Up Your Pagan Potluck Game

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I have a confession to make: I super hate potlucks. I hate everything about potlucks. I hate the food that I remember so fondly from family funerals, I hate the unsatisfying and lopsided nature of a potluck meal, I hate carrying a hot tray on the bus to the party, and most of all I hate that once the summer ends every pagan gathering turns into the same potluck with the same food. 9 times out of 10 a pagan Sabbat or Esbat celebration will consist of a ritual, a potluck, and then that’s it. A bonfire if you’re lucky to have a friend with a great backyard (I’ve always been blessed with this). I know that my distaste for the potluck party environment has made me instantly decline more pagan celebrations than I’ve actually attended in my life. Though I’ve come to accept that I am one of a very few number of potluck haters, I also have to sheepishly admit I’ve never hosted a Sabbat.

I hate trash talking something I know nothing about, I really do. I read the entire twilight series in a single sitting without sleeping or eating just so I could hurry up and hate it. (I did hate it. All of my before reading trash talking was spot on. It was garbage.) Unfortunately I’m not in the position to throw a Sabbat to teach myself a lesson right now, but I’m hoping to one day, so what would I do differently?

I know all the reasons people love potlucks! It takes some of the financial burden off of the host, it allows the meal to consist of lots of different dishes, a potluck almost never runs out of food, and everyone contributes for a strong community vibe. Maybe you’ve also got a friend who makes the best lemon squares ever and she makes them for every potluck so you look forward to that, I totally get it.

I still don’t like them.

So what exactly would I do differently if the task of hosting a Sabbat fell on me? (Other than panic).

Pagan Potluck Pet Peeve 1:  Tons of Waste

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Gonna take pollution down to zero!

Honestly, if your pagan potluck is ruining the environment you’re just doing it wrong. I don’t know what it is about potlucks, but they encourage even super crunchy recyclers to throw everything in a big black trash bag. Potlucks often rely heavily on disposable cups, plates, forks, knives, spoons, bowls, and who knows what else. This is of course to make everything easier on the host but once everyone throws out all of the aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and waxed paper they used to cover their dishes, or disposable bakewear it was stored in AND the actual eating dishes and cutlery? You basically have an entire household’s month of garbage in a single meal. This of course doesn’t even factor in the waste of food that doesn’t get eaten. Everyone brings large portions to potlucks, and with so many foods lots gets scraped in the trash. If you want to take it a step further, as a non-driver your potluck makes me forsake a clean energy mode of transportation like walking or cycling in lieu of a bus or car. All together, I think it’s safe to say the average potluck isn’t necessarily eco-friendly.

Level Up:

If you really need to use disposable dishes, be more conscious and responsible with your choices. Don’t get any styrofoam EVER. It literally never decomposes and lasts forever. Not having to wash dinner plates isn’t worth that. Get biodegradable plastic cutlery, cups, and even garbage bags. Get pop up recycle bins, or recycling bags and encourage your visitors to actually use them. Collect whatever waste you can into a compost bag or pail and bring it to a local community garden if you don’t compost. Egg shells, vegetables, some cardboard – compostable!

You can also ask some guests to bring their own plates and cutlery, reusable water bottles, flasks, pimp cups, straws, whatever! Even with water use, washing the dishes will be a lot better for the environment in the long run. If you gather as a group on a regular basis, maybe look into a set of fold up re-usable dishes as gifts for the rest of the group for use at sabbats or hit some local thrift stores.

Encourage your guests to make portions that reduce waste and to plan the meals out so they know it can all be eaten by most of the group. As a hostess, don’t allow any un-bitten food to go in the trash and take the time to package up leftovers and split them up among the group members to make sure nothing rots in anyone’s fridge.

Pagan Potluck Pet Peeve 2: Non-Magical, Non- Nourishing Foods

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Now that’s what I call magical

Let’s just get one thing straight here, I’m going to complain about “Crock pot meatballs” a LOT in this blog post, but I pile those disgusting things onto my plate like no one else. No judgements, friends. For those new to the potluck scene a constant at every single one is a crock pot into which someone has dumped frozen meatballs from a bag and 2-3 bottles of Diana or any other brand of barbecue sauce. That’s it. That’s all of it. Someone always makes it and it’s honestly ridiculous. It’s not nourishing or healthy, it’s barely interesting, and it’s never seasonally appropriate – it’s addictive food. Junk food. While I love junk food as much as the next person, at a Sabbat or ritual this is supposed to be a magical occasion. I feel like the tone of the ritual, season, or sabbat should come through in the food we use to nourish our bodies. Though you’re likely to get one or two people who make a seasonal dish like an apple pie at Mabon, your mabon feast could still end up consisting of junk food and an apple pie.

