This easy tart relies on store-bought puff pastry and is perfect for potlucks.Read More
Hosting a potluck is an easy way to draw attention to the issue of food insecurity in your area. Not only can you ask your guests to make a donation, but you can set aside the time to talk about ways to help locally. I attended a seminar recently led by Ellen Damaschino of Cooking Matters and Lindsey Seegers of Manna Food Center. They shared five things hunger-related organizations need most.
1. Money: Food donations are always appreciated, but pantries can stretch dollars farther because they buy food in larger quantities with significant discounts. If you feel comfortable, ask your friends to bring a small monetary donation (perhaps what they would have spent on a more formal dinner party) in addition to their dish.
2. Protein sources: If you'd prefer to donate non-perishable food, Seegers said no- or low-sodium canned salmon, tuna, beans, and nut butters are more valuable than sodium laden canned soups.
3. Fresh food: Many people are afraid to donate fresh food for liability reasons, but in 1996, Congress passed The Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which allows people to give fresh food in good faith without fear of retribution. This doesn't mean every pantry will accept it, of course, so you'll need to call ahead. Even if you don't donate fresh food directly from your potluck, tell your guests about the Act. It's also worth talking about whether your area has a program to rescue excess food from farms. (In my region, there is a terrific gleaning organization called Rolling Harvest.)
4. Volunteers: Food pantries need year-round helpers to receive and sort food in warehouses and help with distribution. Those with cooking or nutrition skills can volunteer through Cooking Matters to teach families healthy recipes or how to strategically shop the grocery store. Talk about ways each guest at your potluck might be able to help.
5. Advocates: SNAP benefits and school breakfast and lunch programs could be threatened by forthcoming changes in laws. Use an app like Countable to follow legislation, and at your potluck, write some postcards to your lawmakers if necessary to encourage them to support programs that fight food insecurity.
A creamy cashew cream sauce is the secret to this plant-based lasagna.Read More
Other than voting, writing postcards to your local lawmakers is one of the easiest ways to participate in US democracy and let your voice be heard. I’m helping organize a larger postcard-writing event in my town, so I recently hosted a potluck with friends to help me prepare. The main lesson I learned? Make everything as easy as possible for your guests. Here are five tips for hosting your own postcard-writing party.
- Get your supplies together. Unless you announce it’s BYOP, you’ll want to provide the postcards. If you're a fan of The Women’s March, you can use the graphic they provide. You can also design your own cards through online shops like Vistaprint or use store-bought postcards. Think about whether you’ll provide pens and stamps as well. You can always ask guests to chip in for these supplies.
- Provide the names and addresses of local lawmakers. Create a list of your senators, federal representatives, and state representatives with their addresses. (I like to include the DC address as well as the address for at least one local office.) On the list, include the legislators’ political parties and maybe a few bullet points about where they stand on hot-button issues.
- Write up a one-page guide about how-to write a postcard. If you want, you can just crib this language.
- Include your name and address somewhere on the postcard.
- In the first line, mention you are registered to vote in the lawmaker’s district. (Super duper important!)
- Quickly double check how your lawmakers lean on an issue. If they agree with you, thank them for their support, especially when they are vote against the party line. If they don’t, let them know you disagree and are watching.
- Don’t worry about overwhelming a note with statistics. Share your opinion in a firm, polite, thoughtful way.
- If you have a personal story that relates to an issue, use that. It’s more powerful than general text.
- Provide sample language. People are chatty at parties, so make postcard writing easy by suggesting a few sentences. For example, when I hosted, a friend wrote, "Affordable healthcare is not a luxury—it is a necessity. Please work for those whose options are limited by their income. Healthy citizens = a productive, great nation." Short and opinionated. That’s all you need.
- Share your party. Inspire friends and followers to have a postcard-writing potluck by sharing it on social media. If you’re on Instagram, tag the photo with #potlucknation. ☺
Hosting a weekly dinner doesn't sound revolutionary, but writer and editor Sarah Grey found the habit changed her life. She created the dinners, called Friday Night Meatballs, in 2013 to battle the isolation she feels working from home and to make time for a social life, which faded after having her daughter, Lucia. The payoffs, including a stronger sense of community and a weekly dose of stress relief, have been extraordinary for her family.
