Today there was a potluck lunch at play group. It was the kind I like best, with no sign-up list, so you never know if there will be a ton of desserts and hardly any mains, or the other way around. It gives the potluck an element of suspense (who would have thought?!) while highlighting the fact that the lunch isn’t even about the food so much as it is an excuse to eat with great people. My quinoa salad fit in nicely and was all gone when I picked up my bowl; that’s a good sign.
I’ve been going to potlucks since before I can remember. There were church potlucks, mostly, and the occasional community potluck dinner at the rec centre, potluck parties at summer cottages around the lake, and potluck dinners at my parents’ house on a regular basis. Funny thing is, I could always sniff out my mother’s dish at any potluck table because hers was the weirdest, strangest concoction of them all. I’ll never forget the time she made “Sri Wasano’s Infamous Indonesian Rice Salad” from the Moosewood Cookbook and took it to the church’s Seder supper. No one touched it, with its stringy alfalfa sprouts, crunchy water chestnuts, and strange brown appearance. All the way home she wondered why no one had eaten it; I knew — because, like me, they were inhaling the frozen Delissio pizza slices at the other end of the table, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her.
My tastes have changed since then. Now I love to peek at the various dishes and try other people’s cooking. I get ideas there; for instance, now I really want to make an apple crisp and a multi-layer Mexican dip for nachos because both of those were so yummy today. Most of all, I love how a disorganized potluck always seems to work; it’s a metaphor for society, in which every person contributes in whatever way they can, some big and some small, but it’s all there and it’s equally important to creating the spread.
But the very best and most important thing is the symbolic gesture of having a potluck because it builds community like nothing else can. It strengthens the bonds between families in this town, encourages conversation, promotes understanding, teaches us to enjoy each other’s company. We get to know and recognize the kids, who belongs to who, and learn interesting connections within the group.
Building a sense of community, I sincerely believe, is key to security, safety, and awareness in the world today. I’ve read about studies showing that having neighbours who interact and talk are far safer for children than neighbourhoods with advanced security technology, walls, cameras, and alarms. Feeling a sense of connection is what makes me feel safe in this town. Of course, I don’t naively believe that nothing can ever happen, but knowing that everywhere my children go, there’s always someone who knows who they are, who I am, where we live, and what kind of people we are is greatly reassuring. My child could accidentally wander away and I have no doubt someone would find him and help him home.
The other tougher but equally important part of building community is knowing when someone is troubled. Please excuse the generalizations, but killers are often loners, unsupported by anyone, lost in their madness with no one to detect what’s wrong. If neighbours considered it a responsibility to look out for the wellbeing of those around them, and encouraged certain individuals to seek help when needed, I wonder if some tragedies could be avoided.
So, here’s to having more community potlucks for the many benefits they offer us — not least of which is not having to make lunch when I get home!