Posted on June 24th, 2013
I am very good at eating, and I don’t mean this in the joking sense of, “I eat a lot.” I neither want nor need to excuse my constant snacking, second helpings, or late night desserts. When I say that I am very good at eating I mean it in the traditional sense. Food – cooking and eating – is a part of my life that I devote time, skill, and artistry to; and I don’t go it alone. I have a pack of epicurious friends, a scullery support group, a guild of craft eaters: Tuesday Night Potluck.
It began, as so many things do, with discontent. We were all busy, feeling isolated, and were looking for a way to be together more. “Let’s try and have a meal together every week,” someone said. We chose Tuesday as the most commonly convenient day and made only one rule: show up and eat. No planning, no pressure, and so much butter. We did it, then we did it again, and to the surprise of even ourselves in a culture that tells us we – Generation Y-ers – don’t follow through with things, it worked. People came, people brought food, and people ate. Potluck soon became its own entity, whispers of it spreading through our various networks and invitations to join recieved as I imagine a request to tea with the Queen would be; “Really? I mean, yes! Oh gosh, what should I bring? I have to make a good first impression.” Some weeks I plan ahead, prepping and cooking for hours, while other weeks I offer up a bottle of wine and a block of cheese, and even other weeks – exhausted and running late – I don’t bring anything. We take turns hosting and count on someone else having the opposite kind of week. With a few notable exceptions, we always end up with a meal.
Potluck, however, is so much more than that. In Potluck, we’ve found a group of people who pay attention to all the parts of eating. The part where someone volunteers to host; the part where we all trickle in and talk about our days; the part where you wear a party dress or pajamas, depending on your mood. Bear hugs, tall glasses of home-brewed beer, and trying to find enough chairs are underappreciated elements of digestion. To eat, to really eat, you need to relieve someone of a stew pot so they can take off their shoes. You need to laugh over six different asparagus dishes because hey, it is June after all. You need to lapse into a stuffed silence, staring into the fire or out over a field of fireflies, in the company of people who also eat, who also pay attention, who also show up.
Having a craft implies the production of something by hand, with care and skill. This begs the question, what does the craft of eating produce? Certainly the various crafts of cooking result in myriad food stuffs, but when we eat together with such intention, with such care and purpose, are we simply consuming those things or do we make something as well? I can only say yes, then find myself at a loss for words, because the importance of Potluck still eludes articulation. By eating together, we make bad moods into okay moods. We make two hours feel like a whole day off. We make new friends, plans to go hiking, and suggestions on how to tweak a recipe. We make interesting conversation, and we make each other laugh until we cry.
Being a good eater is not always easy, but honing our craft has been worth it. Potluck practices the hardest parts of life – giving with grace, receiving with gratitude, abandoning the mask you put on for the world, and relaxing into the moment. As uncommonly strong as the gossamer threads of a silkworm, the product of Potluck is a chosen family. By eating together, we practice a long tradition of human community, of people creating and maintaining space for each other and all our various relationships, of sharing our bounty and our joy.
Even when we have popcorn for dinner.