Medical Condition: Potluckphobia
Greetings. Here is a friendly reminder that as we approach the holiday season, we all need to be aware of a potential health hazard. Potlucks.
Description: Potluckphobia is a serious anxiety disorder brought on by the fear of consuming homemade food prepared by someone other than you, in a home other than yours, served at mass gatherings of people, who at best are work friends (as opposed to real friends) and at worst are disgruntled employees looking for an opportunity to reek widespread gastronomical havoc.
Cause: Like most phobias, Potluckphobia is usually triggered by a traumatic experience or event. However, unlike most phobias which are often linked to the Amygdala, an area in the brain located in the Limbic System, Potluckphobia is linked to the stomach and bowels. Potluckphobians trace the origins of their phobia to contracting one or more of the following foodborne illnesses; Botulism, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella, or E Coli.
Symptoms: Potluckphobia has several fear symptoms. Initial symptoms include fear of abdominal cramps and fear of nausea, immediately followed by fear of hurling chow and violent and explosive diarrhea. Final symptom is the fear of wanting to die but not having enough strength to crawl to the door when death comes knocking.
Treatment: Although Systematic Desensitization Therapy or Cognative Behavioral Therapy are options, the most affective way to prevent Potluckphobia is to avoid potlucks. If you must attend a potluck, you can reduce your risk of developing Potluckphobia by eating only prepackaged food purchased at grocery stores typically by single men whose culinary skills are limited to peeling the plastic film off microwave entrees.
My name is Dustin and I’m a Potluckphobian. I have had this affliction for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I’d be sitting in church and the pastor would say something like, “Next Sunday Al and Kay Seltzer, missionaries to Bointango, will be ministering to us. After the morning service, everyone is invited to attend a potluck in their honor. If your last name starts with A thru G you need to bring a salad. If your last name starts with H thru R you need to bring a main dish. And if your last name starts with S thru Z you need to bring a dessert. And for a special treat, the Seltzer’s will be sharing a dish from the Boinganese culture.”
So the next Sunday, I’m watching a slide show by the Seltzers of their ministry in Bointango. I’m seeing pictures of thatch huts, dirt roads, and unforgiving jungle. I’m also seeing pictures of Boinganese tribesmen displaying the consequences of poor dental care, and pictures of Boinganese children playing a rudimentary game of kick the emaciated goat. But not in a single slide did I see anything resembling a grocery store. Not a giant food mart. Not a mini mart. Not even a tiny hut mart. Later, at the potluck, the special dish from the Boinganese culture turned out to be mashed spitting beetles, rice, and tuberous vegetation, served in the husks of an indigenous tree that only needs 2 milliliters of rain annually to thrive. (Note: the Seltzers never identified the mystery ingredient as spitting beetles, but my childhood imagination helped fill in the blanks.) Back then, Potluckphobia was not a recognized disorder, so I suffered in silence.
Throughout a typical day at work, I usually get 40 – 50 work related e-mails. The subject and content of these may vary, but when it comes down to it, they all fit within one of two broad categories. Either to add more work to my current workload, or to complain about the output of my current workload. Oops, I forgot a third category. The subject line of the e-mail usually looks something like this:
BABY SHOWER FOR BETTY LYNN MOSSYROCK!!!!!!!!!!!
It’s at this time that my right index finger disobeys a direct command from headquarters to delete the message unread, and instead clicks on the e-mail to open it up. It’s a flyer that someone with not enough current workload created. There are clip art pictures of babies and baby paraphernalia.
“We are having a baby shower and potluck for Betty Lynn Mossyrock next Wednesday during lunch. Betty Lynn’s baby is registered at all Target and Walmart Superstores. If you’d like to contribute towards a stroller, please see Delores in Human Resources. There is a signup sheet for the potluck posted in the break room.”
So I have two choices, either call in next Wednesday and pretend I’m sick, or attend the potluck and experience the real thing.
For most of the year, I am usually able to keep my phobia in check - until the holidays. *64% of all potlucks take place during the holiday season (* this statistic is unverifiable since I made it up). I don’t know why, but the holiday season brings out the best and worst in people. People tend to be friendlier and more cheerful, which is good. But they’re also potluckers, which is very, very bad. Now some of you may be thinking, there’s nothing wrong with participating in a potluck. I have a two-word response. Health codes.
The Department of Health has health codes for food manufacturers. They have health codes for restaurants. This is to ensure that food is properly stored, handled, and prepared. But the Department of Health does not have health codes for your co-worker, Shirley’s kitchen. If they did, how many code violations would Shirley have? Would the Department of Health shut her kitchen down (much to the delight of Shirley’s family)? If you were to walk into Shirley’s bathroom would there be a Department of Health sign posted on the wall reminding Shirley to wash her hands when she’s done?
Every potluck has dozens of Shirleys. And every Shirley has what Potluckphobians fear most. A crock pot.
During the morning of every potluck event, Shirley arrives at work with her crock pot. She plugs it in and presses the heat setting marked “stink up the entire building.” She spends the rest of the morning telling everyone how she found the recipe in one of those holiday craft magazines prominently displayed near grocery store checkout stands. It’s some type of casserole with a holiday name like “Old St. Nick’s Cheesy Tuna Surprise.”
A Potluckphobian has alert levels similar to Homeland Security. Just hearing the word, “surprise” in the name of a recipe escalates a Potluckphobian’s alert level from Guarded (blue) to Severe (red). The surprise in Old St. Nick’s Cheesy Tuna Surprise could be one of so many things. Maybe Shirley has a leaky faucet due to a head cold. Maybe Mr. Whiskers, the family cat jumped up on the counter and helped himself to some cheesy tuna. Or maybe Shirley forgot her reading glasses and accidentally opened up a can of Mr. Whiskers tuna by mistake. Surprise!
Now after reading this I’m sure a bright light has suddenly illuminated the darkness some of you have been hiding in. Don’t be afraid to step into the light. The first steps to dealing with any phobia are to admit that it exists, and that you’re suffering from it. Yes, there’s always the risk of being ostracized by an unsympathetic and uninformed society. But public awareness is essential to making inroads to an eventual cure.
To that end, I’ve been thinking about establishing something most other phobia groups have already done. Announcing the first (as far as I know) Potluckphobia Support Group.
If you have Potluckphobia, or suspect you might based on the overwhelming abundance of irrefutable clinical data provided in this column, you could be one of the founding members. Here’s what I’m thinking.
We could meet online once a week and share our thoughts and experiences. We could lean on each other’s virtual shoulders, virtually commiserate with one another, and promote virtual accountability. And on the third Friday of every month, we can have a virtual potluck. Wait, disregard that last one.
Please feel free to share with others