Even before I wrote up the restaurant guide for the upcoming AAA meeting in New Orleans, people were asking me about what they can eat here. My advice has been to eat local (no chains!). Many New Orleans restaurants—and not just the high end ones—work hard to source their products locally. You can get food from regional farmers all over town. New Orleans is one of the last places in the United States where you can eat local seafood. If you eat locally here, you are very likely to eat well.
However, the BP oil spew from last summer has people concerned about the safety of our seafood. The government has tried hard to certify that safety and assure people that they can eat the food. This is problematic: decades of pathetically bad government oversight in nearly every industry has led many of us to be skeptical of their judgment. After all, it seems that lax government oversight was partially responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place.
So what should you do?
I know what I will do: I will continue to eat Gulf seafood. Despite my misgivings about food regulation in the U.S., Gulf seafood is under more scrutiny now than most of the rest of the food—including, no doubt, imported seafood—that you will find at your local grocery store. I also believe that we need to make a commitment to local seafood (and to local food in general) if our food system is going to be sustainable over the long term. We need to make it possible for people to make a living in the seafood industry in this region. Frankly, I also trust the fishers, shrimpers, oystermen, seafood retailers and chefs who provide these products locally. I hope you will eat Gulf seafood while you are here. You also need to be an active voice for strong regulation of the industries that bring us these disasters and for real regulation of our food system. We need to work to insure the safety of our food. We also need to make sure that the people who provide us with that food can make a good living.
Meanwhile, here are a few links to thought provoking material on the web that may help you think about these issues.
One place to start is this fascinating article from the Times-Picayune about how the oldest oyster processing business in the U.S., the 135 year old P&J Oyster Company, is adapting to the situation. Brett Anderson, the paper’s restaurant critic, has produced a number of thoughtful and moving pieces on the topic. Here is another one, this time on the impact of the spew on the crab market as far away as Maryland.
This article on the problems involved in restoring the oyster industry while simultaneously trying to save the wetlands is fascinating. Our problems are deeper than just this oil spill.
If you are interested in the latest reports on the status of fisheries, take a look at the USFDA web site on the topic or at the latest news from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Here is a press release from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab about research showing that the oil was consumed by bacteria and may, as a consequence, have entered the food chain in the Gulf. How far it goes—and what the consequences might be—is still unclear. The Times-Picayune has reported on this as well. Here is a link to a group that is very skeptical about the safety of our seafood and about claims that the Gulf has been cleaned up.
Our chefs think you should eat the seafood. I know they are interested parties, but they also eat the seafood themselves. Here is a moving piece from Chef Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon and Cochon Butcher.
posted by David Beriss