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Ode to the Humble Potluck, that Building Block of Meaningful Relationships

The potluck. From its humble origins (the term derives from the 16th-century phrase, “the luck of the pot," or food provided to an unexpected guest) to its present day utility as a hassle-free, often cozy way for people to meet, groups to convene, and friends to hangout, the time has come to embrace potlucks for what they are: awesome.

This year, on Neighborday weekend, epic potlucks will abound. I plan to attend the potluck at the Burning Man Participant Faire on Saturday, though I can also get my potluck fill the following day at the third-annual Reddit Lazy Sunday in April Potluck or the potluck-style Bay Area Dinner Party for young professionals who have experienced the loss of a parent.
In my two years in San Francisco, I have hosted or helped organize at least a dozen potlucks. Over time, these gatherings have morphed from a few handfuls of friends chatting at my house over hummus, salads, and lentils, to the Fireside Potluck series, which “brings good people together from all walks of life in tech, arts, science, academia, media, and elsewhere to break bread, discuss the future, and hatch ideas to shape it.”
Fireside Potluck number five is on the topic of failure, and will be held in May at a friend’s house in Noe Valley. Space constraints now require us to cap the event, as over 70 people showed up to the fourth #firepot (yes, some people live-tweet), which was on the topic of success. You can learn more about the inspiration for the Fireside Potluck series here, or apply to host a themed potluck or attend one near you at, where our inthis: potlucks app is in closed beta.
Here are a few more stories of potlucks to heat your stock pot.
Exhibit A.
At the Fair Oaks Neighbors Potluck last Sunday, the youngest attendee was five days old. The baby joined his family and 50 other people for the event, a tasty meet-and-greet precursor to the Fair Oaks Street Fair / Garage Sale on May 12, now in its 37th year.
A mix of young tech professionals and long-time residents mingled together at the vibrant event. The family with the newborn had moved into the neighborhood just a month prior. They raved that the potluck was “their baby’s first place visit,” said organizer Marie Libeson, who expressed her own happiness at being part of an important milestone for the family.
Exhibit B.\n
Recently, my friend Lisa invited me and 10 other people to join her for a “random group dinner" at her apartment in Palo Alto, potluck-style. I hesitated about going: I didn’t know anyone else who was going, and I had just met Lisa recently. Most of the other attendees knew each other from church. I imagined an angelic tight-knit group laughing together while I lapped up casserole in the corner, alone. Turns out nothing was further from the truth.
Conversation: engaging.
The number of topics we discussed were almost as numerous and diverse as the dishes available. Conversation ranged from whether New York City has a “community feel” to whether we’d jump into a fray to stop an elderly lady from being robbed to whether people in cities define “success” differently than people in rural areas (consensus: yes, we’d like to think so, and probably).
Even without a bite or morsel, I would have left well-sated from conversation. But there was no need to fill up on chatter.
Food: delicious.e
Sliders with blue cheese, penne with bolognese sauce, prosciutto-wrapped dates, three veggie salads (all of the tasty variety, I am happy to report), and, for dessert, artisanal ice creams. I opted for the salted caramel with fresh rasberries on top. We ate well.
People: the best part.
There was Mark, the Stanford assistant basketball coach, who played high school ball at a rival school in the East Bay; Mandy, the Army public affairs officer from Austin by way of Houston, who had a delightful accent and dreamed of visiting New Zealand someday; Glen, who lives in Livermore (my hometown) and knows the Jacobs Family whom I adore; the gal across from me who had moved to New York City three weeks before 9/11; Elizabeth, who everyone calls Liz, who invited me to the dinner and took a ribbing for being from Canada; and the guy from Google who emailed me before he left (early) and said he was thinking about ideas for remaking social networking in a very similar way to me. We’re meeting for lunch next week. And there were others, all of whom I liked and hope to have the honor of meeting again.
The seed of a relationship was planted with each person at the potluck. Some have begun to sprout into friendships already, as follow-up plans are made and emails are exchanged. While most will surely grow no further, as time, energy, and distance dictate, it matters not. Meaningful relationships start with unforgettable shared experiences, not +1 Add Friend or Learn about Glen, your new connection.
Regardless of what happens next, I was grateful for the people, the food, and the conversations as a unified whole. I enjoyed each, but not just as individual delights; it was about being together as a group, as a community. As the kind of family that cities make.
Potlucks: awesome.

Hang out with your neighbors on the last Saturday of April (a day we're calling "Neighborday"). Click here to say you'll Do It, and here to download GOOD's Neighborday Toolkit and a bunch of other fun stuff.

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