Over the past few days another example of spontaneous order came to mind. I live in a small village that has a great local theatre group. Each year they put on a comedy of some description. On some of the evenings a supper is provided – a spontaneous order in the best “Ladies a plate” tradition.

In the Kiwi vernacular, “Ladies a plate” means that if you receive an invitation for morning or afternoon tea, or in the case of the theatre production, a supper, you bring along a plate of food to share. This being the 21st century, the invitation now simply says “please bring a plate”. For many new arrivals in NZ this has caused some consternation – don’t they have enough plates? given there are two of us, do we need to take two plates? what about cutlery – do we need to bring that as well? And the accompanying embarrassment when they arrive with the plate only to find everyone else has bought food. The assumption that ladies a plate means please bring food is so ingrained in the kiwi psyche that you just don’t think to tell people what it really means. Anyway, the point of sharing this is not about cultural difference, but rather the “spontaneous order” that arises from the food that is shared – no one says bring sausage rolls, or savoury eggs or lamingtons or chocolate cake or biscuits or asparagus rolls or sultana cake or chocolate éclairs … all of these things simply appear as they did that night … a great example of “spontaneous order”. And having lived in other countries, I know that this is not unique to NZ, it may be part of some other food tradition, but spontaneous order never the less emerges.

And for those not sure about what types of food I was describing, check out this lovely cook book – Ladies a Plate – it has many of the recipes.

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