At a recent open-door potluck in Palmetto Bay, Nicholas Bauer poured samples of his home-brewed kratom tea, a controversial beverage with a spot on a government watch list.
Bauer, a Marine and self-proclaimed kratom brewmaster, brought batches that he made with fresh mango, peach, lemon and green tea. He offered them to like-minded enthusiasts of plant-based foods that he was meeting at a monthly gathering of the South Florida Fruitarians.
“This is the first time I’m experiencing this kind of meetup,” Bauer said. “I wanted to bring a treat with me, too, and have people become acquainted kratom.”
Kratom tea is brewed from the leaves of tropical tree native to Southeast Asia that has been used for centuries for its pain-relieving and stimulant effects. While legal in the United States, kratom has been labeled a “drug of concern” by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
That didn’t seem to concern the dozen or so people who had made their way to Chris Scarano’s home for what he refers to as a health-conscious potluck. Scarano, 45, who owns a manufacturing business, uses the social networking site meetup.com to invite strangers to get together at his place once a month. There are at least a half-dozen other groups on the site that organize regular South Florida meetings focusing on different food niches.
Scarano’s potlucks tend to attract people like Bauer, who lead healthy lifestyles and are interested in growing and cooking their own food. Guests are encouraged to bring homegrown fruits and vegetables and homemade, plant-based dishes and drinks — no dairy or meat.
“I want to show people what foods are appropriate for your body and are really healthy,” Scarano said. “It’s about opening up people’s minds. When you get them in this setting, you meet so many interesting people, and you end up learning so much.”
Jessica Quattrocchi and her mom, Mercedes Lopez, recently attended their first Fruitarian gathering at Scarano’s house.
“We’re looking to learn how to cook and eat better and meet similar people,” Quattrocchi said.
Added her mom: “We also want to learn how to grow food ourselves and use our back yard.”
Scarano started the potlucks at the end of 2014. Each month, he said, he greets returning friends and a handful of newcomers.
Besides eating, he invites guests to conduct presentations on anything food- or health-related, like tips on how to grow food in a 3-foot-by-3-foot space.
Johnny Stachl, a veteran of Scarano’s meetups, handed over some homegrown avocados for the host to use in several dishes he was creating.
“For the last four years, I’ve been getting healthier and healthier,” Stachl said. “I wish everyone would be more informed on food. There’s just so much unhealthy food out there.”
Throughout the meetup, Scarano was in and out of his kitchen, chopping, mixing and preparing food with ingredients of his own and those brought by his guests.
“It’s my therapy to cook,” Scarano said. “Today I made a pumpkin mash and a rice with curry sauces.”
There is no admission to the potlucks, but dishes or ingredients are welcome; Scarano also accepts donations.
“It all starts to add up,” he said. “Plates, forks, spices. But it’s a community. We all help each other. And the best part is, they really want to help. I’ll see people just come in the kitchen and starting chopping and preparing things. It really is a community.”
Scarano has spent more than five years on a personal journey getting healthy, he said.
“My inspiration for these potlucks comes from wanting to share my knowledge on health while bringing the community together,” he said. “I’m not a healer. I’m just a regular person trying to educate.”
Scarano said he dreams about opening a restaurant and community center one day. He said he would like to create a place where people can enjoy good food and get educated.
“Right now I’m just focused on bringing people together,” he said. “There’s so much information out there that can be shared.”
Clarissa Buch: firstname.lastname@example.org, @clarissaibuch
South Florida Fruitarians (Chris Scarano’s Health-Conscious Potluck): 1 p.m. Nov. 22 and Dec. 27 at 7600 SW 171st St., Palmetto Bay.
Miami Cooking Club: 7 p.m. Nov. 17 at Alno Kitchen, 3650 N. Miami Ave., Miami.
South Florida Baking Club: 2 p.m. Nov. 8 at Starbucks, 5711 NW Seventh St., Miami.
South Florida Vegans at Restaurants: 11 a.m. Nov. 21 at Seed Food and Wine Festival, 318 NW 23rd St., Miami.
More: Search meetup.com.