Why Potlucks Totally Freak Me Out

There’s something I need to get off my chest: I hate potlucks. There I said it. Surprise! There’s a type of party that I dislike. It’s been eating away at me for awhile now. I just don’t understand them. Well, I mean I get the point: there’s a hostess and the guests are supposed to contribute to the meal, to reduce costs and efforts for the hostess. But I’m confused and horribly stressed whenever I receive an invitation with the following words, “it’s a potluck, so feel free to bring whatever!”

My first concern is what if everyone brings the same thing? However, there’s probably a mathematical solution that states this is not possible; chances are the 40 people attending (because potlucks almost always involve a larger group of guests) aren’t all going to bring Chinese chicken salad. My second concern is what if someone brings the same dish as me? This is a little harder to answer.

“What if I make 7-layer dip and someone else makes 7-layer dip?” I recently worried to a friend who shares a similar frustration and general lack of confusion when it comes to potlucks.

“The party will have 14 layers of dip?!” I know she was trying to make me laugh, but I was more concerned about something else. What if I made 7-layer dip and somebody else made 7-layer dip and her dip was better than mine? Or worse still, what if I made 7-layer dip and someone brought a grocery store’s version of 7-layer dip and guests chose to eat this processed dip over my wonderfully delicious homemade variation?

To this potluck, which was thrown by a younger crowd and took place on a gorgeous rooftop overlooking the San Francisco Bay, I decided to take the easy route out: I wouldn’t make a dish, but assemble my contribution to the party. After all, who doesn’t appreciate a sharp white cheddar cheese, spicy calabrese salami, and crisp black pepper crackers? Well, the guy who brought Kentucky Fried Chicken to the potluck and just so happened to dump a container of bite-sized popcorn chicken pieces onto my cheese and charcuterie display!

In my mind, there were three possible reactions. I could A) have a pretentious foodie freakout and demand that the fast food be put in it’s rightful place (the garbage); B) make an awkward joke about how the two items so clearly don’t belong on the same platter; or C) eat all the popcorn chicken off the plate before anyone else noticed it was there. I chose C and proceeded to stuff my face with the crunchy pieces. Only 4 popcorn chicken bites in, I realized I couldn’t stomach anymore of the cold and fatty bits of fry (because I wasn’t getting much chicken flavor) any longer. So I walked away from the table as quickly as possible, a distaste for potlucks boiling inside me.

This isn’t the only potluck nightmare I’ve survived. At another one, which was thrown by an older crowd and took place on a beautiful picnic table at Hog Island Oyster Farm, I decided to take the easy route out: I would offer to make the the birthday cake for the guest of honor. I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone bringing anything similar to what I was bringing because there would only be one birthday cake. Since I had some free time, I also decided to whip up a garlicky, parmesan cheese herb butter to spoon onto just-shucked oysters as they cooked on a grill. At the last minute, I also grabbed a box of wine. I had tried the wine before and while it wasn’t anything spectacular, it also wasn’t the worst wine ever. It was the perfect wine to drink after everyone had already consumed three glasses of better quality wine. Later that afternoon, as I manned the grill, I overheard a disturbing conversation.

“Dude, I can’t believe someone brought boxed wine to this party. Did you see that?”

“Yes! The nerve. I mean I preordered cured sausages from the Fatted Calf and picked up the freshest cheese that Cowgirl Creamery had on display. You can’t eat that sort of food with boxed wine.”

I was shocked by their gourmet snobbery, but I didn’t say anything. When they eagerly gobbled up the next round of my finger-licking good barbecued oysters, I smiled and enjoyed their praises. But their disrespect saddened me and I couldn’t help but wonder what hostess would want her guests to ever feel like this? Isn’t it easier to simply plan a menu or assign a certain type of dish rather than saying the cheerful, “it’s a potluck, so bring whatever!” For me it is, but I understand for others it’s not — and everyone has a different style of hosting. I guess the moral of this story is think twice before you plan a potluck, and if you’re inviting me to your potluck, please assign me a specific dish.

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