The holidays are here and so are family gatherings, and that usually means various eating events. My most recent invitation involves “bringing a covered dish,” which brings me to today’s topic.
Now, I realize “bringing a covered dish” has been a tradition for almost as long as tradition has been a word. Also known as “potluck dinners,” “potluck suppers” and “Go help your Aunt Myrtle before she drops the vat of banana pudding on the driveway,” sharing grub in a communal setting is quite common. I’ve participated in these food fests so many times I can’t even count them.
But here’s the thing; I’m just not comfortable doing it anymore. I don’t know if it’s an age thing or what, but eating food prepared off-site and delivered in a dish with an aluminum foil cover is a big turn-off for me.
There was a time – many times, in fact – when I never questioned potluck dining. Hell, you could throw a hunk of bread in the air and I’d run up under it and try to catch it in my mouth like a dog. But alas, now I tend to overthink things.
For example, many years ago the place I worked would occasionally have potluck dinners, and I never hesitated to plop a big ol’ spoonful of green bean casserole, squash casserole or sweet potato casserole on my paper plate. Never asked who made it … never cared who made it.
And all of it was delicious. So delicious that I’d often stop chewing briefly and exclaim, “This is delicious!”
I imagined the squash came from a carefully tended garden, while the cheese was made of the finest Velveeta.
Green beans were expertly snapped by people who enjoyed doing such violence to green beans, and the fried onion toppings came directly from the Durkee family (probably delivered to the supermarket by the youngest Durkee, who was just learning the family business. I think his name is Dirk).
And sweet potatoes? Well, they had to be freshly picked from the nearest sweet potato tree before being squished up and smothered in cinnamon, brown sugar and chopped pecans.
My mouth waters just thinking about it (although in fairness I’ve had a drooling issue for the last couple of years so it could be just a coincidence).
Unfortunately, I just can’t do it anymore.
Now I pay close attention to the people who bring the covered dishes, and I begin to imagine what all took place during preparation.
Maybe the squash hit the floor and the cook, in an effort to pick it up, accidentally kicked it. As the yellow vegetable went tumbling across the sticky kitchen tile Tulip – the pit bull/toy poodle mix – picked it up and slobbered on it before it could be retrieved by the cook, who wiped it on an apron before cutting it up with a rusty pocket knife.
And green beans? I think back to my mother sitting on the couch snapping them, an unfiltered Pall Mall cigarette dangling from her lips while she made an odd, kennel cough-like noise.
As for sweet potatoes, those damn things are filthy – and no amount of apron wiping would get Tulip’s drool off of them.
Look, if you saw me bring a covered dish to a potluck situation, I wouldn’t expect you to eat it, either. I have two dogs and two cats plus I mindlessly scratch myself sometimes. I can’t say with certainly I always wash my hands after dealing with an itch on or near my nether regions.
So now I’m faced with a dilemma of having to go to a potluck dinner and bringing my own covered dish. Fortunately, I was not asked to bring anything specific, which means I can go to the nearest supermarket and get some kind of pie or cake prepared by the culinary staff.
How do I know these people are any cleaner that the homemade casserole bakers? I don’t.
But I will assume they don’t have a dog running around in their kitchen and that gives me a sense of peace. It also helps to see a health department score posted. If it’s 98 or better, I’m good.
If it’s 75 or below with a note that reads, “Raccoon activity detected in pantries,” I’m outta there.
As for eating at a potluck function, that’s really not an issue. When you’re among a group of people, you can simply make your plate, be seen walking with your plate, and then set the plate down somewhere. Then you just wander off, and if someone does notice, you start a fire in a trash can and create a diversion.
Honestly, I wish I could go back to the old days of eating unvetted food. It was almost always good, I never once got sick, and I’m really missing out on some delicious homemade fare.
But I’ve already talked myself out of it now. And that means as soon as I’m done with covered dish obligations, I’ll head to the nearest fast food place and get a large serving of French fries.
Sure, one of the fries might’ve hit the floor before it made it to the container, but fortunately hot grease kills germs.
At least that’s what I choose to believe.