It's inevitable. Sooner or later, if you contribute to any sort of organization or social community, you will have to attend a potluck dinner. Some look forward to such occasions as an opportunity for free food. Others dread the ordeal more than running the gauntlet. But the fact remains, if you don't want to sell your possessions, kiss your family goodbye and go live in the middle of the deepest, darkest forest you will have to participate in a potluck. Don't be downcast. You CAN survive, and even learn to enjoy them. In the interests of such an event, I have brought together some rules for you to follow. These will help you maneuver, survive and enjoy the potluck experience.
THE FIVE CLUES NOT TO EAT SOMETHING:
-If it has a strong, un-foodlike odor. You know the kind I mean. Think burnt rubber, ammonia, etc.
-If you are unable to identify ANY type of food in the dish. If at all possible, avoid the dreaded casserole in which everything is merely a brownish, bubbling mass. Look closely at its surface. If you identify a piece of carrot or celery, you're probably OK. Otherwise, put down the serving spoon as unassumingly as possible and move on.
-If you see large amounts of it left untouched on other people's plates. This is one of the advantages of not being the first to go through the line. You can rest on others' experiences. If your fellow church members, friends, co-workers, etc. are especially nice, they may give you hints on what to avoid. Keep a lookout for the person who, before running to the bathroom, whispers in your ear, 'Don't eat the casserole in the blue dish, second from left.' Take his or her warning, poor thing. It's probably in earnest.
-If you know it was brought by the local half-unhinged hillbilly who has squirrel tails nailed on his cabin door. Yeah. Self-explanatory.
-If you can see fingerprints on it. In other words, avoid devilled eggs and squished sandwiches.
THE FIVE THINGS NOT TO DO:
-Do not just take a pound of butter if you happen to be a family of nine. If you are a person who does this, please STOP! You are a great source of torture to children everywhere whose Mothers obsess about the amount of food on the table. If there's not enough, they will be given the dreaded acronym: FHB. Meaning, of course, Family Hold Back. So, don't bring a pound of butter. Bring a side of beef, instead.
-Do not vigorously wash dishes throughout the entire meal with the air of a martyr. Chances are, no one wants you to do the dishes. Everyone else will feel guilty that you're in the kitchen washing dishes and they're out there trying to have a good time. Just come out and talk with a few people. They probably won't bite.
-Do not be the first to go through the buffet if you are a fast eater. You'll end up with an empty plate before everyone else is half done. You'll spend the rest of your time looking at people eat, a sickening pursuit and not very good for your mental health if they eat in a gross manner.
-Do not examine the food as if you suspect it to be full of arsenic. If the food actually does look questionable, feel free to pass it by. But, if it's perfectly good and you're just generally suspicious or hate mushrooms, then you must try to conquer such paranoia.
Most people aren't out to get you. And mushrooms don't taste as bad as you might think. Just. Eat. It.
-Do not, after having seen your child take another cookie from the plate and lick it, tell him to put it back. If necessary, wrestle the cookie from the child's hand and eat it yourself. Germophobes will thank you. And, just as a good rule of thumb, don't trust your children alone beside a dessert table. Not until they're at least 18.
THE FIVE THINGS NOT TO SAY:
-Do NOT say, 'Well, that was gross,' as you push away your plate. The cook may be lurking near by.
-Do not say, 'Who made this?' Unless you're prepared to say it was good. Never ever ever, ask who made it if it was bad, except if you enjoy lying. In which case, you have some problems.
-Do not say, 'Well, I was cleaning out the fridge and just threw it all together.' On second thought, don't DO that either. That's just gross.
-Do not say, 'Did you like what I brought?' This just puts people in an awkward position if they hated what you brought. Or worse, if they didn't dare to eat it. That's called tempting them to sin. For, only the bravest or most foolhardy person in the world would tell a cook her food was rotten, even if it was.
-Do not say, 'The kids were puking all yesterday. I barely had time to pull these devilled eggs together. Hope you don't catch the bug.' Don't feel offended if the person you were talking to abruptly leaves the table and heads for the bathroom.
I've often thought that one could become an experienced psychologist by just studying human behaviour at potlucks. I'm sure love languages and birth order factor in there somewhere. I myself have identified five types of people who surface at a potluck. I call them...
THE FIVE POTLUCK PERSONALITIES:
-Picky Patricia: This lovely lady seems to subsist on crackers and cheese alone for fear that her minions of hated foods lurk in every dish. Things like red peppers, celery, tuna and even olives.
-Snobby Bobby: A close cousin of Patricia's (you always find them sitting together), Bobby only eats food she herself brings. I don't know whether she has some sort of paranoia, or whether she thinks her cooking is more sanctified than everyone else's. Both of these ladies need major 'get over youself' therapy.
-Gluttonous Greg: This guy is a well-known potluck personality. Going far beyond just the good 'knife and fork', this man shows an exorbitant appetite. He's the one going back for seconds before some people have gotten their first helping. He's also the one still eating at the end of the meal like there's no tomorrow, while everyone else is cleaning up. Poor Greg does not mean harm, but a few hints might be in order.
-Wasteful Wendell: Making the penny-pincher's heart ache, this person loads his plate up with more than anyone could ever eat in one sitting (with the exception of Gluttonous Greg). And, he only eats about half of it! I have seen many an agonized look in the eyes of fastidious cooks as their precious creations are scraped into the garbage. The dirty looks that poor Wendell undergoes can't be topped. If only he knew...
-Kind Kathy: My brother and I both admit to being a 'Kind Kathy'. She is usually one of the last people to get some food and she keeps a close eye out for the dishes that have hardly been touched. Then, she takes a large, virtuous helping. She does this because she feels sorry for the cook. There is nothing worse than having to take home an untouched dish that declares you to be a failure. A 'Kind Kathy' is every bad cook's dream. And, sometimes Kathy gets a pleasant surprise. For, the dishes most unappetizing in how they look, are often the most delicious. Beauty is skin deep. But good taste lasts all the way to the bottom of the crock-pot.
I hope that this quick and easy guide to potlucks has helped you. I trust that, next potluck, you will be more mindful of what not to do, say and eat, as well as how to deal and identify with the five potluck personalities. It's really not as hard as it looks! Be strong and be sure that it really is possible to thrive and survive in the potluck world!