Catering with a conscience

Providing organic and home-grown food can be costly and tricky.

Published April 22, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Brides are sending recyclable invitations and asking for charitable donations in lieu of gifts.

Event planners are adding bins for recycling aluminum and glass to their party checklists. Caterers are getting grilled about whether their food is homegrown.

It's about partying with a conscience, and it's catching on.

"I think there has been a lot more awareness in our society," said Amy Cress, executive director of the nonprofit I Do Foundation, where couples register to have guests donate to charities.

Since the foundation began five years ago, it has collected $2-million in donations, with half of that coming in 2006 alone.

So far, the green social scene has yet to take root in the St. Petersburg area.

Popular wedding locales and caterers say they have not been approached by clients interested in holding green events.

"I do realize it's a new kind of thing that a lot of people are thinking about these days," said Kathy Plautz, who recently purchased the Mansion House, an inn in St. Petersburg. "We have a lot of theme and destination weddings but not necessarily the green concept."

Phyllis Eig, a St. Petersburg event planner, said that when it comes to bridal tastes, environmental practices are not a consideration. "I think that we are a little behind the times here," she said.

This weekend, she is coordinating a wedding in which the bride is extremely environmentally conscious, having worked with marine scientists in several capacities. But the subject never came up during preparations for her big day.

"When it comes to a wedding, (brides think) 'I'm going to do what I want,' " Eig said.

One of the biggest obstacles to going green is cost. Organic catering is more expensive than traditional food service.

Orange Blossom Catering owner Ed Shamas says the cost of buying organic produce often is prohibitive. On top of that, it's tough to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Even roadside stands sell merchandise shipped to the area, he said. "If you were going directly to some farm to buy things or pick things yourself, you'd still have no control over the pesticides they use."

Gina Barnes, a partner and chef for Holway & Barnes catering, says she tries to be Earth friendly. She buys seafood from local markets, uses fresh ingredients and purchases chicken that has never ingested antibiotics. But, "it's not as easy as I would like," she said.

Bon Appetit, a catering franchise that serves Eckerd College and some private events, seems to be more successful than most. Its vegetables come from farms in Hillsborough and Manatee counties, the fresh oranges from Cee Bee's Citrus in Odessa. The chicken and turkey are untouched by hormones or antibiotics.

The same goes for ground chuck, which comes from grass-fed cattle and stock that munched on only vegetarian fare. Whole eggs are from free-range chickens. All sauces, salad dressings and soups are made from scratch, using no preservatives.

"We really do cook everything from scratch," said David Bateman, general manager of dining services with Bon Appetit Management Co., the college's food provisioner. "We do not make anything with trans fats or high-fructose syrup."

Produce grown and trucked from nearby usually is fresher and more flavorful than fruits and vegetables shipped from farther away, and less fuel is used in transporting it.

Bon Appetit is based in Palo Alto, Calif., where fruit and vegetables are grown and harvested year-round.

"In Florida, it's a bit more of a challenge," Bateman said. "In summertime, it's a dead zone."

Details can be tricky. He has ordered tofu from Miami only to find out that it had quite a journey: "from Miami to Atlanta back to Orlando and then Sarasota before it actually gets to us," he said.

Bateman is collaborating with Eckerd's sustainable campus task force to reduce the amount of food waste at the college. Throughout this month, the task force will measure the amount of waste weekly, with a goal of a 30 percent reduction.

"The first week, we threw out 2,200 pounds of food," Bateman said. "That was the benchmark."

The next, Eckerd students and staff exceeded the goal, decreasing waste by 12.5 percent.

The hope is to raise $1,500 for the Save Darfur campaign, which targets starvation and violence in the western Sudanese region.

The green scene

Learn about 'wedding emissions'

-Portovert, a magazine aimed at "eco-savvy brides and grooms," allows the nearly married to calculate their wedding emissions based on how many people are traveling to the wedding and the number of people invited.


Want your next event to be green?

-For weddings, have the ceremony and reception at the same location to avoid your guests' having to drive between the two.

-Consider buying vintage formal wear or get it from a resale clothing store. Choose a simple dress or suit that you can wear again.

-For invitations, use recycled invitations or ones that have seeds embedded in the paper that guests can plant.

-Use a caterer who will provide vegetarian and organic entrees.

-Rent real dinnerware to avoid using paper plates, napkins and plastic utensils.

-Use a florist that uses flowers from a local and/or organic farm. Also, use potted plants instead of cut flowers for centerpieces that can be given as gifts or enjoyed in your home.

-In lieu of gifts, solicit donations to your favorite environmental group.

-Hand out fluorescent bulbs or other environmentally conscious party favors, such as tree saplings or flower seeds.