycled), and never plastic (if I can avoid it). 

–>Because I wanted to add corn kernels to my cornbread and because David wanted cranberry sauce, I was able to find each in a can. (Corn on the cob is not in season right now.)  In the past, I used to buy corn and cranberries (to make fresh sauce) in the frozen section in a plastic bag. Being mindful of packaging now, I would rather buy in aluminum cans. Hence…

–>Everything I needed for my lentil loaf was already in my cupboard and had been bought in bulk (lentils, herbs, onions, etc.), but we had just bought walnuts that David cracked open as his contribution to dinner. 🙂 

 

–>The milk for my cornbread (and potatoes) came was homemade soymilk using my 2nd-hand soymilk maker and dried/soaked soybeans. 

–>The flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda all came from the bulk sections of my local grocery store, and Miyoko’s butter actually comes in paper packaging that I can compost.

–>As for my carrot soup, I’m thrilled to have found a few grocery stores in my neighborhood that sell carrots in bulk — meaning NOT in plastic bags! Yellow potatoes are also easy to find not in plastic (especially at the farmers market but also in stores, as are ginger and garlic (the other ingredients for the soup). 

–>We also serve wine and spirits, all of which are in glass and thus recyclable. 

–>Finally, all of our food scraps are added to our own compost bins OR to our city’s green bins (Oakland has a robust compost program). 40% of food brought into our homes goes straight into the garbage (and thus the landfill), causing additional problems such as the creation of greenhouse gases. (Listen to my podcast episode Food is Not Garbage for more on food waste.)

And so there you have it. It’s not about being perfect, but it is about doing the best we can. Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything. 

Happy holidays!

What are your favorite zero-waste tips for decor, tablescaping, and cooking? PLEASE ADD YOUR COMMENTS BELOW!

 

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