Category Archives: North America

Recovery Workers, Latinx Foodways, and Small-Business Development in New Orleans

Blog Editor’s note: This is the first installment in FoodAnthropology’s new series on Latinx foodways in North America. We welcome contributions from researchers in this area. More details about the series are here

Sarah Fouts
Lehigh University

Gorditas Zacatecanas

Gorditas Zacatecanas is a family-run booth that opened up in 2011 in the Algiers market, Dix Jazz Market. Photo by Fernando Lopez.

Within the current context of post-disaster response comes the prolonged challenge of recovery and rebuilding. As families return to devastated homes and businesses after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, multiple links passed around on social media recommend where (and where not) to donate funds. Headlines ask who will rebuild each region and warn against the exploitation of past recovery workers. Photos of Beyonce feeding lines of Hurricane victims offer a scintilla of silver lining in a world of increasing human-exacerbated disasters. Little attention, though, is given to the question of how the reconstruction workers that arrive to these devastated regions to help rebuild will sustain themselves—quite literally, who will feed them.

In post-Katrina New Orleans, Latinx food vendors equipped with mobile food vending systems emerged on the scene, playing a key, yet unnoticed role, in recovery efforts. These enterprises paved the way for growth in Latinx-owned economies in New Orleans over a decade later. My research commenced on this subject in 2011—six years after the storm—working with food vendors and observing the development of these informal food businesses in the New Orleans Metro area as part of my dissertation (and now book) project.

Immediately after Katrina in 2005, with eighty percent of the city underwater, housing options were limited, and places to eat were even harder to come by. Workers were often forced to live onsite in putrid conditions in the homes they gutted. Grocery stores and restaurants remained closed due to water and power outages. For most people, FEMA-issued Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) were the most available option. But beyond just being unsavory, these MREs had limitations—they were served predominantly to the victims of the disaster, leaving many of the one hundred thousand recently arrived Latinx reconstruction workers to fend for themselves.

Responding to this dearth of food options, itinerant Latinx food vendors arrived soon after the storm, from places like New York and Texas, to feed these workers. Fleets of taco trucks came from Houston, strategically setting up at day laborer corners to serve workers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In some instances, construction workers moonlighted as tamale vendors, maximizing on connections through co-workers to satisfy alimentary demands.

In other cases, Latinx contractors and clean up crew leaders called in pedidos (orders) from food vendors who prepared foods in kitchens in the few parts of New Orleans undamaged by the storm. The cooks spent the mornings preparing foods—often carne asada or chuletas with a side of rice, cabbage salad, and tortillas served in foam hinged take-out containers—for lunchtime deliveries, providing outreach to hard hit areas.

In more complex systems, vendors arrived onsite to sell food to workers using makeshift kitchens built into the backs of minivans or hatchback cars. Stainless steel counters mounted in the backs of these vehicles provided versatile prep spaces with cutting boards, griddles, and crockpots to serve up plates of tacos to hungry day laborers in front of hardware stores and at worksites.

Taqueria

This Mexican-owned taco truck is located on Claiborne Avenue, a main corridor in New Orleans, and features Honduran and Mexican foods. Photo courtesy of Fernando Lopez.

For Mateo, who arrived to New Orleans from Mexico after Katrina, leaving the construction industry to join his family in their burgeoning tamale business was a clear choice. After observing the successes of his wife and sister, Mateo signed on to their venture, delivering hundreds of tamales to the sites where he previously worked. He made more profit selling food than he had in the construction industry. Having settled in New Orleans since Katrina, Mateo and his family converted their tamale business into a larger enterprise, which now consists of two taco trucks and a brick and mortar restaurant.

Likewise, Mirta, originally from Honduras, arrived to New Orleans from Houston to help with clean up, initially gutting schools and businesses. She, too, saw the need for food vendors to feed the predominantly Latinx workers and sent for her three daughters to come to New Orleans. Together, they created an ad hoc restaurant in the back of their rented house, handing out business cards with their address and advertising typical Honduran dishes like pollo con tajadas, baleadas, and sopa de caracol. After a long day at the job site, workers showed up at their residence to pick up food or eat at picnic tables set up in the small patio. But, as their business grew, so did attention from law enforcement. After threats of citations, Mirta and her family used money they had saved to open up a brick and mortar restaurant. Since Katrina, the restaurant has faced some challenges—having moved locations three times—yet it still provides typical Honduran fare for Latinx workers and, increasingly, to non-Latinx clientele.

