5.06.2010

question for wmtc community

I have a question for you all. I need an honest answer, not the answer you think is best for me. A challenge for Canadians, I know! But please try.

Last year wmtc4 - our annual backyard bash - was a pot luck; we supplied the liquid refreshments and guests did the rest. The original impetus was the sad state of our finances, but it turned out to be so much fun. There was a huge variety of delicious food, and I felt like people really enjoyed themselves and felt connected to the gathering. For people who don't cook, I suggested bringing chips and salsa or buying cookies, and that seemed to work out, too.

Now we're starting to think about wmtc5, and I'm of two minds. I feel as a good host it's nicer to simply invite guests and ask nothing of them. I love our wmtc parties and I love being as generous as possible. Truly, it makes me very happy. On the other hand, I thought the pot luck was great. We are more broke than ever, thanks to my being in school, so the pot luck helps in that respect, too.

Whether or not you were there, what do you think? When you get invited to a pot luck, do you feel it's too much work, not enough of a party? Is it more fun to just show up? Or do you really enjoy pot lucks? Does the variety of food and the act of contributing enhance the experience?

In your opinion, wmtc5 should be:
(a) a pot luck,
(b) BYOB but no food,
(c) bring nothing, or
(d) no preference.

While I'm on the subject, wtmc5 will be Saturday, August 28. June is crazy in Toronto this year, with massive organizing around the G8/G20 and the usual busyness around Pride. We're away off and on in July. So we decided to have the party on (almost) the actual 5th anniversary of our move, which was August 30.

If you're reading this and you're not the CIC or a troll, you're invited. Save the date!

54 comments:

Stephanie said...

I am soooo looking forward to it!

a) Potluck

I LOVED the potluck at WMTC4 last year...I think it should be potluck. It takes soooo much pressure off the hosts in my opinion. You actually get to enjoy as much as the guests.

With respect to this kind of event, I honestly have come to embrace the idea of a communal festivity. It is sooo social people bond over food stories (marvelous icebreaker). We are doing it a lot amongst the different activist groups these days and it is always a treat!

Another way I look at it is that if I weren't preparing food I would be looking for that perfect hostess gift (another different kind of worry).

So let me just be clear here: POTLUCK!!

Of course, I wouldn't complain if you opted differently,just happy to be included.

there. :)

M@ said...

I vote potluck too. Probably not surprising, because I do seem to enjoy cooking. But I am always happy to make something to bring to a party, and I also like the communal sort of idea it tends to create.

In an event like this, it's really a good thing for the hosts to sort of divide up the work. It enables them to actually host the party, and it gets everyone involved. And you're never, ever in fear of running out of food, either. :)

I'm looking forward to it already!

James said...

Potluck is great. You already provide the blog and the location, you don't have to provide the food too.

L-girl said...

What terrific comments. Thank you.

Other potential commenters, please don't feel pressured into supporting the potluck (appears to be one word) idea. If you hate potlucks, feel very free to say so.

I also should clarify that there's really no pressure on us if we do the food. We are simply incapable of cooking for that many people! That would be huge pressure and effort, and we don't do it. We always buy everything. Much less work, but much more money. But then, that's what credit cards are for. ;)

Amy said...

I have never been to a WMTC gathering, but have been invited to numerous gatherings that are potluck over the years. Although I hate to cook, I actually prefer potluck to having one poor person or family bear all the expense and do all the work. (My heavy guilt component coming in, I suppose.) I usually opt for salad or something simple or dessert I buy (and still feel badly that I didn't cook something fabulous). My only issue with potluck is when I am assigned a specific dish or when I am really expected to cook---then I feel badly about my aversion to cooking. It sounds like you have that covered by giving people the option to buy instead of cooking.

Wish I could be there!

L-girl said...

Do people who are burdened by guilt know how their guilt burdens other people? Then do they have to feel guilty about that?

Just for a different perspective, I host an annual party and have never cooked one dish for it, and I have never had one moment's guilt over that. Everyone eats and has fun. Who cares who cooks the stuff?

