Pot Luck – Food in common.
A Pot Luck is a shared meal - where everyone brings something to contribute. Someone can decide to host a communal meal, either by themselves or with friends –and perhaps with a theme to the food such as a country, style or even colour; or around a certain conversation or local happening.
Hosts register the meal online at www.potluck.so and list the things needed to make it happen, for example a certain ingredient, a cooked dish, cutlery or help setting up. People join in by each bringing something requested by the host. It only works if everyone helps out - and with everyone bringing a little bit, it soon grows into an amazing feast!
People want more shared spaces
Our experience from working with people in many different communities over the past 18 months or more, and learning from inspiring projects around the world through the Community Lover’s Guide to the Universe – is that people want new types of common spaces. Places that have community ownership and mutual respect, and where artificial divides between ages, races, genders or occupations are broken down; and new connections and relationships are forged. We also know that creating social capital has positive effects on long-term systemic issues such as health, employment and crime (see the RSA’s work on Connected Communities as one example).
Social dining vs restaurants and private dinners
Sharing a meal is a great way to get to know people. Food is both a common denominator and a social convenor. For a good explanation of social dining, and how it is different from buying a meal in a restaurant, or having dinner at a friend’s house see Tessy’s previous post on social dining and new behaviours.
In essence – buying a meal in a restaurant is in a commercial space, with transactional relationships. You are paying for a service, and will likely behave in the expected role of customer. It is possible, but you are unlikely to forge new friendships this way - do you know the name of the last person who served or sold you food?
Going to a meal at a friend’s house, or inviting friends over is likely to include only your current social circle or perhaps a little wider, and take place in private property behind closed doors. Whilst this is also important to the social fabric, communal dining has the added bonus of being able to change the culture of a space publicly, and help reduce social divides by increasing the amount or variety of people attending.
Collaboration and shared resources
Another couple of experiences recently have added new thoughts to the mix.
Firstly, during a trip to see Maurice (Social Spaces Netherlands) in Rotterdam earlier in the year, we joined a regular open shared breakfast, hosted in his co-working space. People arrived armed with bread rolls, egg salad, cheese, jam, and fruit. Maurice had the coffee pot warming. Tessy and I chopped bananas for a fruit salad. Various people put down knives and forks, cups and plates. And the final touch - candles.
No-one individually had to do a lot. Everyone took part, brought what they could, and did a little. Together we created a slightly mismatched, homely, welcoming and beautiful table. And then we all shared a breakfast, listened to a talk, asked questions and chatted. Asking someone to pass the jam, or pouring the person next to you a coffee before asking their view on open education, felt very different to awkwardly trying to ‘network’, while balancing a plate of snacks served at a conference somewhere. And we worked to capture some of the social aspects to knowledge building recently in the Ad Hoc Enquiry dinners.
Secondly, co-founding and running Trade School London as part of the global Trade School coop. Trade School is an open learning space, that runs on barter and mutual respect. Anyone can offer to teach a class, and pupils sign up by agreeing to meet the teachers requests (things like art supplies, advice, or food).
One of the most profound experiences has been how different this mechanism of value exchange feels, compared to financial or service level transactions- having a social nature that is missing from many others throughout the normal day. Knowing this intellectually and reliably experiencing it at each lesson are different things, and watching other's delight around discovering this has been amazing.
As hosts, taking care to welcome people with refreshments and introductions also helps create a social atmosphere, and these things mean that the quality of the relationship between teacher and pupil is different – more equal, more personal. There isn't a financial barrier to taking part, and everyone brings something of value to create the experience together.
Trade School is supported by some clever technology – the website developed by Or Zubalsky for registering teachers, listing classes, and signing up pupils, and which has allowed Trade Schools to start opening all over the world.
Why is there not more social dining?
So given both the benefits and enjoyment to be had from social dining - why is there not more of it springing up around us?
Perhaps because there are few genuinely open public spaces left. Communities are often struggling to find venues, buildings, green spaces that don’t charge for use, or have restrictions on activities.
The cost of hosting a meal for large groups is getting harder to bear in times of reduced funding and tighter personal budgets.
And as with a lot of community initiatives, a small group of committed people are often left with the burden of organising and creating activities, and almost delivering community back to their neighbours who are put in a position of behaving more like consumers than collaborators.
Introducing Pot Luck
Building on this thinking and experiences, and working collaboratively with Or and the Trade School technology – we are developing www.potluck.so as a tool for communities everywhere to create shared meals, without needing to wait for funding, and in a way that brings out skills and resources from everyone. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like to cook, you could help set table, or clear up. Or offer some entertainment or a room to host in.
We are currently piloting Pot Luck in collaboration with residents on the Tulse Hill Estate, as part of a joint project with Lambeth Council looking at ways to surface and share various resources, skills and ideas on the estate.
We will update with progress, and information about the first meals shortly. If you want to find out more or see Pot Luck in your area, get in touch.