When you see the words “spew” and “seafood” in the same title, you can assume things are not good.
The enormous and ongoing oil spill/leak resulting from the destruction of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico has created a sense of imminent catastrophe in New Orleans and the region. The city has been flying high lately, cheered by the election of a new mayor, by the Saint’s Superbowl victory and by dozens of smaller success stories that all suggest we had turned a corner and started, maybe, to put the floods of 2005 behind us. New Orleans was—and still is—in the process of becoming one of the great urban experiments of the 21st century. It has become a model of how to turn a city around by focusing on the local, on making things human-scaled, all the while building on a very distinctive local culture.
That culture includes food and foodways in which seafood plays a central part. It is on the menus of nearly every restaurant in the region, from fried seafood platters and raw oysters to the most elegant plates in white tablecloth restaurants, as Chef John Besh points out. Seafood is a way of life along the Gulf coast, supporting generations of fishing families. From roadside stands, to farmers markets, grocery stores, home kitchens and restaurants, everyone in this region eats seafood. You can get affordable oysters, shrimp, crabs, crawfish and fin fish. It is not frozen (one local restaurant’s advertising slogan is “Friends don’t let Friends eat Frozen Fish“) and it is not imported. It is what people talk about too. When I did jury duty last winter, we talked fishing and seafood in the jury room. Women and men, black and white, we all shared our best places to fish, our recipes, our stories.
The BP disaster threatens to destroy that, maybe forever. It is terrifying…and it was probably avoidable. There have been plenty of warnings about how we set ourselves up for environmental disaster, some specifically about the oil industry, others more general, including work by anthropologists on oil and chemical spills, mining destruction, environmental justice and threats to our food supply that are too numerous to cite. We have allowed industries to regulate themselves, claiming that enlightened self-interest would result in safety for workers and the public while freeing up the dynamic energy of the market.
At what point will we question this perspective? How many lives are worth sacrificing—not just in West Virginia mines or Gulf of Mexico oil platforms, but in China, Angola, Nigeria, Russia, Mexico, Iraq or India? The production of energy and food are both fraught with risk, of course, and it is futile to demand that we eliminate all danger from those processes. But we do have to recognize the potential consequences of the choices we make. We have to understand that decisions to “drill, baby, drill” can quickly result in the destruction of an entire industry and way of life. And we have to recognize that it is possible to make different choices. We can produce energy and food in ways that are both sustainable and affordable. Maybe New Orleans will lead the way there too. But I will save that for a future blog entry. Meanwhile, Gulf coast seafood is still safe. Show some solidarity with our fishers and go eat some!
Posted by David Beriss