In any case, I definitely don't assign dishes or try to control the menu in any way. Anyone can bring whatever they want. If someone asks what we could use, what's missing, then I can help them with that. And buying is as good as cooking. That's an individual thing.

Thanks for your thoughts, Amy. I wish you could be there, too! You are invited, of course, but I know this is a very special and exciting summer for you and you will be staying close to home.

redsock said...

Forget the food; could everyone come over early and clean the house?

L-girl said...

Now Amy will feel guilty that we have a dirty house! ;)

James said...

Do people who are burdened by guilt know how their guilt burdens other people? Then do they have to feel guilty about that?

I dunno about that, but I know Lori often worries about worrying about things.

Jere said...

I like the potluck because A. for the non-cooking guests, you still get food like you would at a norm, only it's more of a variety and B. for the cooking/bringing guests, you know that there will be at least one thing you like available. (Assuming you make something you like.)

L-girl said...

Guilt and worry are flip sides of the same tendency to not live in the present. Guilt is living in the past and worry is living in the future, or trying to. They're kind of different expressions of the same thing.

L-girl said...

Jere, if you and Kim want to drive to Toronto for wmtc5, you don't even have to bring anything!

Northern Girl said...

I am not saying this because it seems to be the popular choice, but I have always loved potluck.

It's easy to get one dish together, and it's fun to see what everyone else has brought.

I think I'll be in Ontario in time. House is for sale, but R.E. market is really slow right now. As soon as it is sold, we're off. Anyway, we really need to be in Guelph before school starts.

CIC Buffalo just issued an immigrant visa and COPR for the better half - yay!

hhw said...

My answer is (d) -- if you want to throw a party, especially one celebrating your own anniversary, you should choose the format you like best.

That said, I have no problem with potlucks and can't really think of anyone I know who does. I actually like the fact that expectations are clear with a potluck. Otherwise it can be confusing to figure out whether or not to bring something anyway. (I do agree with the comment from Amy about assigned dishes for potlucks. I don't mind being asked what I'm bringing ahead of time so some planning can happen, but I don't want to be told with my invitation that I must bring X.)

One benefit of potlucks is that if a guest really truly does not want or cannot manage to bring something, it's rarely a problem -- there's generally more than enough food.

L-girl said...

NG, congratulations!! Please do come. If you don't get an email invite over the summer, it may be because I no longer have your address, so be sure to email me again.

L-girl said...

hhw, thanks, that makes sense, too.

Telling people what to bring sounds so controlling! I think if you're going to have a potluck, you have to be able to let go a little bit, leave a few things to chance.

AtB B and B said...

I love potlucks and BYOBs - and am fine when they're combined.

I've been half-tempted at various times as a joke to throw a "Bad Host" party where I assign what everyone brings and designate set-up and clean-up crews - so I, as the "host", wouldn't have to do a thing. But someone beat me to the concept.

Kelly and I won't be able to make it to WMTC5 unfortunately as we'll have a house full of needy guests at that time of the year.

L-girl said...

Kelly and I won't be able to make it to WMTC5 unfortunately as we'll have a house full of needy guests at that time of the year.

That's great news, just as it should be. I am really looking forward to seeing you both!

I'll have to look at that link later. Looks good.

impudent strumpet said...

Meh, what the hell, someone has to write the dissenting opinion.

For people who don't cook, I suggested bringing chips and salsa or buying cookies, and that seemed to work out, too.

While this does relieve some of the logistical difficulties, it doesn't relieve all the pressure because of

It is sooo social people bond over food stories (marvelous icebreaker).

and

I vote potluck too. Probably not surprising, because I do seem to enjoy cooking. But I am always happy to make something to bring to a party, and I also like the communal sort of idea it tends to create.

and

It's easy to get one dish together, and it's fun to see what everyone else has brought.

When you bring food to a potluck, your tacit message isn't simply "This is food." Your message is "This is food that I think is special enough to share with you all!" People (especially the kind of people who enjoy this sort of thing) are looking at the food, interested in what everyone has brought, bring up "So, what did you bring?" as small talk. You have to bring Something Good. If it isn't lovingly homemade, it has to be especially yummy or especially interesting or especially meaningful, because you're really saying that this is the calibre of food you think the occasion and the people present deserve.

