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As in other places around the world, things are slowly returning to a semblance of normal around here, and last week, we had our first potluck in over a year. Of course, potluck has changed for now; we are gathering outdoors with room to spread out, there is no holding of hands, and no crowding around the picnic table. But still, I’m so glad that it’s back!
Christina here, writing about circling, messy kitchens, and why I love potluck.
Before I moved to Dancing Rabbit, I got together with friends many weekends to share a meal. But before we could see one another, we usually had to engage in a few solid weeks of texting and emailing to find a date that worked for everyone. Then, the days leading up to the dinner involved planning meals and coordinating dishes. Don’t even mention the frantic cleaning when I was the host—even for the best of friends.
Fast forward to my prep for this week’s potluck. I returned home after a day spent pizza-ing and ice-cream-ing in Kirksville for my son, Max’s, birthday with about 20 minutes to spare before circle up. I frantically cut up some chard and onions and cooked them up with ginger and coconut oil. I left a pile of vegetable scraps on the kitchen counter, along with days of dirty dishes, and hustled out the door with my dish.
My only responsibility for attending potluck was bringing enough food to “cover” the people in my house (in other words, as I was attending with my two kids, I aimed to bring enough food to share to cover our caloric needs). But besides that, I could just show up.
I arrived at the Milkweed Park, our current outdoor location for potluck, plopped my clearly labeled dish on the table (“vegan, a bit spicy”) and waited for someone else to call circle up. My work was done and I could just enjoy from then on.
I think that a great deal of our health as a community stems from this kind of gathering. In short, I love potluck!
Here are my top seven reasons why I love potluck.
1. Circle up. Circle up is when everyone present for the dinner makes a big circle and gets ready for the meal. It includes announcements, a moment of silence, a song, and a go-around of what everyone brought. This might be one of the few times all week when I get to see some neighbors, and it is definitely one of the only times when a large group gathers to just be together for a few minutes. On more than one occasion, I have cried during that song, especially after something hard, or time away, or anything else that makes me appreciate the people in my life.
2. Beans are awesome! Actually, I personally don’t love beans, but there is something so wonderful about the simple dishes that are often brought to potluck. I mean, I love a flashy deviled egg as much as anyone, but a big pot of something homey and nourishing is also so nice.
3. A random assortment of people. Once the tables are filled up (or now, as the spread-out circle of chairs is assembled) it is often a random assortment of people who wouldn’t usually gather together. I just love when I share a conversation with an intern who has arrived a few days ago and a long-time Rabbit who remembers things that happened 15 years ago, and we end up talking about memories from our pasts, or books we are reading, or what the best strategy is to save fruit trees from frost.
4. I have to eat anyway. I have done most of my socialization over the past year at very specially orchestrated events or on walks; in other words, I have had to make time to see friends. So I have really come to appreciate the way that potluck allows me to socialize while I do something that I would have to do anyway–eat dinner–and it doesn’t seem to take any more time out of my schedule.
5. Seeing other people socialize. As a member of the Conflict Resolution Committee, I am especially grateful when I see people talking over a meal who have had a hard time recently, or who are on different sides of a contentious issue. Even though I myself am not participating in that conversation, we all benefit from that strengthened connection.
6. Chats in the dishwashing line. Right now we are bringing our own eating vessels to potluck (unless, um, you forgot because you were rushing to cook some greens and get out the door). But usually, we all grab a plate from the Common House collection and then wash it when we are done. This means that there is often a line for the dishwashing sink. It’s an especially nice chance for some more quiet one-on-one conversation.
7. Spontaneous post-dinner music, or games, or more talking. After dinner, Mark might pull out his banjo or Jason might bring out his collection of drums. Vick might take out a new board game or bring out some paper and pencils for a quick round of what we call “The Best Game Ever,” or a group of kids might start playing freeze tag. But inevitably, a small group sticks around talking, long after the meal is done. The food brings us there, but so much more happens at potluck.
This past year has definitely been a tough one, and I guess it has also been a great opportunity to realize what I was taking for granted in my life here at Dancing Rabbit.
Christina Lovdal Gil grows a lot of chard every year! Plenty for many potlucks to come this spring and summer. Christina and her family have lived at Dancing Rabbit for five years now.