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People of the Prairies, unite!

Join in solidarity with people from Arizona and have a potluck dinner – just to prove a point

People of the Prairies, unite!

I am about to break the law. Don’t be alarmed, I doubt it will land me in jail. In fact, it is quite possible the law will be changed before this appears in print and my actions will no longer constitute a misdemeanour. In the meantime, I feel obliged to break this law on principle. Should I be called before a judge I will argue: a) It’s a silly law; b) Many people have already broken this law with relish; and c) This law is in poor taste, literally.

As I write, I am in Arizona where it is illegal to potluck. You heard that right. It is against the law to hold a potluck in your own home. How silly is that? Is there anything more genial, more stress free, more neighbourly than a potluck? How can that be a bad thing?

As you might guess, I am a big fan of potlucks. Few events more perfectly illustrate the random synchronicity of the human spirit than a perfectly balanced potluck, in which meat dishes, salads, finger foods and desserts arrive at the table without so much as a schedule or a plan. Potlucks are, by definition, soul food. (This “law of potlucks” is reinforced by its occasional exception. I once attended a potluck to which almost everyone brought dessert, and almost every dessert had chocolate. That must be more rare than winning a lottery, and just as sweet.)

I don’t know about the citizens of Arizona, but I’m quite sure Prairie people have been holding potlucks since the arrival of the first pot. In the days of the pioneers, potluck picnics and church socials brought the community together at a time when neighbours lived most of the year in rural isolation. Whether they spoke English or German, Icelandic or Ukrainian, a potluck united everyone in food and friendship.

The injunction against potlucks in Arizona came to light recently when residents of a retirement community in Apache Junction, near Phoenix, held a potluck dinner. Someone reported their transgression to health authorities, who put a lid on their potlucks. This was done under the auspices of state health and safety regulations for the safe handling of food, adopted in 2006. The law requires minimum standards and inspections to ensure food is free of “unwholesome, poisonous or other foreign substances and filth, insects or disease-causing organisms (…) in any warehouse, restaurant or other premises.”

In the case of potlucks, the law provided for one exception: “a non-commercial social event that takes place in a workplace, such as a potluck.” In other words, potlucks at the workplace are A-OK but not at home, church, school or retirement park. Obviously, this law was never meant to be. It’s a good example of bad writing, perhaps a case of having too many fingers in the pot. As soon as it came to light, members of the state legislature approved an amendment removing the mention of “workplace” and thus making an exception for potlucks in general. As I write, it is awaiting approval by the Senate before it can be signed into law.

In the meantime, please join me in solidarity with the people of Arizona by throwing a potluck, just to prove that sharing home-cooked food needs no regulation to be good for the stomach as well as the soul.

Here’s a salad I’ve taken to several potlucks, legal or otherwise.

Chickpea and Fruit Salad

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1-1/2-inch piece of ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. each cumin AND chili powder
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 c. olive OR canola oil
  • 2 peaches OR mangoes
  • 2 apples
  • 2 c. canned chickpeas
  • 5 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 c. fresh coriander, chopped

Chop and smash together the garlic, ginger, salt, cumin and chili powder until it forms a fragrant pulp. I use a mortar and pestle; mashing it between two forks is also effective. Stir in lemon juice and white wine vinegar. Drizzle in oil, whisking constantly. Peel and pit the fruit. Chop into a small dice about the size of a chickpea. Mix together fruit, chickpeas and green onion. Stir in the dressing. Cover and refrigerate to marinate at least an hour or two (or more) before the meal. Just before serving, stir in the fresh chopped coriander.

About the author


Amy Jo Ehman is the author of Prairie Feast: A Writer’s Journey Home for Dinner, and, Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens. She hails from Craik, Saskatchewan.

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