After nine months of hosting the dinners, she wrote a beautiful piece about them for Serious Eats which instantly went viral. Now, she hears from people all over the world who have been inspired to have similar dinners. I recently caught up with Sarah to get some of her hard-earned hosting lessons, especially in light of the current political climate. Her tips:
Invite people who will keep it fun. Sarah loves bringing together disparate groups of people and those with diverse viewpoints. To make sure the night is relaxing for everyone, however, she draws the line at bigotry to ensure all guests feel safe.
Invite kids if you can. "It's hard to get too serious when you're interrupted by a little stampede of people coming downstairs to make a blanket tent," she says.
Ask friends to bring sides, drinks, and desserts. Keep it easy on yourself and make it a potluck, of sorts.
Be prepared for dietary restrictions. While meatballs with pasta are always on the menu, Sarah keeps a box of falafel mix on hand for vegetarians and gluten-free pasta for those who can't eat the usual stuff. She says making these items part of her pantry keeps it easy for everyone.
Wait until dessert to discuss politics. By the time people have eaten dinner, they've found common ground, so there's a lot less rancor when sensitive or challenging subjects are discussed.
I'm so excited to launch Potluck Nation! As an extra incentive to get you around the table, I'm giving away three signed copies of my cookbook, Modern Potluck.
To enter the contest, host a potluck with a specific theme or intent during the month of March. (This post will get you started with ideas.) After your event, share a photo of it on Instagram with a little story and be sure to use the hashtag #potlucknation. During the week of April 3, I will use the hashtag to choose the three most inspiring potluck stories and send the winners a book. You do NOT need to make or share recipes from Modern Potluck to enter. Here, the fine print.
“The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It's about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.”
― Shauna Niequist, Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes
Potlucks, I believe, can change the world. They provide an easy way to fundraise, to host speakers, to bring people with diverse views and backgrounds together to talk about issues, and to get people working toward a common goal. To help you thinking about how you might use potlucks to foster community and, perhaps, make change, I've gathered some inspiring ideas I've seen over the last year.
Peace promotion. A number of YMCAs, churches, mosques, and synagogues have hosted Potlucks for Peace to get people talking about challenging issues, like race relations, immigration, and religious freedom. Host a potluck with the specific intent of fostering conversation around such a topic. Consider having speakers or panel discussions at the event.
Local foodshed support. A friend recently reminded me that supporting the local-food economy, including farmers and small-scale producers, is an unexpected act of patriotism. Many communities already host locavore-minded potlucks, but if yours doesn't, consider starting one. Use it not only to share a meal but to discuss ways to support your local farmers, soup kitchens, and food pantries.
Community solidarity. When a controversial, hate-promoting speaker passed through San Luis Obispo, California, the mayor suggested that upset residents hold potlucks to support the affected community members. The lesson: Sitting down and breaking bread together can help create a sense of security and solidarity against hate.
Fundraising. Last spring, Bernie Sanders supporters held potluck fundraisers that helped the presidential candidate raise some of that April's total of $26.9 million, almost all of which came from small donations. Choose a cause—perhaps supporting your local homeless shelter or animal rescue—and ask friends to bring a dish as well as a small donation. Even better, find a way to make that cause go viral.
Activism. There's a surge of interest in activism after the election. Use potlucks to have teach-ins, with seasoned activists leading the charge. Or simply invite friends over to write postcards to your lawmakers.
Shared meals are good for personal well-being, and I'd like to posit that they're vital for civil society. Yes, online forums can host healthy debate, but they also make it easy for people to dehumanize others. Can someone who writes a nasty comment or an antagonizing tweet say exact same words to another’s face while ladling soup from the same pot?
Let's be honest: Potlucks are nothing new, but we need them now more than ever. After the most contentious and divisive election in recent history, we need more ways to come together. We need more venues for people to share ideas and experiences—and, more importantly, to listen to them. Potlucks give people a chance to gather in a low-key way, and the act of bringing a dish to share gives everyone an easy conversation starter. "What did you make?" "Is that a family recipe?" "My aunt is Cuban, too!" And on it goes, until you find yourself discussing something deeply meaningful or even challenging with another fellow human being.
As I mention throughout this site, I'm on a mission to get people around the table more and to start a potluck movement. If you'd like to stay updated about events and receive the occasional inspiring story, please join the Potluck Nation email list. If you'd like to share a story with me, please get in touch! To help plan a potluck, download a copy of "Potluck Nation: A Checklist for Organizers."