• Colin Mclain

Make Your Next Picnic Sustainable

Updated: Jun 11

June 18th is an excellent opportunity to take time off of your busy schedules and round up your favorite people because next Friday is International Picnic Day! But, just what is IPD? Why should we celebrate it?


Although the origins of International Picnic Day are not known, it does not dampen its popularity as people in many countries enjoy a picnic, as they have for centuries! In fact, the word "picnic" appears to have two originations. One theory is that the word originated by combining the French verb piquer which means "to poke or stab" and the French noun nique, which means "a small amount". (It also translates to a very inappropriate word which I won't translate here on this family blog. You can look it up). The second etymological theory is from a French text that describes "a group of visitors dining in a restaurant who bring their own wine" (*how gauche*).


Instead, let's reflect a little bit on the whole identity of a picnic and what, exactly, you're supposed to do at one.


A Brief History of Picnics


Thomas Cole's - The Pic-Nic 1846

Initially, picnics were an aristocratic affair, mainly a pastime for those looking for something different during the summer months. These were elaborate traditions of moveable outdoor feasts, medieval hunting feasts, and Victorian garden parties. However, in fact, most picnics were indoor events, held in homes or other hosted places to accommodate large gatherings, including formal dancing and music. This continued until the French Revolution...ahem...*persuaded* the wealthy elite to leave for other locations across Europe, mainly to England.


With less money in their pockets, but eager to hold on to their past lives, former aristocrats introduced the idea of the pique-nique to the English middle class where they in turn took up the picnic mantle and made it more similar to what we are familiar with. Gone were the musicians and synchronized dances. Instead, the word picnic became synonymous with a simple meal, eaten outdoors, among a small group of friends.


As the decades continued on, the tradition moved on along with it...all the way to America where it has become a staple in summertime activities which have been reinforced through media and truly has continually been a part of the zeitgeist.


Picnic Planning


Yogi and Boo Boo may love to be invited to pic-a-nics, but you shouldn't feed wildlife on yours.

So, what do you do on International Picnic Day? Why, you go outside and eat with friends, of course! Organizing a picnic doesn't have to be a heavily scheduled event. Many people just choose to meet up and agree to bring something to share (like a potluck). But, if you're hoping to pull it off, having a loose plan will help. Here are some ideas:

  • Potluck! Make sure everyone who is able to bring something does. This not only spreads the burden of the costs around, it makes everyone feel better for playing a part.

  • Make sure activities are on the docket. These can be something as simple as throwing a ball around, hide and seek, swimming if you're at a beach, or, yes, consider possibly bringing a guitar for sing-a-longs. Those are just basic activities. You can go bigger!

  • Pack for the unplanned. Bring sunscreen, umbrellas, first-aid kits, or anything else that might put a damper on your day.

  • Location, location, location. Plan ahead to see what amenities are available at your planned picnic spot. Bathrooms might be necessary if you are holding a longer picnic. If it's a busy place, see if there are reservations necessary. For the most part, though, you don't need to reserve spaces at parks if you spread out away from other picnic parties.

If you're looking for a good local spot for a good local picnic, we did a little review of local parks and beaches a few years back. Try these locations and let us know what you thought.


Make Your Picnic Sustainable


Is this what you imagine when you hear the word "picnic"?. Art by Orangereebok

If you're planning to hold a picnic consider sloughing off the bad habits this tradition has picked up over the centuries. Apart from the stalwart, reusable wicker basket, a lot of staples of an established picnic lunch are less than green. Let's look at some things you can do to make a sustainable picnic:


  • Ditch the styrofoam plates. Pollution is a massive problem. Let's do our part to curb it during our picnic. There are reusable plastic plates you can grab. Buy once and use forever. If you can't do that, look for biodegradable, recycled paper plates. They'll decompose easily.

  • Shop Local. There's no better way to minimize your footprint than purchasing local. Buy from your farmers markets, from local producers, and food co-ops. You'll be helping keep your dollars in the community and helping the environment.

  • Show up together. Taking the similar car to the park/beach/forest will give you extra time to socialize. Encourage your family and friends to ride along with others when possible.

  • Leave it better than you found it. Hopefully, any leftover waste from your picnic will be minimal, however, if you do have trash, be sure to take it out with you. The thought of sharing leftover food with local wildlife may be tempting, it's discouraged as the act can have negative consequences.