by: Kara Crawford
I grew up on potlucks. I don’t know if it was simply my upbringing or if other people had similar experiences, but they always played an active role in my childhood and adolescence. Between church events, family reunions, family Christmas, and the like, they were always something which gave me a strong sense of community, family, home, love, and comfort. So, for me, it was never a proper party or community event without twelve different types of macaroni and cheese and fifty-six desserts. (What can I say? We Methodists love our dessert!)
To my surprise and excitement, I didn’t lose out on my precious potlucks when I went away for college. In fact, quite the opposite happened. They became a lot more interesting, with far more vegan food and no more jello salads, and took on a deeper meaning of community and home. Potlucks were especially prominent in progressive and queer spaces, which was convenient for me, because these were already my social circles and partners-in-revolution, so I didn’t have to go far to find potlucks.
Now, I’m sure there are plenty of reasons we chose to have potlucks. Of course, we were broke college students and the official university catering was expensive. Add to that DePaul’s policies of only allowing on-campus event food not from the caterer to equal a maximum of $25 (later arguably $100, depending on who you asked), a potluck was probably the only viable way to skirt the rules. Of course, being progressives, the economics of the potluck was probably also appealing to us, given that everyone contributes what they can and everyone leaves well-fed, regardless of if they brought anything or how much they brought.
I think that the tendency to have potlucks in queer spaces, though, is interesting – of course, one might argue that citizens of Queerville, as a demographic, might like cooking proportionally more than the general populace, but I think there are also some interesting connections and comparisons that can be drawn between the queer community and a potluck.
First and foremost, potlucks are all about community. The community provides, and the community shares. It doesn’t matter if someone brought something or not, because they are always invited; as long as some among the group brought a dish with the intention of sharing, there will always be an abundance. The queer community is, in many ways, the same way. When we all openly and willingly bring to the table what we have to offer, and come willing to accept what others have to share, we are being the loving, accepting, and inclusive community which we can be at our best.
Another aspect of potlucks which I always find fascinating is the diversity of the dishes offered. Sometimes (or more often than not) the dishes don’t make much sense together, and are a combination which one would rarely, if ever, make a meal out of, but in the context of a community those differences fit. Sure, it’s eclectic; sure, maybe no one would put it together themselves, but it’s what we’ve got and in the end we appreciate it.
We love it for those characteristics, but more importantly, we love it for what it represents – unity in difference. The table brings us together into a community space and gives us a place where those differences nourish us. I see the queer community similarly – we are a varied and oft eclectic collective of LGBTQQIPPTSAA etc. individuals, sometimes we don’t make much sense, but when brought together into community space, we find unity in our difference.
I think that the idea of nourishment is also important; while there may not be too much which unites all of the distinct identities represented in the queer community other than our, in one way or another, challenging hetero- and/or cis-normativity, those differences make us strong. They provide us with an abundance we might not have in other more limited spaces, and it is that abundance which nourishes and strengthens us. Sometimes we allow our differences to divide us, and I see that as a great loss to the community. However, at our best, I see our many differences as a great unifying and nourishing factor. Admittedly, this view of the queer community is rather optimistic and utopian, but I can’t help but hope it is a possibility. At our best, we are a potluck. We may be an eclectic and sometimes dysfunctional one, but it provides community and a sense of home, family, love, welcome, and inclusion to many.
There are many ways that we could be more so, being intentional about welcoming more than macaroni and cheese, jello salad, and desserts to the table, and we need to actively practice that in order to live up to our potential as an inclusive community. So bust out your best recipes, remembering to take dietary restrictions into account – we’ve got a potluck to throw!
Kara Johansen Crawford is a graduate of DePaul University, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Kara has been actively involved in activism and community service for much of her life and is particularly passionate about labor justice, queer issues and engaging faith communities on social issues. Kara is currently serving as a Mission Intern with the United Methodist Church at the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow Kara on Twitter @revolUMCionaria and on her blog.