In Praise of the Potluck Dinner

As a relatively new resident of the Green Mountain State, I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge what I consider to be one of the most charming aspects of regional culture. I am referring to the potluck dinner, the most Marxist of meals. Everyone brings a dish. Everyone pitches in. From loading the dishwasher to purveying the wine, it is a group effort.

Before moving to Vermont, I’d heard of potluck dinners, but assumed their time had come and gone. Like station wagons with wood paneling or pineapple upside-down cake, potluck dinners seemed to be firmly rooted in the past. But here in Vermont, most dinner parties are a collective effort. A host will be expected to tidy up a bit in advance, to ensure the ice trays are filled, to light some candles and choose the music, to roast a chicken, for instance, or grill some fish. From there, however, the meal is built by its participants, each volunteering up a salad or dessert or some favorite side dish. No one slaves alone for hours. As the adage goes, “many hands make light work.”

Elsewhere, modern mores in domesticity and at-home entertaining tend to favor an individual effort. While preparing a meal for friends is undoubtedly a generous act, one can’t help but acknowledge it is also an opportunity to display one’s own culinary aptitude. Such pressure! This hospitable showmanship can be exhausting to both the host, and the guests, who are implicitly indebted to reciprocate in their own home sometime soon.

We live in an age where celebrity chefs pen best-sellers and star in their own television shows. Media icons in their own right, they’ve escalated the stakes for entertaining: you are not simply cooking, you are illustrating your personal brand.

Not so, here in Vermont, where the shared experience of enjoying a meal together with friends takes precedence. Bravo, Vermonters, for keeping the potluck tradition alive!

Post a Comment