This is a common question.
Potlucks Fun or Fury?
By Peter N. Landless and Allan R. Handysides
This is a common question. The church does not have a specific voted guideline or statement on food served at potlucks, or fellowship dinners. We are guided by established principles and recommendations rather than prescriptive guidelines. The General Conference Nutrition Council has a comprehensive position statement on planning fellowship meals, which many have found helpful, at: http://healthministries.com/articles/gc-nutrition-council/planning-fellowship-meals.
Regarding your query on vegetarian and nonvegetarian food, the church does indeed have a policy and recommendation regarding the most healthful diet in the General Conference Working Policy:
The church advocates that positive steps be taken to develop a healthful lifestyle, and encourages a balanced vegetarian diet. . . . The church encourages the avoidance of flesh foods. The use of coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages, and all harmful substances are discouraged. Physical well-being and clarity of mind are usually interdependent; clarity of mind is essential for discernment between right and wrong, between truth and error.—General Conference Working Policy (2013-2014), p. 331.
This working policy was voted by world church leaders in 2007. It summarizes the information revealed to the Adventist Church through God’s Word and the Spirit of Prophecy, and is strongly supported by robust evidence from peer-reviewed science.
A balanced vegetarian diet has been shown to have tremendous physical health advantages as well as many positive benefits to our mental health and overall well-being.
A balanced vegetarian diet is associated with less obesity, improved cardiovascular health, less high blood pressure, and a reduction in certain cancers. These findings are corroborated by the Adventist Health Studies and papers emanating from these large cohorts, as well as other independent and separate studies. Avoidance of meat leads to significant reduction of colon cancer, one of the leading cancers in men. Interestingly, as the consumption of legumes as a source of protein increases and the quantity of red meat decreases, protective benefits of the plant-based diet are clearly seen. In the planning of potluck meals, it’s consonant with church policy and recommendations for general health that such meals consist of balanced vegetarian food.
It’s sad but true that congregations have become divided on what constitutes a “balanced vegetarian diet.” Such a diet could be an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet, where dairy products are used more as a “condiment” to provide vitamins B12 and D as well as calcium. Total vegetarian diets, in order to ensure optimal nutrition, require supplementation of vitamin B12, and often vitamin D and calcium. It’s essential that our food plates do not become the artificially imposed standard of assessing one’s relationship to God nor the church. We should not be angrily proclaiming the importance of one vegetarian diet over another. Our mealtimes, whether at home or at church, should be occasions of loving, attentive, cordial, and caring fellowship, made complete by the most healthful food available in the regions we find ourselves. Fortified foods and supplement availability vary from country to country, and even from district to district, so the application of the quoted guideline may vary accordingly.
In your travels you will see varieties of potlucks. Sadly, you may experience varieties of attitudes, too, which will make you wonder what our fellowship is all about. When we have followed the instruction that the Lord has given us and have done the best we can, we would do well to remember the cautioning and salutary words of our loving, grace-filled Savior, Jesus Christ: “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them” (Matt. 15:10, 11, NIV).
As we cater, care, and nurture, let us be channels of grace and mercy around the table.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.
Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist, is a former director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.