Mindful Plant-Based Potlucks
When we met for our first Mindful Cooking potluck, we never imagined we were starting a practice that would continue for nine years and beyond. Apparently, we have evolved a format that meets a need and keeps people coming.
We began as a small group of sangha members who were inspired by Thay’s 2007 call to move to a plant-based diet for the sake of the Earth. After several months of e-mailing recipes to each other, we met for a potluck in my garden. We gathered around the food table and read the Five Contemplations
together. When our plates were filled, we settled ourselves in a circle and took turns telling our food stories, going around the circle, and being sure to hear from everyone. The result was a fascinating, surprisingly deep conversation.
Our Relationship to Food is Multi-Dimensional
We realized how important food is to us and how emotional we are about it. Each of us has a story to tell, a story that begins at our family’s table and progresses to adulthood, often with vivid turning points along the way. We discovered how much food connects us to our families and friends. Our food choices connect us also to the larger community, to issues of hunger and fairness, and ultimately to the needs of all species. We were speaking of our roots and our deepest concerns, but we also shared a happy awareness of the simple joy of eating, a source of joy that comes to us every day.
Food turns out to be a multi-dimensional subject that takes us all over, from how to make tofu crispy, to the social complications that come with changing one’s diet, to shopping on a budget, GMO’s, allergies, restaurants, cookbooks, factory farming, the problem of cooking for one, and on and on. We have found ourselves at times talking of war and peace, livestock and global warming, and connections with other cultures. Somehow we always end up with joyous appreciation of the food in front of us and the time we are having together.
In Touch with How Much Food Matters
Our group is always changing. We have a few regulars but also many people who only come once, or a few times, or who drop in and out over the years. Though we started in a sangha context, we have always included spouses and friends who do not have a sangha connection. To keep it comfortable for them, our only ritual element is the reading of the Five Contemplations, which connects us to the origins of our project and reminds us to look thoughtfully at our relationship with food. A few of us are consistently vegan while others are curious about the possibilities. We make no assumptions about how far anyone will go with plant-based cooking. Our potlucks are simply a chance to experience a plant-based meal and talk with others about food.
As I reflect on the 29 potlucks we’ve had so far, I realize that we are offering something that doesn’t occur elsewhere. Though food is present at most social gatherings, we usually talk of other things, as if food were simply mundane. Our potlucks are a rare chance to get in touch with how much our food matters to us and how important our food choices really are. Our long-running Mindful Cooking potluck tradition fills a need to come together and think about food, especially now, when our world is changing so fast. At our potlucks we are facing change together, learning from each other, and strengthening our resolve to adapt to these new times.