On Thanksgiving, we stuff ourselves with turkey. For Easter, we boil eggs and snack on jelly beans. On Valentine’s Day, we give loved ones chocolate. So when Theresa Marquez, director of consumer affairs for the Organic Valley agricultural cooperative, contemplated how to broaden the appeal of Earth Day, she naturally thought of food.
Earth Day, she sensed, needed a traditional meal to gather folks around the table every year.
Organic Valley contacted Chefs Collaborative, a national network of more than 1,000 cooks whose shared goal is to promote sustainable cuisine by celebrating the joys of local and seasonal cooking. In 2003, the two organizations began what they hoped would grow into a national tradition, a way of honoring and celebrating our planet through food.
Around the country on Earth Day (April 22), people are invited to prepare special menus inspired by regional and seasonal organic ingredients. Marquez envisioned Earth Dinners as a celebratory way to help people slow down and appreciate how we nourish ourselves, each other and our planet.
Chef Claire Criscuolo loved the idea and happily picked up the tradition at her 30-year-old New Haven, Connecticut, restaurant, Claire’s Corner Copia, the oldest ongoing vegetarian restaurant in the United States. For Earth Day 2005, Criscuolo invited Yale University recycling director C.J. May and his family to attend a beautifully prepared organic dinner. “The entire evening was a joy,” Criscuolo says. In fact, it was so successful that Criscuolo has made bigger plans for Earth Dinner 2006. She intends to partner with a nonprofit organization to market the Earth Day dinner as a fundraising event. Guests will “buy” tables and the day’s proceeds will be shared with the nonprofit.
Claire's Corner Copia Earth Day Menu:
Cuban Black Bean Soup
Claire’s Corner Copia has served this popular soup for nearly 30 years. It’s tasty garnished with raw, chopped, organic red onion and a dollop of organic sour cream or crème fraîche. You should be able to find organic versions of all of these ingredients at your local health-food store.
Fettuccine in Creamy Mushroom and Tomato Sauce
Connecticut’s Franklin Farms, one of the country’s largest mushroom farms, provides a delicious, year-round selection of mushrooms to Claire’s Corner Copia. “Sometimes the mushroom forager brings us beautiful spring morels, which add a magical touch to this already delicious dish,” Criscuolo says. If you do get morels (even just five or six will do), wash them thoroughly as they tend to harbor tiny bugs, then chop and sauté them with the other mushrooms. Again, buying all organic ingredients is best.
Avocado, Tomato and Red Onion Salad
This beautiful, flavorful salad is loaded with antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A and C, and fiber—a real powerhouse of nutrition. Find all-organic ingredients at health-food stores.
Lemon Mousse with Fresh Berries
Rich and smooth, this wonderful dessert is also quick and easy. The bright lemon flavor of fresh organic ingredients is a perfect way to celebrate spring and Earth Day.
Dinner table games
Organic Valley and Chefs Collaborative members say they hope Earth Dinners will become as common in homes across America as chocolate bunnies and cranberry sauce. To promote the fun of sponsoring an Earth Dinner, Organic Valley introduced The Earth Dinner Deck, 50 creativity cards that include inspirational quotes, imaginative activities, storytelling prompts, interesting facts and thoughtful reflections about food. Diners take turns reading from the cards and following their directions.
“The important thing is to join together as citizens of the world and celebrate our earth,” says Jennifer Hall, executive director of Chefs Collaborative.
Start your own earth dinner tradition
• Plan your menu using as many locally grown, seasonal, organic and sustainably harvested ingredients as you can find. A potluck might be a good option.
• Use natural decorations as the centerpiece for your table: local wildflowers or potted herbs combined with natural textures, earthy colors and beeswax or soy-based candles.
• Invite a diverse guest list ranging in age from children to grandparents.
• Download your own deck of Earth Dinner creativity cards to stimulate conversation, laughter and reflection during your dinner.
• For recipes, go to visit Organic Valley Family of Farms.