Bringing a bag of chips would be like giving someone toilet paper as a birthday present, especially to a birthday party attended by people who get great personal satisfaction over finding just the right present. Technically it fulfills the requirements and there's no question that it's useful, but really, couldn't you have come up with something better?

This pressure isn't present (or at least not for every single dish - and not for any of the dishes if you can come up with enough food to give the visual appearance of bounty) when you're hosting. Having a bowl of chips on the table is like having toilet paper in the bathroom. It's simply...there. But for potluck, it's The One Thing that you've Chosen.

L-girl said...

I appreciate the dissenting opinion. I was wondering if you'd come by with it!

Hm, interesting. Maybe I'm clueless, or maybe I just don't care enough what others think. But I can easily be the one who brings a bag of chips and a jar of salsa to a potluck, and I never feel the slightest bit of discomfort over it.

But then, I host a party without cooking, and have no discomfort over that, either. I don't judge anyone based on how much they fuss over food and expect everyone else to do the same.

I didn't hear anyone comparing notes on the food last year, apart from "wow, this is good" and "what's this, is it vegetarian, yum, it's delicious" type of comments. But it may happen internally, or out of my hearing.

johngoldfine said...

I think I'm sort of with Strump.

Whenever I go to potlucks--maybe it's the kind of people I hang around with--there seems to be a lot of intoning of the word "soup" as if it were part of a religious rite. Then comes the catechism.

Is it vegetarian? Of course, it's vegetarian. (Some dimbulbs try scamming my veggie wife with, "I only used a little meat for flavoring.) Well, is it vegan? Does it have cilantro? Garlic? (Good luck finding anything at the potluck that doesn't.) Does it have hot peppers? Are the vegetables organically grown and union-picked?

And that's just the one dish. Everyone is trying to be mindful, concerned, and responsible. (Typically the people at these potlucks haven't touched alcohol in decades.)

Now, your potluck wouldn't be like that, would it? Everyone would cruise up with big stacks of ribs and flaming chile and mac and cheese with tons of ham minced in? Or the relaxed vegetarian equivalents. And the cole slaw would not be that dry puritan coleslaw without mayo that I get at these potlucks my wife drags me to? And the desserts would actually be sweet, right? None of this carob powder and a dab o' honey?

Mmmm, maybe Strump is wrong after all. I could see myself getting outside of some of that good stuff! And I'd make salsa from our own tomatoes; I'd bake zucchini bread; I'd bring my own pickles and cukes!

But, alas, truth is--I'll be sweet little sixteen, back in class again, by the Monday after that weekend....

L-girl said...

Oh god, I don't even know anyone like that. I hang out with people who end every activist meeting at a pub. There are some non-drinkers at our parties, but most people need a designated driver to get them home.

Everyone is very low-key and non-judgemental, there to eat and share, kibbitz, trash the government, play with dogs...

Not a lot of detailed attention to the food, except to ooh and aah in delight.

At least that was my take.

Boy, these potlucks can be minefields, eh?

L-girl said...

I could see myself getting outside of some of that good stuff! And I'd make salsa from our own tomatoes; I'd bake zucchini bread; I'd bring my own pickles and cukes!

I wish you could be there! You'd be very welcome to stay a few days if it would help. But I know it's almost school time by then.

L-girl said...

Everyone would cruise up with big stacks of ribs and flaming chile and mac and cheese with tons of ham minced in? Or the relaxed vegetarian equivalents.

Totally. And desserts were gooey, chocolatey and deeelicious.

M@ said...

The communal spirit I talked about (and was quoted about) comes from everyone participating, everyone eating together. Eating meals as a group, sharing food together, goes back literally millennia and is, I think, a deep part of the human social experience.

It has nothing to do with who brought what or the quality, quantity, or type of each dish. In fact, I have no recollection of what any other person brought last year, and I happened to help put out and arrange a lot of the food on the table. The point is not the individual contribution but the collective, shared experience.

