This year, the theme of Three Rivers Festival is the Sacred Feast, and we’ll be having workshops and discussions on hosting sacred feasts, feasting in mythology, and demonstrations of meadmaking. Our working lunch will be an open discussion on running and improving potlucks at our events, and, given this week’s letter, here are some of my thoughts and experiences on feasting and potluck at our pagan events.
When we were still having our events in personal homes, a trend began of leaving all of the cleanup for the hosts. Folk would go home after the meal, leaving myself and my housemates with two sinks of dishes and altar tear-down to do. At first I considered this part of my host duties, but as this repeatedly happened and our High Days became larger and more complex, it became very tiring. Communication improved the issue, and then we had to handle it in a different way when we began renting a hall.
Because a hall is nobody’s home (or rather, for the duration of our rental, it is our collective home), there is not one person who it could be said has the responsibility of cleaning up. High Days are an opportunity for catching up with friends and relaxing, but work still has to be done. We’ve solved the issue of taking people away from their social time, or just having one person guiltily do everything, by taking three volunteers for the evening: one for hospitality, and two for kitchen. We ask for these volunteers weeks in advance at a Grove meeting, and encourage everyone to volunteer periodically throughout the year.
Our hospitality volunteer greets everyone at the door when they arrive and answers any directional questions (washroom, closet, etc). They ensure that our hospitality baskets are placed in the washrooms. These baskets contain hand sanitizer, feminine products, bandaids, and in summer, bug spray and sunscreen. The volunteers also oversees Dagda’s Cauldron — both the food items for charity, and the monetary donations towards the Grove. Any new guests should be introduced to others present, then allowing the hospitality volunteer to return to their position.
The Grove has a bin of kitchen supplies including trash, compost, and recycling bags, dish soap, paper towels, and other cleaning supplies that we bring to every ritual. Our kitchen volunteers ensure that garbage, recycling, and green bins are made available in or near the kitchen. They are also in charge of arranging our potluck buffet, ensuring there are extra plates, cups, and cutlery available, and ensuring that the dish is appropriately labelled with a list of ingredients. If not, we provide index cards and ask the person who brought the dish to write down the list. All dishes must have their own serving utensil to avoid cross-contamination with allergens.
Our potluck buffet is arranged in a particular order — we separate out the gluten-free items from the others. Our ingredient lists have taken some criticism in the past, with us being called fussy and people wondering why it matters. At larger events, we have even heard comments about how people with allergies shouldn’t eat at the potluck. That is rude and ridiculous. Among our Grove, we have two members with celiac disease, and others with nut and fruit allergies. Our potlucks should be a place where they are welcome, and can eat as safely as we can make it. We can’t, and don’t guarantee that the food present is safe for all allergies, but having ingredient lists allows our attendees with allergies or other dietary restrictions to make informed choices about what they are eating.
We encourage everyone who comes to our events to bring a dish for the potluck. Many people bring homemade dishes, and some don’t, and that’s okay. We also understand that sometimes, folk can’t bring a dish for whatever reason, and that’s okay too. Some other groups have chosen not to have potlucks because they don’t want to perpetuate any perceived divisions between those who have and those who don’t, but in my Grove we see potlucks as a chance for folk to come together in community. In the past, when someone had expressed concern over not being able to bring anything elaborate, we encouraged him to bring something small, like a bag of apples, and contribute more when he was able. He brought apples to many rites, and when he got a job that allowed him to bring more, he did. There was no judgement concerning his contributions at any time. (We also don’t plan our dishes in advance in any formal way. This has only resulted in one bad potluck, appropriately named in our collective histories as the “Macaroni Salad Solstice.”)
We ask attendees to bring their own plates, cups, and cutlery. We do not have access to the hall’s collection of these items, and our summer location does not have them either, and we do not want to use paper plates for environmental reasons. The extra plates we do provide are compostable so can be collected in the green bin. Recently, we have treated our potlucks as a shared meal adding another layer to its importance. One of the kitchen volunteers prepares a large plate with the first portion of all items from the potluck, and presents it as an offering to the Kindreds during the general praise section of the ritual.
After the rite, we gather around the buffet and remind our guests of our hospitality rules. We encourage our guests to eat first, with Grove Members afterwards. We ask that we wait to have seconds until everyone has had firsts. We ask that people proceed through the buffet starting with the gluten-free end, to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. We remind everyone to leave serving utensils with their appropriate dishes. Then, we bless the food.
After the meal and socializing, our kitchen volunteers collect, or folk can drop off their plates to the kitchen for washing. They wash all plates, any empty potluck dishes, and the plates and bowls used on the altar. The altar is cleaned up by the ritual leader and others. As the chairs and tables are being put away, someone sweeps the floor. It’s really amazing how many hands come together to make this quick and seamless.
It might seem that how we approach feasting at High Days to be strict, but we have found our food rules and hospitality reminders to be necessary. Hospitality is an important part of my and my Grove’s Druidry, so these mundane details greatly enhance our religious celebrations.