This letter to the editor was published in the Northampton, Massachusetts Daily Hampshire Gazette on January 6, 2010.
It’s a shame that the Daily Hampshire Gazette is forced – doubtless by budget and staffing constraints – to use so many feature articles from its news service. Many of these stories, from the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, have little connection to culture in the Connecticut River Valley, and they seem like a waste of precious column inches. If I have any interest in pricey bungalows remodeled in the LA hills or trends in DC-area supermarkets, I can find that information online.
The most recent affront to Valley sensibilities was the article “Grossed out by holiday potlucks? Join the crowd” (Dec. 30). As anyone with any community organizing experience (including our president-elect?) knows, the potluck meal is a great tradition, bringing together food and folks for feasting and conversation, and often planning for social change. Potlucks are especially helpful for those of us who are single and unmotivated to cook for one person, and for those who want to showcase the delicious produce and other farm products grown and produced in our Valley and teach others how to cook with these products.
The squeamish “potluck haters” quoted in the LA Times article fretted about bacteria produced by driving meat across town and co-workers who may not wash their hands before preparing casseroles. As usual, LA’s sprawl and mild climate are different enough from the Valley’s living conditions as to render some of these concerns moot – a drive or bike ride from Northampton to Holyoke, for example, especially in winter, will not make a dish inedible.
The U.S. public has become paranoid about germs in the last couple of decades, for good reason. But these fears would be better focused on avoiding a food system that relies on underpaid migrant workers; abusive, unsafe factory farming of millions of animals; importation of pesticide-laden produce from across the country and from nations thousands of miles away; and processed junk full of high-fructose corn syrup and other unhealthy ingredients. This system has resulted in baby food contaminated with melamine and other chemicals and periodic deadly contamination with e coli and other bacteria.
Keep having potlucks – using food grown in our backyards, community gardens, and organic farms down the road or in the next town. The more we can all help make agriculture local and sustainable and the greater the sense of community we can create by sharing our food and our selves, the better off we will all be.