Fried shrimp on a bed of jasmine rice and a side of mango salad, all served on a styrofoam plate. Bottled water to wash it all down.
These trendy catering treats are unlikely to appear on the menu at parties sponsored by the Denver 2008 Host Committee during the Democratic National Convention this summer.
Fried foods are forbidden at the committee's 22 or so events, as is liquid served in individual plastic containers. Plates must be reusable, like china, recyclable or compostable. The food should be local, organic or both.
And caterers must provide foods in "at least three of the following five colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white," garnishes not included, according to a Request for Proposals, or RFP, distributed last week.
The shrimp-and-mango ensemble? All it's got is white, brown and orange, so it may not have the nutritional balance that generally comes from a multihued menu.
"Blue could be a challenge," joked Ed Janos, owner of Cook's Fresh Market in Denver. "All I can think of are blueberries."
The national nominating convention Aug. 25-28 will bring about 50,000 people to Denver, and many will scarf loads of chow served at catered parties.
The prospect of that business windfall has tantalized caterers since Denver was named host city for the convention more than a year ago.
Caterers praise the committee and the city for their green ambitions, but some say they're baffled by parts of the RFP.
"I think it's a great idea for our community and our environment. The question is, how practical is it?" asks Nick Agro, the owner of Whirled Peas Catering in Commerce City. "We all want to source locally, but we're in Colorado. The growing season is short. It's dry here. And I question the feasibility of that."
Agro's biggest worry is price. Using organic and local products hikes the costs.
"There is going to be sticker shock when those bids start coming in," he says. "I'll cook anything, but I've had clients who have approached me about all-organic menus, and then they see the organic stuff pretty much doubles your price."
The document, which applies only to the host committee's parties, came after months of work that involved discussions with caterers and event planners along the Front Range, says Parry Burnap, Denver's "greening" director.
Burnap is attached to the host committee full time for now; the committee works closely with the city but is a separate, nonprofit entity.
Thousands of other parties hosted by corporations, lobbying groups, individuals, nonprofits and more will happen in Denver during the convention, Burnap says. None of them is subject to the committee's green agenda.
The committee's effort to host eco-friendly events, she says, hinges on its determination not just to put on a smart convention but to transform Denver into a top-shelf green city.
"We are hoping that everything we are doing for greening (the convention) has some legacy value," she says.
The RFP, for example, will likely live on after the convention in a brochure the city will distribute widely to help guide local businesses interested in improving their green practices.
Burnap says taking the organic and local route may be more costly, but the committee thinks caterers will find ways to comply and still make a profit.
"It takes some creativity because some of these things are more expensive," she says. "But we're at the front end of a market shift."
Joanne Katz, owner of Three Tomatoes Catering in Denver, cheers the committee's environmental aspirations and is eager to get involved with the convention, but she wonders if some of the choices the committee is making are really green.
Compostable products, such as forks and knives made from corn starch, are often imported from Asia, delivered to the U.S. in fuel-consuming ships. But some U.S. products are made from recyclable pressed paper. Which decision is more environmentally sound?
"Customers are beginning to demand these things, and we don't have all of the information," she says. "And we are doing the best we can, one project at a time."
Burnap acknowledged that figuring out what is most green can be difficult.
"Maybe in 20 years, there will be better analysis for us to make better choices," she says. "One we are talking about now is, is it better to compost or to recycle? If you are using a cup for a beverage, is it better to be (plastic) and back in the materials stream, or compostable, biodegradable waste and go into the waste stream or compost? There are no definitive answers."
Composting for the convention hasn't been entirely figured out yet, she says.
Colorado has commercial composting companies, such as A1 Organics in Eaton, but the link between the composters and caterers hasn't been made.
The committee is working with other groups to develop a carbon-footprint "calculator" that will measure the environmental impact of each event and suggest an "offset" — a fee — that will go toward a fund helping to match carbon losses with carbon gains.
"That's a fun one," Burnap says. "If these event planners will calculate and offset, it will start to get the money flowing into the Colorado Carbon Fund, a fund that will reinvest in renewable energy here in Colorado."
Special Thanks to The Denver Post