Earth Day and Eating Out(side)

posted in: Ruminations | 5

Since going green has become the hot new scene, there’s probably one place to check out the best action this spring and summer: public parks. As cities nationwide prepare for their biggest brouhaha over Earth Day in years, it almost feels like the upcoming weekend before Tuesday, April 22 were a genuine holiday weekend.

One of the best Earth Day promotions I’ve heard about so far: Whole Foods is phasing out plastic bags throughout their stores by Earth Day 2008. The catch is, they’ll still offer recycled brown paper bags to shoppers who’ve come in (totally clueless!) without a shopping bag of their own. The paper bags are, of course, recyclable, and even if they do make up a considerable amount of waste yet, my take is that by banning the plastic bags, Whole Foods is making a bold step by telling the consumer how they should or shouldn’t shop. It’s a fresh example, in a world where the customer is always right, and I hope that other retailers might soon follow.

Also on April 22, I’m told that the first 250 customers who walk in the door at any of Fairway Market‘s four locations will receive a reusable Fairway shopping bag and dozens of coupons and samples of eco-friendly foods, cleaning supplies and skincare. And let’s not forget that Trader Joe‘s has been encouraging customers to bring their own bag for some time by handing out raffle tickets when you don’t ask for a bag. The monthly raffle winners earn discounts or store credit. (I’ve never won, though, so perhaps I’m miffed.)

You might notice a couple NYC events in the “Today’s Specials” sidebar to the right, but check out the New York City Parks Department website for more outdoor events, or go to EarthFair 2008. As for me, I’m hoping to find time to take it easy just by being outside and enjoying the fine weather we should have. Educational workshops and recycling events aside, it’s a good time to eat out(side).

Lots of people find eating in public parks inherently off-putting: dirt, no dishwashers, and the classic picnic threat, ants. But the allure of al fresco dining without the infuriating wait you’ve probably come to expect at your favorite restaurant is entirely awesome in its own right. Eating outdoors beats just about anywhere else, if you ask me. To alleviate the differences between the two (restaurants and patches of grass), I thought I’d share some tips on picnicking essentials so that you can have your cake and eat it outdoors, too.

The Bag: Along with standard totes there’s now inexpensive insulated totes of all sizes sold at stores like those mentioned above. You can also gear up in a traditional (if unwieldy) picnic basket, or a similarly clunky cooler. But as long as you aren’t set on bringing something piping hot or icy cold, you might be better off bringing a bag you won’t feel awkward carrying around the rest of the day, or that folds down to something you can pack inside another bag. I prefer foldable ones with a flat, reinforced bottom that allow things to stack up a little straighter. Expandable fabric coolers or picnic bags are pretty great, since you can smush them down once you’re finished eating to a more streamlined bag.

Camping/Military Canteens: They look so much better than bright, dorky thermoses it’s quite a revelation in drink”wear.” You can strap them around your body like a rugged warrior, they’re cheap as chips, and most have a double-walled construction that keeps drinks cool while preventing condensation from getting all your stuff wet. Granted, many other types of thermoses share these latter features, Crayola-box colored and plasticky as they may be. (Hidden bonus: non-clear insulated canteens and thermoses like these are great for sneaking chilled whites outdoors for some seriously delightful garden partying.) Meanwhile, Nalgene and Brita have launched a campaign urging folks to reduce plastic water bottle waste (of course, by using their products), and who can argue? Disposable bottles are the enemy.

Newspaper: If you don’t feel like lugging around huge pieces of Tupperware and then carrying the dirty ones back home, consider newspaper for some types of food. I know it sounds a little inky and icky, but hey, it worked for fish ‘n chips. Newspapers should do the trick for sandwiches if you know how to fold. Plus, I’ve been hearing that some haute restaurants have taken to nodding to the British convention by adorning their small plates with kitschy global papers, or making cones for French fries of the stuff anyway. Arts and crafts!

Blankie: This is definitely a must if you want to sit outside for a long period of time and not worry about grass stains, mud, and feel like an 18th-century pastoral. Think a near see-through lightweight cotton throw that’s big enough to fit more people than you need. Then again, getting all close and cramped together can be fun. Try also using the blanket you plan on spreading on the grass to tie up some of your food, like loaves of bread, fruit and other stuff that won’t get the cloth dirty. Whatever the use, you can probably find a way to kill two birds with the same stone by using the blanket as a food wrapper, turban or impromptu toga.

Frisbee: I haven’t exactly tried this one out yet, but frisbees and plates… they’re about the same exact size and shape. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Assuming there’s a water fountain or stream to rinse them after eating off one, who’s to say you can’t have THE ultimate frisbee picnic?

5 Responses

  1. Pat

    Hello! I’m glad to have found your blog as I am an other Brooklyn blogger and I love to cook. I do not blog often about food or recipes, but I actually have a tripe soup recipe in my archives 🙂

    Nice Earth Day suggestions!


  2. Yvo

    Oh you know what’s also good? You kind of touched on it but BYO/Built NY makes a ton of great insulated bags for lunches and even wine cozies or six pack holders… 😉 although I guess that begs the question “it’s not legal to drink in parks” … darn!

  3. Natalie Hudson


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    Then she caught sight of him standing across thee street.

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