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The Luck of the Pot
A long wooden table set outdoors amidst rolling farmland, laden with dishes that showcase vibrant, fresh produce straight from the farm. Sunlight bathes the scene, highlighting the natural colors and textures of fruits, vegetables, and farm-fresh dishes. 8k

The Luck of the Pot 

The Fourth of July is here and many will gather to celebrate together and share a meal. While our Declaration of Independence in 1776 liberated us from England’s control, our mode of existence has always been much more interdependent. The values of cooperation, collaboration, and reciprocity provide a culture of support and co-creation. A potluck gathering is one of the simplest illustrations of our interdependence, where even a small contribution can have huge returns. One delicious dish is offered in exchange for a plate filled with a variety of colors, flavors, and textures. The hidden bonus is a more connected community.

The ritual of sharing a meal runs deep in humanity. Our physiology adjusts to the cues of the people around us and taking time to enjoy sustenance together offers a feeling of abundance and safety. It is no wonder that most religions and spiritual practices have a ritual of gratitude for the food one is about to eat, as the food is emblematic of much more than the pleasure it offers us in the moment. Sharing food with one another reinforces the notion that we are key to each other’s survival. It also offers the deeper implication that nature continues to provide, that we can count on each other, turning our backs to vigilance and struggle for a while.

One of my favorite childhood stories is Stone Soup. A small town is suffering from a lack of food. Everyone is hungry and hiding away in their homes. A stranger comes to town and is turned away at every door. The traveler sets up in the village square and starts to boil water with a large rock in it, declaring loudly how delicious his stone soup will be. The hungry townspeople emerge from their homes, little by little, curious to see. They are asked if they have just one onion, because that is the one thing missing from the stone soup. Yes, someone can spare at least one onion, and they bring it to the pot. As the soup simmers, the different townspeople each contribute a single item when the traveler claims that it’s the one last thing the soup needs. This amounts to some onion, carrots, celery, beans, spices, and grain, and finally, the stone soup is shared by all. Stone Soup reminds us that together, we have what we need and by sharing, there can be more for everyone.

The tradition of bringing a dish from home to contribute to a shared meal with friends or family started long ago, but it really took hold in America in its modern form in the fifties. As dishes were covered to protect the food, there was a sense of discovering what the “luck of the pot” held for you. Family recipes were passed on to others, allowing for new and exciting flavors to expand palates, while also expanding cultural understanding. Unlike America’s melting pot metaphor, a potluck reminds us how each unique cultural contribution can be appreciated for how it complements the rest. We learn about each other from the food we bring to the group; creativity, care, and inspiration are made visible… and edible.

I’ve enjoyed many inspiring potlucks with my Topanga community. I’ve learned a little more about each person, where they come from and what they love. Jenni’s quiches, Kelly’s soup, Connie’s watermelon salad, Mark’s corn chowder, Eve’s gorgeous platters, and Nathalie’s cakes… these dishes were gifts to the community that have imprinted kindness, care, and generosity deep into the collective psyche of those lucky enough to partake. This exchange of nourishment is a sort of primal communication through food: there is enough for everyone and it is safe to let your guard down and enjoy. A potluck illustrates the web of belonging that we all yearn for… don’t underestimate the power of your side dish.

See our cooks’ selection of potluck dishes for your next gathering

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