Fireworks! The 1812 Overture (skip to the end for the cannon fire)! Eagles! 'Murica! That's right, the Fourth of July is here, in all of its red, white and blue glory. Planning a cookout or a picnic to celebrate our country's independence day? Looking for patriotic menu ideas that are both sustainable and delicious? Don't worry - we've got you covered. From burgers to ice cream to American flag-shaped food (our personal favorites), we're here to help you make this your best Fourth of July yet.
Sustainable Burgers and Hotdogs
A Fourth of July celebration without burgers and hotdogs is almost un-American, right? But industrial production of the beef and pork your burgers and 'dogs are made out of has some issues, including serious problems with animal welfare, waste management and an overreliance on antibiotics.
To up your cookout game, here are some sustainable and delicious burger and hotdog ideas:
- Choose grass-fed beef for those burgers and 'dogs. We give you the case for grass-fed burgers and hotdogs in our Real Food Right Now posts on the subjects - but the bottom line is that grass-fed is better for the animals and for you.
- Take a page from the culinary geniuses at the James Beard Foundation's Better Burger Project and try mixing finely chopped mushrooms in with your grass-fed meat before you grill 'em up. You'll up the juiciness factor and add nutrients, reduce fat and calories and maybe even save money.
- Grill veggie burgers (gasp!) instead. Who says that the Fourth has to be meat-centric? Looks like these Chickpea Burgers grill up like a dream, or check out these delicious-looking vegan burgers.
- Need some conversation starters to go with your burgers? Bone up on the history of ketchup and wow your guests with your deep knowledge of American condiments.
Check out more sustainable grilling tips over here.
Gas vs. Charcoal: Which is Greener?
Which grilling method is greener: gas or charcoal? As Brendan Koerner over at Slate explains, gas is the better choice if you are worried about carbon emissions. Charcoal spews almost double the amount of carbon into the air as gas. But the true environmental cost of grilling isn't so clear-cut. Unlike briquettes, which are mostly made from wood byproducts of the papermaking industry, natural gas is a non-renewable resource. Muddying the waters even more, Keorner notes that lump charcoal is worse than briquettes because it may come from trees that are cut down expressly for use in your grill. But wait! There's more (confusion): the energy and water it takes to form briquettes into those neat little pillows and their additives, like sodium nitrate, may tip the eco-friendly scales towards gas, after all. If you do decide to go with charcoal, be sure to use a chimney starter instead of lighter fluid.
Sometimes the sides are the best part of a cookout or picnic. Your sustainably minded shindig will be tops with sides focused on local, seasonal staples.
Here are a few ideas to make your sides special:
- What's a picnic without potato salad? We've got a couple of good ones to choose from that are far from run-of-the-mill: this green bean potato salad or this potato salad with sorrel yogurt puree and bacon.
- You can't forget tomatoes and corn, both of which we think are the quintessential veggies of summer. Try this Heirloom Tomato, Peach and Fresh Herb Salad, and here are some tips (with recipes) for grilling corn on the cob.
Desserts at an Independence Day celebration must be in the shape of the Stars-and-Stripes - it's mandatory. There is a surprising amount of food shaped like Old Glory out there in social media land, but we've curated the best of the best - no red dye #5 or blue food coloring necessary:
- Sticking to healthful eats for the Fourth? Try a star spangled patriotic fruit salad made with summery watermelon.
- These stunning red, white and blue popsiclesare made with just fruit and yogurt.
- Are you team #Pie or team #Cake? Either way, show your love of country by making this stars-and-stripes pie with seasonal cherries and blueberries, or go for Ina Garten's Flag Cake, topped with cream cheese buttercream, blueberries and raspberries. (Team #Cake all the way!)
Supporting local farmers is your patriotic duty - so get out there, America, and make some delicious, sustainable, flag-shaped food!
Happy Fourth of July from all of us at Ecocentric!
This post was originally published in June 2015.