Potluck – Friendsgiving
The saddest potluck I ever attended was in a Yaletown condo in Vancouver. The hosts had contributed a tablecloth and a stack of plastic glasses; my friend brought a bag of taco chips; and I, somewhat showing my age, brought shrimp cheese puffs (they have a creampuff base if you’re interested). Otherwise, there was no food and hardly any alcohol.
Friendsgiving[i] potlucks seem to be the current generation’s answer to Thanksgiving and they could pave the way for a resurgence of potlucks. The popular food blog, The Kitchn, offers ten rules for hosting and/or attending a Friendsgiving potluck. These include having an online sign-up sheet; requiring the host to cook the turkey but providing vegetarian/vegan options; bringing a gift for the host even though you are also contributing food; having a fully set table; not critiquing anyone else’s food or feeling sad if one’s own potluck dish remains uneaten – very practical rules for any potluck[ii].
The word “potluck” was first used in 1592 in the sense of “a regular meal made available to a guest for whom no special preparations have been made”[iii]. In that context, the unfortunate Yaletown potluck was just fulfilling the definition. Potlucks have come to mean food that is intended to be collectively shared – or in my favourite definition, “whatever is offered or available in given circumstances or at a given time”.
All potlucks require confidence in the food handling habits of the cooks, transporters and servers. The Kitchn suggests that it is bad manners to turn up at a potluck with ingredients for a recipe that requires two pots to cook in and a preheated oven. Better to make a quick trip to a deli on the way to the potluck.
In the early days of pioneer picnicking, food poisoning stories abounded. “Leaves of Yesteryear: A History of the Bon Accord District” relates the following incident:
“Many will remember the Yeomen Picnic that was held in 1916 as a near disaster as most of the people attending got ptomaine poisoning. The cause of the trouble was never determined and while there were no deaths, there were a lot of very sick people well into the next day” (Chubb & Milligan, 1968, p. 177)[iv].
Whatever or whenever we celebrate, it’s worth remembering the value of food and company and being grateful for small graces in life.
[iv] Chubb, J. & Milligan, H. (1968). Leaves of Yesteryear: A History of the Bon Accord District. FWUA: Author.