Food by VICE

Why Potluck Dinners Are Still Illegal in Arizona

In the great state of Arizona, throwing a potluck dinner can land you on the wrong side of the law.

by Alex Swerdloff
Feb 9 2016, 4:00pm

Photo via Flickr user 1la

In the great state of Arizona, throwing a potluck dinner—that staple of mom's book clubs and Bible study groups—can land you on the wrong side of the law. That's largely thanks to an unusual legal technicality—one that some Arizonans are calling "ridiculous."

Ok, sure. If you look long and hard enough, you will probably find stupid laws—some outdated, some just plain nonsensical—on the books in all 50 states. But this one may take the proverbial cake.

Arizona's anti-potluck law came to light when someone at the Apache Junction trailer park had enough of the potluck dinners that were thrown there on the regular. The unnamed potluck-hater discovered that, technically, you can't legally throw a potluck in Arizona outside of a workplace. Pinal County officials were brought into the trailer park and began a crackdown.

According to Daily Miner, that's when Representative Kelly Townsend, a Republican from Mesa, heard about the heat on potlucks. She says she initially thought it was "some kind of a joke."

It turns out that Arizona, like the other 49 states, regulates many types of situations in which food is served. For example, restaurants have to meet cleanliness standards, as do other places where food is served, like school cafeterias and hospitals. An exception from these regulations is made in Arizona for "noncommercial social events"—like potlucks. For some reason though—no one seems to know why—the exception applies only to potlucks held at a workplace. In Arizona, there is currently no exception that would allow unfettered potlucks at, say, a private house. Or the rec room of the local trailer park.

But do not fear, friends: Arizona legislators are on it. This month, an Arizona House of Representatives panel took the first steps toward allowing community potlucks in non-work situations. (Arizona, by the way, still has some of the harshest laws against marijuana in the country.)

Townsend said she finds the potluck prohibitions "goofy."

Of course, regulating the service of food in group settings has long been a role of the state governments—it is done to protect the health and welfare of the people. But Townsend says she's not worried that unmonitored potlucks will result in people getting sick. She said individuals need to take responsibility for deciding whether to participate in one.

"In the case of a potluck, the word 'luck' says it all," she says. "So it's up to the person to take their chances."

Hmm. Now that we think about it, eating that oddly grey meatloaf that your neighbor's grandmother made might not be such a great idea.

But, then again, if you want to offload some leftovers the next time your University of Arizona study group meets, at least you won't go to jail for it. Townsend says she expects the law will be signed and sealed by next summer.

food politics
Kelly Townsend