Chattering Mind

Chattering Mind

Let Them Drink Coke

Boy, planning a party for about 125 people to celebrate my eldest son’s bar mitzvah is a delight, but also somewhat stressful. As host, I want to inspire generous fun but I also want to stay reasonably green, a steward of the planet.

Plates made of recycled paper, cutlery that can be reused and washed, free-range chicken cutlets instead of the meat of a bird that’s been confined its whole life–these things sound great. But in reality, free-range chicken causes the chicken bill to rise 33 percent. What would you do?


Then the recycled paper plate company charges more for its products. I’m willing to take the hit on that. Can I deprive the bar mitzvah boy of the neon blinking magnets he so desperately wants? They serve as cute little strobe lights on the dance floor when pinned to a shirt collar or lapel. (Click on that link, it’s an environmentalist’s worst nightmare, you’ll be disgusted.). No doubt the few lights we’ve purchased will soon be sitting in a landfill, so perhaps this becomes a great “teaching moment” for us on waste and global warming.

Coca-cola. Not an issue for some, but a huge one for me. Why serve kids something containing caffeine and the worst kind of corn syrup when it will just get them all hopped up? Is Coke something you really want your kids to associate with any festive celebration? Does Coke “make” the party?


Then diet colas, aaargh! Do I have to serve them? The jury is still out on the health consequences of regularly ingesting artificial sweeteners. So I told the caterer I’d serve domestically manufactured seltzer (having cut the imported mineral waters) to the people who drink diet soda, and that Diet Coke should not be purchased. Then, when reviewing plans with my older sister, she said, “Oh Amy, you’ve got to serve Diet Coke! A lot of women expect it.”

“Well, they should stop expecting it,” said I, “I think it’s bad for them. I’ll serve them seltzer with a splash of pomegranate juice and slice of lime.”


“You HAVE to make your guests comfortable. You’re not in the business of teaching people lessons here.”

It’s so miraculous how the older sister fills the high heels of the matriarch now that Mom is dead.

I am serving bio-dynamic organic wines. I’m taking my stand for the vineyard workers (who suffer all manner of health problems from the chemicals sprayed in conventional vineyards). Bio-dynamic wines can be harder to find, but they are not that much more expensive, and to me, they have a spiritual dimension since the vineyards are planted on a lunar schedule. Read about them in the link above. These wines are really remarkable.


If I were a vegan or a vegetarian, I’m imagining the menu planning stress might be even greater. I’ve got to assemble a menu that will first, please the bar mitzvah boy (since it is his party), and then allow for plenty of vegetarian selections. But I will serve meat.

I would delight in hearing from you regarding any of these choices. When entertaining others, where do you draw your lines? And when do you chuck your soapbox?

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posted May 9, 2007 at 2:19 am

I say, be bold and let your party reflect your values. No diet coke! You’re giving people a gift when you refuse to enable their addictions. Exposing people to different ways of eating, drinking, and living can turn on light bulbs. I’m grateful to people who exposed me to healthy new things. As long as there are lovely, delicious, from-the-heart offerings, nearly everyone will be happy and appreciative.

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posted May 9, 2007 at 4:11 am

Oh how funny — I have the opposite reaction to your post. You sound like the choices of conscience are making you feel preachy. Be a gracious hostess mom, stock as a caterer would for the crowd. All that said, I do avoid serving caffeine to young teens, its a drug, and with so many kids on stimulant meds… “recipe for disaster?”

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A Cunningham

posted May 9, 2007 at 4:13 am

Thanks guys, your thoughts are extremely helpful. –CM

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posted May 9, 2007 at 4:56 pm

i say serve what you like. we don’t drink sodas of any kind, or anything with HFCS, and people seem to do fine with the beverage choices at our parties. i think folks can live for a few hours without diet coke!

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posted May 10, 2007 at 4:25 am

Lorraine suggests stocking as a caterer would. I agree: A whole foods caterer!

