Opinion Column

Community editorial board: Cupboard mayo, cat hairs and other reasons why I hate pot lucks

By Kimberley Laws


When it comes to restaurants and other eating establishments that feed the public, society is somewhat picky. You will never find a cat on the counter at Harvey's. Your Whopper will never be prepared by a toddler's sticky hands. Your Subway fixings will never reach room temperature. And your Big Mac sauce will not be expired.

To a somewhat neurotic, obsessive compulsive person like myself, this is comforting. Thanks to regulated eateries, I can eat meals prepared by strangers without worrying about succumbing to a food-borne parasite, a misidentified poisonous mushroom, or a bout of salmonella, botulism, or some other unpronounceable affliction.

This cannot be said for the potluck.

While the potluck, in theory, sounds like a neighbourly activity, potluck food terrifies me. It is, after all, food prepared by strangers that do not necessarily follow the rigorous practices observed by professional food vendors. In the wrong hands, a bowl of potato salad can devolve from a community-building exercise into a vehicle of population control, offing unsuspecting churchgoers, book club members, or summer picnic attendees.

Do you still cling to the belief that potluck suppers are a great idea? Perhaps, this true culinary horror story will change your mind. One day in a local grocery store, I began talking to a fellow customer – we'll call her Customer # 2 – over a display of price-reduced quickly-approaching-their-expiry-date jars of mayonnaise. Customer # 2 and I found ourselves agreeing that paying full price for fresher Hellman's was the much wiser option when, out of nowhere, a third customer – Customer # 3-- joined our debate. Customer # 3 proceeded to inform us that her current bottle of mayo was months – perhaps even years – past its expiry date and there was nothing wrong with it. She, then, added that she didn't even keep this bottle of mayo in the fridge.

The realization that somewhere, in a cupboard nearby, lurked a toxic slurry of bacteria disguised as a benign condiment caused both myself and Customer # 2 to engage in some dramatic retching noises. With my gag reflexes finally under control, I stepped away from the display with my aversion to potlucks further cemented.

Still not convinced? I once knew a lady who, on the surface, appeared to be fastidious about cleanliness. Surely, meals prepared by her hands would be safe, right? Wrong. It turns out that this picture of pristine perfection lived in a house with six hairy cats and cupboards inhabited by a bevy of wild mice. And after eating one of her mince meat pies, you could cough up a furball. Ack.

Another off-putting participant in the potluck is the doting mother who perceives food preparation as a bonding activity with her toddlers. Yes, cooking with kids can be fun. And, yes, a toddler covered in flour, icing, or some other edible detritus does make for an awesome Facebook photo opportunity. But no one wants to eat food prepared by someone who does not yet know that the quarry found up one's nose is not edible.

Furthermore, as someone who suffers from food allergies, I also perceive potlucks to be akin to a game of Russian Roulette with food. With row upon row of mystery ingredients, identifying a soy and Portobello-free dish is like locating the proverbial needle in the haystack. And, speaking of needles, a festive meal is much more enjoyable when it does not require a side of epinephrine.

On a practical note, potlucks can also lead to an epicurean nightmare. What if everyone brings the same thing? A table filled with dinner rolls and pasta salad can hardly be called supper.

And, realistically, very few people are good cooks. Seriously. I bet you have a bunch of friends that overestimate their culinary abilities. Do you really want to eat food prepared by someone with impaired taste buds? We've all been there. You're making your way down the potluck table, taking a dollop of each dish on offer when you encounter Ethel's Jello-mold salad. Yikes. You have two choices – eschew her jiggling mass of epicurean horrors and risk hurting her feelings or force yourself to endure a small mouthful and resent Ethel for subjecting you to this torture. Either way, a potluck that was designed to nurture fellowship can serve as the impetus for discord, severed relationships, and nausea.

The next time you are invited to a potluck, you may want to think twice before accepting. Avoid dishes heavy on mayo. Inspect all foods for stray hairs. And never assume that the crunchy things are bacon bits.

Next week: Bryce McBride

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