Potluck choices

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Since many public events and rituals ask people to bring food for potluck, what should you bring? And how much of it?

You should plan to:

Bring your own eating utensils (an unbreakable plate, bowl, cutlery, and mug are all handy things. Add a plastic bag to put your dirty dishes in.) Many rituals provide disposables, but encourage people to bring their own when they can.

If you have food limitations, bring enough to keep yourself fed. (you have food allergies, are on a specific diet, or just don’t like a lot of foods.) You may find yourself starving after ritual, and you’ll have more fun if you can fix that yourself. You should also bring something you can share, as that’s part of the community gathering.

Include an ingredient list on whatever you bring, so that other people with food allergies, restrictions, or preferences can decide if they can eat your food.

People often don’t bring drinks to potlucks.
Some extra water (or your drink of choice) is often a handy thing.

Planning:

Most Pagan ritual potlucks are not formally coordinated. Some may ask people to bring dishes based on their name, but mostly, it’s bring what you want. For general public rituals, a dish that serves 8-10 smallish portions is often about right.

In smaller groups (i.e. 2-15 people or so), there are different ways to handle this. Sometimes people are asked to RSVP with what they’re bringing, to avoid overlap. Sometimes the covenstead or hosting household provides a main dish, and everyone else brings side dishes or dessert or drinks. Sometimes specific items might be assigned. Generally plan to bring about the same number of servings as people, at least until you get to know people’s food preferences (and be prepared to bring some leftovers home.)

  • Check first if the food you’re planning needs an outlet (like a crockpot) or space in the fridge.
  • Public rituals may not have access to kitchen spaces, and private homes might not have spare space.
  • Bring your own serving utensils. Labelling them (or bringing ones you don’t mind losing, such as from the dollar store) is a smart idea.

Choosing your food:

Once you have an idea of the basics (how many, any specific requirements, whether you have access to an outlet/fridge if needed), you can decide on your food.

Tips for choosing foods:

Good potluck foods…

  • Are not incredibly temperature sensitive. (It will take a few minutes for everyone to get their food, and then people may want seconds.)
  • Require minimal preparation before eating. (Unwrapping or opening is great. Something that takes 20 minutes to reheat and requires a microwave is not so good, even when one’s handy.)
  • Are suited to people standing around and eating, balancing food in their laps, etc.  – carrying multiple bowls around, for example, is not so good. Finger foods and thick stews are often a lot better than broth-based soups.
  • Are not likely to make half the people there flee in terror. (I lived in Minnesota, so lutefisk has shown up on ritual food tables from time to time, especially in rituals honoring the ancestors. But it’s nice to make sure people don’t stumble into it without warning. Same deal with organ meats, and other such things.)
  • Have some attention to the natural cycle. The ideal for many groups is seasonal minimally processed foods. More on this in a moment.

Specific food ideas:

  • Bread is almost always a good choice. So are hearty crackers.  (If you or people you know are gluten-free, there are some great gluten-free crackers out there now.)
  • So are things to go on bread – cheese, butter, jams and jellies.
  • Fresh finger vegetables and dip (if you have a fridge or cooler)
  • Fresh fruit (berries, sliced apples, pears, etc.)
  • A rotisserie chicken can be very popular if you have a way to keep it cold before ritual.
  • Ditto deli salads (potato salad, pasta salad, etc.)
  • Or just plain salad with lots of lovely veggies and a simple dressing.
  • Thick stews and related dishes.
  • Hummus, tabbouleh, and so on. Stuffed grape leaves. Couscous with various additions. (I’m fond of chicken, sliced almonds, sweetened dried cranberries, and a bit of lemon juice.)
  • Hardboiled eggs (or if you have a way to transport and store them, devilled eggs)
  • Apple cider, lemonade, and other non-alcoholic drinks.

In general, you want hearty, sustaining foods – both because you’ve just put out a fair bit of energy and effort in ritual, and because food is a really good grounding tool to help rebalance our energy and bodies. Junk food doesn’t work nearly as well as protein, dense vegetables, and dense carbohydrates.

Desserts can be good, but make sure that the table isn’t all dessert. This often involves knowing the group a little bit first.

If you’re on a tight budget, bread + maybe something to put on it is usually quite cheap. (Especially if you bring your own, but even if you get an artisan loaf from a bakery.) Fresh fruits or veggies in season are also cheap.

What do seasonal and minimally processed mean?

Good question! (By the way: don’t feel overwhelmed: if the stuff below is too much for you right now, that’s okay. Most people work up to learning more about where their food comes from and getting more deeply connected to seasonal foods.)

You can learn a lot about seasonal foods for your area. Epicurious has a great page that lets you find seasonal foods in the US by clicking on your state. The Sustainable Table has a way to look up where you live and what foods are in season.

People define minimally processed in various ways. I usually define it as “Could I make this myself, in my own kitchen, if I had the relevant skills, from ingredients I can buy in the grocery store that were themselves minimally processed?”

In other words:

  • I recognise all the things in it, and can tell you what they are. (No mysterious chemical names).
  • The ingredients list doesn’t include chemicals I don’t have access to.
  • The method used for making the food doesn’t involve major industrial machinery I don’t have. (Compare bread – something where specific tools might make my life easier, but I can make it without – to something like Doritos).
  • Ideally is as local as I can get it. Some things are worth the distance (chocolate!) but there are lots of great foods that come from closer to home.
  • It’s okay for the ingredients to have some processing, but they should be a process I understand and could explain to someone else if I had to.

So, I cheerfully use flour (which I couldn’t process in my own kitchen easily), but prefer to make my own bread rather than buy it for ritual. (If I’m sick or time-crunched, I’ll buy, though.) A jar of local honey or jam from a friend’s canning is a better choice for me than a jar of highly processed jam from a big commercial provider that has lots of stabilisers. You get the idea.

For meats, if I’m going to have them as part of a ritual meal, I try my best to get high quality pasture-raised meat with as few additives as possible. Sometimes that’s just not in the budget, though, so in those cases, I look for the best alternatives.

[last edited December 26, 2016]

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