I first discovered potlucks when I was in college. I was a vegetarian back then, and I hung out at the food co-op a lot, so the potlucks were all with kind of a hippie crowd. Everything was always vegetarian, and pretty much on the crunchy granola side of things. I think I assumed all potlucks were like that.
Then I graduated and went to law school. Sad to say, the hippies were pretty thin on the ground there. The first law school potluck I went to, I brought dessert, and the dessert and some plain bread turned out to be the only things I could eat. And I wasn't even vegan! There was meat in everything. It was so weird. After that, I practiced defensive potluck strategy. I always brought a main dish, usually lentil loaf, so I would be assured of having something to eat. When I became vegan a few years ago, the defensive strategy became even more important.
That all changed when we started going to Thanksgiving with the Turkeys at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary. Picture if you will, a potluck with several hundred contributions. Two long buffet lines, each with totally different items. A third line just for desserts. And all of it is vegan. You can eat anything. Wow. The first couple of years we went, I celebrated by bringing dessert. I hadn't felt safe bringing dessert to a potluck in years. It was so much fun, hanging out with my fellow vegans and the animals in the fresh air. And pigging out. Seriously pigging out.
Going into recovery from my eating disorder, and adopting a structured meal plan that omits my trouble foods, has put me in defensive eating mode again whenever I leave the house. Even at a vegan restaurant, there may be only a couple of things on the menu I can eat (the other day, I saw a menu for a vegan Valentine's Day pop-up, and there was literally nothing for me. Nothing. On a vegan menu. But that's a rant for another day). Sometimes I've got a container of brown rice in my purse, sometimes baked tofu. I pack tons of food when I travel. There were several reasons we didn't go to Thanksgiving with the Turkeys in 2012, but knowing my carefree pig-out days were over was certainly one of the main ones.
One of the great things about being in a 12-step program is that now I have friends who are in recovery too, and are weird about food in much the same way I am. One of those friends invited me to a potluck this past Sunday. All the guests were in recovery, and we went to a meeting together afterward. Other than Thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle, I couldn't remember the last time I'd been to dinner at someone else's house. I tend to get stressed out about social occasions and look for excuses to get out of them, but for this one I was just happy and excited, maybe because it came together at the last minute so I didn't have time to stew. Also, it was going to be fishatarian, and I felt confident that there would be things I could eat. I invented a recipe, and we were on our way.
In our program, there is no set food plan, and everyone is free to find what works for him or her, but there tend to be a lot of similarities. Most of us can't handle sugar, although some are more strict than others about letting it sneak into things like condiments and salad dressing. A lot of us have a hard time with bread and other flour products. Nuts are an issue for a lot of people, and as I've discussed here before, cheese is crack, so many people avoid it as well. And while most people I know in the program aren't vegan or even vegetarian, they tend to structure their meals much the same way I do -- protein, starch, vegetable, fruit, repeat. I had a pretty good idea of what the food table would look like. And I was right.
Baked potatoes, sweet and russet. Brown rice. Black beans two different ways. Steamed veggies. Curried cauliflower. Kale with balsamic glaze (I skipped that one because "glaze" made me a little nervous, but it looked great). Homemade chunky applesauce, just apples baked with cinnamon (So. Yummy.). Fruit salad. Green salad with homemade tahini dressing. There were a couple things I wasn't going to eat (salmon of course, and some corn tortillas), but there was still more than enough food and every category had at least two items for me to try. I had choices! More choices than I could use! There were even a food scale and measuring cups on the table, for people who wanted to use them. The food probably sounds boring to some of you, but to me it was potluck heaven. It felt like abundance, and it felt safe. I wasn't among vegans, but I was with my people.
My girlfriend and I are getting married next week, and we weren't planning on having any sort of party, although lots of people have asked. The morning after the potluck, my girlfriend (fiancee!) said to me, "The community room [in our apartment building] is free that night. How about a potluck?" We got on the phone, email, and facebook, and so far about 40 people have said they'll be there. Several people who were at Sunday's potluck are coming. I know not all the food will be stuff I can eat (and I warned recovery folks about that), and I will make sure I prepare a main dish as usual, but it feels really good.