Creative Dundee

Blog: Food, Community & Creativity

Our blog series regularly invites guests to share their thoughts on different aspects of life in Dundee, their own practice, and anything in between.

In this edition, we hear from Rhia Cook, the founder of Potluck: a zine born out of lockdown, telling emerging creatives’ stories of cooking, eating, and sharing food. And while we are talking about food, why not donate to Dundee’s Food Insecurity Network?

I’ve always made things.

Often impatiently, quickly, with a “that’ll do” attitude that exhausted my parents when I was growing up. Hardly an artisan, my attention span is not one that has allowed for a high degree of skill to be developed. But whilst my interest in various creative outlets has often waxed and waned, my devotion to the kitchen has never waivered. Drawn to it by some higher power, or maybe just my stomach, I’ve always found myself ending the day in front of the hob, making something.

When the world went into lockdown back in March 2020, I was already feeling lost. I had quit my job a few weeks previous when few knew how bad Covid would be, determined to finally find my ‘calling’, the form of making I wanted to focus on and hone my craft in. Three weeks later, the world was on fire and my studio was shut. My burning desire to make had been well and truly extinguished by the doom of the situation and I was left sitting on my sofa, watching cooking show reruns and periodically shuffling back into the kitchen to find another chocolate chip cookie.

As the months of lockdown went on, like many of us I think, the doom subsided into boredom. Just eating the food I made wasn’t quite doing it for me. My hunger changed from one for food, to one for making and for connection. I came up with half an idea; to make a zine all about cooking, eating, and sharing food with others. I’d spent the whole lockdown thinking about cooking and consuming any kind of food media I could.

But watching shows about chefs showing off was getting old. I wanted a place to celebrate the feeling of enjoyment that making a meal with no expectation gives you. The fun of experimentation and new discoveries and the realisation of ​I didn’t know I could do that when you try a new recipe. Most of all, I wanted it to be told from an enthusiastic home cook’s perspective: no ego involved.

I think if I’d thought about the logistics of it for any length of time, the idea would’ve come to nothing. I had a basic understanding of magazine layouts (shout out to my dissertation for that) but no experience commissioning work or putting out a call for submissions. Luckily, I didn’t really think about it. It was a fun idea and I was desperate to have something to do, so I blurted out what I dreamed the zine would look like in a rough call out and shoved it out into the world one morning. I figured if I could get a few people making something for it too, then I’d have less to write and illustrate myself.

But I didn’t just get a couple. I got quite a lot. It felt like out of nowhere, this food-loving creative community that I didn’t even know existed emerged from isolation and invited me in. They submitted their personal writing, their illustrations, their recipes. They offered time, support, and bore with me whilst I figured it all out.

But more than their skills, they offered human connection when it was in very short supply. We talked about the meals we’d been making, gave each other article recommendations, shared interesting things we’d seen on Instagram to try out. We were brought together by circumstance and skillset but formed a community because we all love to eat.

Finishing putting together the first issue (Cooking During Covid) felt like a milestone. I finished something and didn’t immediately want to jump onto the next shiny new project idea. It felt stable, even though the world we were living in was constantly changing. And when we were all stuck at home, feeling a bit helpless, it felt brilliant being able to do something useful too: all the money raised from the first issue was donated to the Trussell Trust, who run the majority of the UK’s food banks.

Making Potluck has been so much more than just making a magazine. It’s a project that has come to life, grown arms and legs, and protected me from this last, wild year. In a time when we’ve had to keep two meters apart, isolated and without the ability to go out and enjoy a feast with friends, it’s been a way to make real, human connections. Potluck has become a celebration of the food we want to be sharing when it just isn’t possible and has created a community that we want to share those meals with. Whatever happens, I can’t wait to keep working on it.

“​Community is like energy. It begets itself if you engage it​.” -Julia Turshen from In the Kitchen

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