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posted May 10, 2007 at 1:36 pm

An interesting post. As a food professional, I can tell you that these are issues that environment-minded chefs and restaurateurs struggle with all the time. For them, it boils down to what they can and can’t afford. They may want to serve local grass-fed steak only, but if the customer isn’t buying because its taste and texture are unfamiliar, what are they supposed to do–martyr their careers and livelihoods? And if customers expect heavy-duty plastic takeout containers, well… they expect them. They’ve paid a lot a money for a beautiful meal, and they feel they have a right to leftovers that will make it home intact. What’s the maitre d’ supposed to do, talk them out of that conviction? Not if he wants them to ever come back! You, likewise, can’t “afford” to alienate your guests and (most important) you son on this important day. As hostess, your priority is to make everyone feel welcome and cared for. But you’re not letting go of your principles. The water will be offered alongside the Coke (you’re allowed to mention that it’s local), and people will notice the thoughtful selection of sustainably-produced wine. These choices, because they’re not imposed on guests, will influence them more in the long run. You’re sharing your beliefs in a generous and non-confrontational sort of way; who could possibly be offended?(However–I must note–Chez Panisse has fired an opening salvo in the war against imported bottled water. They’re refusing to pour anything but local tap water! Bravo! But they can afford to take a stand, of course. The people who go there WANT politics on a plate, by and large. I’ll bet customers were even complaining about the Pellegrino.)

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posted May 10, 2007 at 2:49 pm

For some reason or other, I couldn’t post a comment yesterday. That happens from time to time here. Anyway, I agree wholeheartedly with Laura’s comment. I think you should offer choices to your guests w/o imposing your choices on them. If your the hostess, don’t you want to make all your guests comfortable and welcome? If they want to drink coke, let them drink coke. Barb

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Myra Klockenbrink

posted May 10, 2007 at 5:01 pm

I say with every food dollar we spend we cast a vote. If we want our world to change we have to vote to bring about that change. If you believe soda is pernicous to people’s health (and it is) don’t serve it. If free-range chicken costs too much think of a way of serving it that reduces the amount to save you that extra 33% – maybe it can be grilled and sliced and added to some exotic greens, herbs and a ground pumpin seed vinaigrette or somesuch. Although it’s a matter of personal style, I would vote in favor of advertising your choices by way of the menu. And then say NOTHING. (The recycled flatware is simply a way of being a responsbile consumer.) Let your choices speak for themselves. Spend your time instead enjoying yourself and making everyone feel welcome.

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posted May 10, 2007 at 5:23 pm

the most important thing to remember about a great party is that it is a celebration shared together with friends and family…this is what makes it special… The food – wine – beverages — music are bonus– by the way the food is going to be fabulous! For these special times and memorable moments remember who the guest of honor is…and what it is that will make him happy –after all the party is for him…however as a mom– you are paying the bill and additionally want to set the tone by making decisions about what you want to serve from a green point of view — i applaud you for this…The free range chicken will be more expensive — but its gonna taste better.. There is nothing wrong with offering an alternative selection of beverages plus the standards for the kids–after all it is one day and he is with his friends and wants to be cool–there is something about having a coke that is cool—my son feels so special when he gets soda at special occasions. We went through this for his party– we served Mexican sodas– with lots of sugar and fresh lemonade. I am sure on a regular basis you offer alternative beverages choices at home…so offer a variety of alternative choices for the party — that incorporates your values—but also gives your son what he wants…from your caterer

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Julie S

posted May 10, 2007 at 10:17 pm

I think we need to have alittle balance in life. People get to radical! An occassional Coke isnt going to kill anyone and personally I love the stuff.I never let my kids drink it when they were growing up unless it was at a special event and I am happy to say now that they are adults they rarely ever have a coke. They usually choose water or sports drinks. Dont you think when you make thinks too taboo, kids want to gravitate towards it more sometimes?

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Myra Klockenbrink

posted May 11, 2007 at 7:31 pm

I do agree with Julie, though I think so-called soft drinks are tantamount to poison. Making foods taboo does incite battles over control, especially when it comes to food. Parents have to educate their children about the dangers of these foods, not keep them in the house, and walk their talk by not drinking them themselves. After that, parents need to let go and not lecture over poor food choices. It just makes kids dig in and tune out. If there is a culture of healthy food in the home and children are involved in menu planning and food preparation, they will be better armed to reisist the siren song of social pressures their life long. See-those pressure don’t stop with the teenage years. :) Myra

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posted May 11, 2007 at 7:57 pm

I didn’t realize until now how much I hate soft drinks and the hold they have on people. I work in a hospital and see the effect of unhealthy food choices. Heart disease, diabetes and obesity…all mostly preventable by eliminating saturated fat and sugar. Our “treats” have become staples. Our addiction to them causes enormous suffering and early death.

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posted May 11, 2007 at 10:43 pm

Having a diet coke at a party isn’t going to cause diabetes. Everything in moderation …. including moderation!

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posted May 16, 2007 at 1:16 am

I’ve just got to have the last word, here: BAN the CAN! Ah, sweet.

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