I guess my point is that anyone who is actually trying to "send a message" with the food they bring to a potluck is really missing the point. Pot luck meals are a really nice way of people taking part in a nice time together. I admit I kind of resent this idea that, in such a setting, I would be so small-minded and petty as to actually look down my nose at what others brought or didn't bring. Maybe some people do, but I'm not one of them, and I don't think most people are. I think the problem lies somewhere else.

James said...

Besides, somebody's gotta bring the chips and salsa! Can't have a potluck without 'em.

L-girl said...

I'm gonna try that again...

I think M@'s observations reflect the way most people participate in a potluck - and why people here are expressing such enthusiasm for them.

Obviously social situations are not one-size-fits-all. I think of all the situations in which other people love to make small-talk with strangers, but in which I want to be quiet and wish everyone else would, too. So it's good to hear Imp Strump's dissenting opinion, as she calls it.

I guess I can only say that Imp Strump's characterization of the potluck is very different from what I've experienced - certainly very different than wmtc4.

Plus, James is right. Someone has to bring chips!

impudent strumpet said...

Even if everyone is absolutely gracious and no one even so much as blinks an eye at your faux pas, you still know that you've brought toilet paper to a birthday party.

David said...

I'm with Steph (in more ways than one): I love potlucks. Also BYOB -- spreads the expense and stress, also the enjoyment. I have never noticed people drawing attention to who brought what, just talking about the food, without labels. And yes, someone has to bring the chips (why would that person feel any more guilty than a host who supplied chips?), or bread and butter. It's all OK. There may be the odd dish (coleslaw, whatever) not to my taste, but there is usually too much to choose from anyways.

Allan, I would be happy to stay and help clean up afterwards (no need to clean in advance -- another guilt-driven compulsion).

Looking forward to this one!

L-girl said...

Even if everyone is absolutely gracious and no one even so much as blinks an eye at your faux pas, you still know that you've brought toilet paper to a birthday party.

I suppose this stems from within, and not from the potluck itself. Because it's not a faux pas. It may be something you invent and carry with you.

Allan, I would be happy to stay and help clean up afterwards

Oh no, I do that. But thanks. People always offer, which is so nice.

(no need to clean in advance -- another guilt-driven compulsion)

I don't think it's guilt, really. We have two dogs, we rarely clean, and the place really needs it. The party is an excuse to get it done - also to accomplish things that are often put off, like fixing a broken light switch or replacing a blind, those kinds of thing.

By the way, Allan was kidding. Right Allan? Kidding.

Amy said...

Sorry to take so long to respond. I forgot to subscribe!

I understand the comments about feeling somehow unworthy if all you do is bring the chips and salsa while everyone else is oohing and aahing over some delicious homemade concoction. I have had that feeling. Uch, there goes my guilt and worrying again. FWIW, I rarely share that guilt and worrying with the hosts or guests at the potluck; it's just there internally, so hopefully I am not burdening anyone else with it. If I ever get to a wmtc gathering, I promise not to reveal whatever guilt I am feeling about bringing only some store-bought dessert! And thanks for the invitation!

L-girl said...

But Amy, you said you also feel guilty if it's not a potluck, because then one person or family is doing all the work. So I would suggest that the guilt is not a function of the potluck and your choice to bring a store-bought item, but something you carry within you. I think you will probably agree.

That's what I'm saying with regard to Imp Strump's concern. I believe that in reality no one is judging what anyone brought, at least not in any group of people I'd hang out with. As Matt said, mostly no one even knows what anyone else brought!

So if Imp Strump would feel inadequate bringing chips or you would feel guilty bringing a non-home-made dessert, it would be discomfort stemming from personal issues unconnected to the party.

James said...

Besides, for some of us, store-bought chips are much better than our cooking. I wouldn't want to find myself feeling guilty about ruining everyone's appetite with something inedible... ;)

L-girl said...

In general, I wonder what the issue is re homemade vs store bought. My mother used to criticize some of my siblings for not cooking. I'd say, the kids don't starve, right? Everyone eats every night? If one provides nutritious food for one's family, but chooses to save time and effort by not cooking it oneself, why is that "less than"? I never understood it.

I guess in some people's minds (no one here, of course), Allan and I have been bad hosts 4 years running. Four annual parties and never once did we serve home-made food! The shame of it! ;)

Amy said...