I’m going to bring up environmental impact again, because the foods at pagan potlucks often have a pretty shitty carbon footprint. It’s easy to grab out of season vegetables grown in another country to class up your dish, but those 100% too delicious for this world blood oranges left a trail of smog and pollution on it’s lengthy trip to me. So many sabbats and pagan gatherings feature a respect for the earth very heavily and using foods that damage the environment send a conflicting message. The absence of fair trade foods for the sake of sticking to a budget also seem troubling to me. Especially when a deity is called on in the ritual who’s from the culture of a country in the majority world where slave labour might have picked these coffee beans we’re drinking.

The subject of vegetarianism and veganism is also an important one to bring up. Though I’m not one, I often wonder why there aren’t MORE vegetarian options at magickal gatherings. Veggies and fruit are so much less heavy and more refreshing than meat. Grains and bread are super filling and grounding and accomplish that side of magick. Meat is heavy, often pretty greasy, and really makes everything smell like meat – which are all reasons people like meat – and that seems less than magickal to me. From an energy perspective, some vegans and vegetarians who practice find meat really upsets how they can practice. It disrupts the positive energy for them. If you have people lending energy to a spell and they can’t be at their best because of that, that’s not helpful to anyone.

Level Up:

First of all, we all need to take responsibility for crock pot meatballs, and work together to end this scourge.

If you’re planning a pagan sabbat or general feast try working together to make a good meal plan that creates a genuinely nurturing environment for everyone there. As a group discuss seasonal food, magickal ingredients like herbs, maybe foods that work best for different kind of magick (like apples for love magick) or resonate with certain chakras (like dark chocolate and blueberries for the third eye). Who says that a meal can’t be magickal? I’m sure every group has at least one kitchen witch that can help with this.

Many books and guides on sabbats include recipes and food tips, how many have you tried? Do you find these kinds of recipes are often present at potlucks? Maybe form smaller groups and tackle some more interesting recipes together and create very magickal food! It’ll also make gatherings more exciting because you’ll get different food every time, rather than the same 5-10 dishes every 6 weeks.

I also think if you’re going to work with deities, it would be really cool to have food from their country of origin at the party. Not only will your offering be a bit more sincere, but it’ll help everyone get in the right headspace. Of course be careful with this and make sure those foods don’t do damage to that culture.

Though foods with a better environmental impact are often super pricey (ugh.) I personally think it would be worth it to invest in some fair trade basics like coffee and tea, and try to source out local produce and even bread. Lately I’ve noticed that local coffee growers and brewers are popping up like local breweries! Coffee and beer are both staples at parties, and local prices should be fairly equal.

Talk to your group about foods that make them feel spiritually nourished. Bring up the topic of vegetarian ritual foods and gauge the reaction. You might find your group doesn’t need that and that’s ok, but I feel like this is something people who practice magick together should be able to talk about. This is a common topic in books by Tess Whitehurst. Despite not being a vegetarian (for various reasons that are my own), I found her thoughts on it to be incredibly insightful and make a lot of sense.

Bless your food! This is another Tess Whitehurst food tip, but it’s one tons of christians already do. Saying Grace before eating is usually thanking their deity for food, but who says you can’t adapt that to be a spell? As a group say a small spell or blessing over your food to grant nourishment, energy, happiness, magickal prowess, psychic powers- whatever!

Pagan Potluck Pet Peeve 3: Cooking

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Fuck no.

This is a big one isn’t it? Cooking just ain’t my bag. I don’t hate throwing on tunes and bopping around the kitchen with my sister making lunch, but a big dish I can bring someplace with me to feed 10 or more people? Out. I know I’m not the only person who’s strong suit isn’t cooking, and yet we’re often shamed into “just bringing something”. This helps no one and makes everyone feel crappy. Whether you’re the person who made a beautiful meal with your whole heart and soul who has to sit it next to a school bus shaped box of grocery store doughnuts, or you brought that sad excuse for a contribution you end up feeling like it was a waste of time and effort (unless you have a god complex in which case come down off your high horse there, Martha Stewart).