Yes, I agree---it is my own mishagas.

And James, I agree. Whenever I do cook something, I then worry that it won't be any good. Here's a true confession: I always look to see how much is left of my stuff versus what is left of everyone else's dish.

And Allan, I like doing clean-up so I would gladly do that as my contribution.

OK, so perhaps I need some help...but at least I am self-aware and able to laugh at my own neuroses! :)

Amy said...

Regarding store bought vs home made: I think people have these emotional issues regarding food. If you cook for someone, you are nurturing them. I have read that stuff (which always makes me feel badly) about mothers and kids, that mothers express love by preparing meals for their kids. I have always preferred eating out or bringing in food to cooking, though I did "cook" most of their meals growing up. I do not believe my kids felt any less loved. In fact, they got more of my attention because I was not distracted by having to cook.

So I think people (like your mother) associate cooking with caring. If you care, you take the time to shop for and prepare something homemade. I say it's bullshit, but I know most people think that way. I know my mother does. (So if you are a bad host, I am a bad mother---talk about guilt!)

Lorna said...

Potlucks are a great opportunity to experiment on your friends! You can make that weird dish or try out that cooking idea that you had without the pressure of ruining the entire meal. There's always lots of other stuff for guests to choose from if you have created a disaster! Probably not very nice and sometimes the extent of my 'experimentation' is a different brand of jar salsa. Consider yourself forewarned if I make it to wmtc5.

deang said...

Random thoughts on potlucks:

My best potluck contribution: blue corn chips and chile pequin salsa. Everyone loved it and I didn't have to do much at all.

My most embarrassing potluck contribution: Mesquite muffins brought to a work party. I made a couple dozen hearty, even heavy, cornmeal muffins with mesquite meal added (gives a caramel-ish flavor). Halfway through preparing them, I ran out of one bottle of cooking oil and resorted to another from the back of the pantry. I tested one muffin before packing them; it was excellent and I was pleased. After the party, I noticed that half my muffins hadn't been eaten. I assumed my tastes weren't for everybody until I bit into one on the way home. It was rancid! The second bottle of cooking oil had gone bad and I hadn't noticed. I was so embarrassed I almost didn't go to work the next day.

A comment about potlucks that my mom has made in recent years: "People don't know how to do potlucks right anymore! They just pick up fast food and they don't think to bring enough for everybody. People are too used to eating out these days to know how to plan for potlucks anymore." My mom is a very judgmental person, though. And an excellent cook.

Jere said...

"Jere, if you and Kim want to drive to Toronto".

Thanks. But it looks like 2010 will be another non-Canada-trip year...

L-girl said...

My best potluck contribution: blue corn chips and chile pequin salsa. Everyone loved it and I didn't have to do much at all.

Never doubt the power of salty chips and tasty dip!

impudent strumpet said...

I guess the question is, if it is in fact true that no one actually cares about the quality/variety/awesomeness of the food, why bother with a potluck? What is gained from making everyone jump through hoops instead of just chip in a few dollars and order pizza when everyone starts getting hungry?

L-girl said...

I guess the question is, if it is in fact true that no one actually cares about the quality/variety/awesomeness of the food, why bother with a potluck? What is gained from making everyone jump through hoops instead of just chip in a few dollars and order pizza when everyone starts getting hungry?

No one said no one cares about the quality or variety of the food.

What people said, clearly, is that no one judges anyone else according to what they brought or how much effort was put into their offering, or feels that one offering is more or less worthy than another.

Everyone very much enjoys the variety and the quality of the food, whether that food be homemade or purchased from a store.

In addition, many (possibly most) people enjoy the experience of putting together a communal feast.

If any wmtc guest felt for one moment that I was asking them to jump through any type of hoop, I would hope they wouldn't attend.

Clearly the comments on this thread demonstrate that most people feel quite the opposite.

As I said earlier, social situations are not one size fits all, and if you dislike potlucks, that's perfectly fine. But there's no need to mischaracterize what anyone else says or feels.

Amy said...

Impudent Strumpet, that's my thinking as well. Usually I suggest that we just chip in and order food elsewhere, but people like that home-cooked nurturing notion. Got me!