I’ve often been told that my offers to bring cutlery and plates, or non-alcoholic beverages or any other non-food item is a cop out. I’ve also often felt like because I’m absolutely just not going to cook a damn thing for this that I’m less welcome. Even if they don’t say it, it’s easy to feel like you’re less valuable to the event if you don’t cook.

Cooking is also expensive. If a potluck is meant to take financial strain off, why does it put so much extra on everyone else? I can’t always attend a party if it’ll cost me 50+ dollars just to get in the door.

If someone doesn’t drive, bringing food can be a serious hassle. Even if someone likes cooking, and inability to actually get the food to the party can cause people to just bail on the whole situation. This whole section is basically “why half the people at your potluck came empty handed” which doesn’t really fulfill the earlier benefits of potluck parties.

Level Up:

This is a simple problem with a fairly simple solution: don’t make the food required.

This doesn’t necessarily mean letting people off the hook, how about giving people jobs that aren’t food related? Can someone carpool all the non drivers or drive people to farmer’s markets? Who’s doing the dishes? Who’s making coffee or tea? Who’s setting up the altar? Who’s building a ritual fire?

If enough people hate cooking or can’t afford the cost of making an entire meal, why not try ordering takeout instead? Pick a great local restaurant to support as a group, order it to the house, and enjoy! This could mean everyone pitches in 10 dollars, and that the whole group can get something they know they’ll like. Again, if you’re honouring a specific deity you can get food from their home culture! Those who hate cooking can also bring a donation to he hostess to offset some costs, if that works for everyone.

If people like cooking, but find the idea of traveling with it just too inconvenient, why not have everyone bring ingredients so you can cook a meal together? This idea is especially fun for kitchen witches who I’m sure would be thrilled to host this and even teach everyone a bit about magickal food preparation. If you want, you could even look at this like an energy building exercise. I think that sounds like way more fun!

This one isn’t that hard, but it’s one that people who like cooking rarely consider. Everybody’s got different skills, and y’all should be able to work together with them as a group.

Something Else to Consider:

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I just can’t even.

I posted a very general and silly status about my dislike of potlucks on my personal facebook page and got an incredibly insightful response from a friend that I’ve never considered before.

This friend is currently recovering from an eating disorder and really food-focused gatherings like potlucks or buffets cause her a certain amount of stress as she struggles to fight ED behaviours.

Considering how many people struggle with disordered eating of all varieties, this is something I think more of us should consider when planning sabbats and rituals. Whether they fat or not, pagans are a food loving people. Big feasts with flowing wine or beer are very common. Even if a sabbat in my area is outdoor or not potluck style, there’s usually a wealth of food and everyone is really eating. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to struggle with your feelings for food while you’re trying to get into the right headspace for magic, ritual, or meditation.  I think it’s time for anyone who practices spirituality as a group to try and plan some gatherings and parties that are a little less food focused at least a couple times a year so that no one who’s struggling really has to announce it to everyone and in general they feel more welcome.

Try hosting smaller rituals that offer a small snack for grounding purposes after ritual, but tone down the importance of having to eat. Maybe have a snack waiting in the kitchen and offer to do some yoga or a grounding ritual with those who don’t feel they need anything to eat, but still need a chill-out session. Or instead of a big feast have something like a tea party with interesting tea flavours, and some light snacks that guests grab themselves. If you like the idea of ordering in and supporting a local business, why not have your ritual and then plan to go out to eat instead – only for those who want to eat. Everyone is welcome at the ritual whether they want to eat or not. I have a feeling you’ll have more people skipping the big feast than you would have expected. Food after ritual and at celebrations is more about comfort and joy than anything, and there’s tons of ways to do that without food.

No matter what you do to upgrade the standard pagan potluck, just remember this:

We all deserve better than crock pot meatballs.

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Looking for books? Recipes? Biodegradable garbage bags? Check out the newest section of my amazon aStore – Sabbats & Celebrations! Every purchase contributes to the podcast and blog.

The title image is a spoof of the popular new show Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, which is as weird and wonderful as it sounds.

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