L-girl said...

I would never throw a party and ask guests to contribute money. This not a small group of close friends that can negotiate something like that. This is 40, 50 people, many of whom have never met before or see each other once or twice a year. It's not a group-food-ordering kind of siutation.

I'm not into the home-cooked nurturing thing, as I've said many times. I almost always bring store-bought food to a potluck, and I wouldn't mind if everyone did the same to mine. How is stopping at a store and purchasing food "jumping through a hoop"?

Amy said...

I didn't mean I would ask guests for money. I meant that when I have organized an event, I often suggest ordering food in whereas the rest of the "hosts" prefer to cook.

I can't speak for IS, but I am happy to bring stuff I bought at a store rather than cooking, except for that lingering guilt thing.... Not a "hoop" for me.

L-girl said...

I guess that works if you are all in one place and organizing an event together. But many people, all arriving at different times, can't order food together, it just wouldn't work.

Amy said...

Yeah, I was not at all suggesting that it would work for your event. And I have done potlucks the way you are doing it many times with no problems and no complaints!

My comment was more applicable to the times when a few friends and I have organized some larger event and have provided all the food for the whole group---like a birthday party, shower, graduation party, etc.

Stephanie said...

On the subject of jumping through hoops...did anyone look at the link posted in comments by A&B B&B?

Now that is controlling and hoop jumping!

;)

Kim_in_TO said...

I sometimes do find potlucks to be a pain, because I feel an obligation to make something really great, and I find any food preparation to be a lot of work.

But last year's WMTC was really great. I think most people were already there when I arrived. The table was full of food and I never did find out who brought what (nor did I care, for the most part). There was such a great variety, including some dishes which were obviously home-cooked and others that were not. Usually I do try to cook for a potluck (and most of the time it's not an option), but I was pressed for time and bought some deli meat. I did not feel the least bit guilty, nor did I feel judgemental toward anyone who brought anything less expensive (deli meat for that big a crowd adds up).

Although I didn't realize it until now, that was probably the least judgemental crowd I've ever seen at a potluck. I really enjoyed it.

One more thing: if money is an issue, why not have some people bring the drinks too? You're providing the house and the chance to get together (which is great - it's something I can't do). I can't speak for everyone, but I know I wouldn't mind.

L-girl said...

Thanks for your honesty, Kim. I hope I never attend a judgemental potluck! That would suck.

It looks like we're going with potluck this year, so I hope you'll feel free to buy something, and spend less money. Or make something that is very little work, if such a thing exists.

Thanks for the suggestion re BYOB plus potluck. That's farther than I can go. :)

Kim_in_TO said...

This is moot since you've already decided, but I just want to clarify that when I said I sometimes find potlucks to be a pain, I neglected to mention that it's never deterred me from attending. It means some commitment (shopping for ingredients, putting aside time to prepare the dish), but it's a small price to pay for the return you get in having a great time with friends or family. And it's far preferable to hearing (or even imagining) one person's stress in cleaning, shopping, and then cooking to prepare for a huge crowd. I like the idea of sharing the work and cost, even if feels like a pain for a short time.

If I don't like it, I can opt not to come. As I say - it's never driven me to that.

Dharma Seeker said...

A) Potluck. It was fantastic last year. As a vegetarian myself there were LOTS of yummy selections. I don't think you have to have amazing culinary skills to make a valued contribution. ie. Pita and Hummus. Veg and dip. Both are easy to make, and consumed with enthusiasm. And honestly last year, I had no idea who had made what. I just enjoyed and appreciated the yummy food.

Dharma Seeker said...

Imp Strump it's too bad you weren't there last year. I would take amazing, diverse, delicious spread that was there last year over a slice of pizza any day. As M@ correctly noted, it's about community, exploration, and trying new things.

Dharma Seeker said...

Also with respect to the potluck there truly is something for every lifestyle, dietary choice and dietary limitation. You can't say the same about pizza which is full of gluten, diary, and often meat. Ordering in for a girls night is one thing, but for this number of people a pot luck works really well, and most importantly works well for EVERYONE.