Pescado Frito

These women sell food at the Westbank Flea Market. Many vendors value the low overhead of these markets to get their businesses underway. Photo courtesy of Fernando Lopez.

Similarly, individuals like Leticia formalized their enterprises by setting up shop in local markets like the Algiers Pulga and the Westbank Flea Market, two open-air establishments located just across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter and New Orleans Central Business District. Capitalizing on the low overhead and high popularity of the market, Leticia shifted her venture from the streets to the stall, selling Honduran foods in the flea market alongside a booth specializing in Oaxacan foods and a Vietnamese farm stand. The flea markets serve as a sort of incubator space for these small-business ventures, assuming little risk, offering steady clientele, and providing basic infrastructure for these budding economies.

After Katrina, the Latinx population in the New Orleans metropolitan area doubled from around 4% to almost 9%. The Guardian reports that in New Orleans, Latinx businesses grew by 47%, compared to 14.5% by non-Latinx businesses. For places like Houston and South Florida, where the Latinx populations were already high, it is hard to predict whether disaster recovery efforts will catalyze a surge in Latinx entrepreneurship the way it did in New Orleans. Nevertheless, anthropologists interested in foodways can use New Orleans as an example to understand how rebuilding work begets these spin-off economies, drawing attention to the ways people forge new businesses by building on old traditions—outdoor markets and street vendors—as well as introducing new methods of selling foods in order to satisfy demands and make ends meet.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Latinx foodways, New Orleans, North America

Latinx Foodways in North America: A Blog Series

Sarah Fouts, series editor
Postdoctoral Fellow
Latin American and Latino Studies Program
Lehigh University

From threats of “taco trucks on every corner” and immigration raids in restaurants to the (de)criminalization of street vendors, Latinx foodways are front and center in the current political context. Increasingly, scholars use the broadly defined framework of foodways as an approach to understand Latinx issues within a local, state, national and global context. Over the course of the next year, SAFN plans to publish monthly blogs to highlight the myriad of scholarship—past, current, and ongoing—centered on what scholars are studying in regards to Latinx food and foodways-related issues. Considering various approaches to field methods, production, consumption, symbolic meanings, nutrition, access, this series draws on content that spans across the subdisciplines of anthropology. Intersectional analyses that bring in a multiracial lens to the study of Latinx foodways and other communities of color are welcome as well. Submissions—between 500-1000 words—may examine any theme related to Latinx foodways, but we prefer to focus on what is being studied rather than a particular viewpoint or topic. And we always welcome a few photos, if you have them.

Please send ideas and contributions to the series editor, Sarah Fouts, at saf817@lehigh.edu.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Latinx foodways, North America

Good Food Talk Webinars

Every now and then we run across resources for researchers and activists interested in food systems that may be of interest to our readers. We recently received notice of a series of webinars, organized by the North American Food Systems Network, that provide a forum to discuss food systems issues. The range of issues discussed so far is quite wide: race and agriculture, urban farming, anti-hunger groups and corporate America, etc. The North American Food Systems Network looks to be a very useful resource itself and worth looking into.

There is a webinar coming up on May 25, 2017, that will focus on measuring the economic impact of local food activism. It is free and open to the public, so here are the details:

Upcoming webinar:

Topic: Economic Impacts of Local Food Systems: Measuring Outcomes

Date: Thursday, May 25, 2017

Time: 1:00–2:00 pm Eastern Time (10:00–11:00 am Pacific Time)

Panelists:

  • Rich Pirog— Director, Center for Regional Food Systems, Michigan State University
  • Dawn Thilmany— Professor, Agricultural & Resource Economics, Regional Economic Development Institute, Colorado State University
  • Ariel Kagan— Senior Program Associate, Sustainability Collaborative, Food Institute, George Washington University
  • Kathleen Liang— Director, Center for Environmental Farming Systems, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical University
  • Becca Jablonski— Assistant Professor and Extension Economist in Food Systems at Colorado State University

    Moderator:
    Jeffrey K. O’Hara — Agricultural Marketing Specialist, Local Food Research & Development, USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service

Please register here.

Abstract

In recent years, a considerable effort has been made at improving data collection for local food systems, engaging and developing resources for practitioners to evaluate local food system activity, and to standardize the metrics used in reporting the impacts of local food grant and loan programs.  The presenters will provide an overview of some of these initiatives.  The objective of the webinar is to engage local food funders, researchers, and practitioners in a conversation about the effectiveness of these initiatives; if and how they have impacted local food system activity; whether there are merits to formation of a “community of practice” that would educate, share, review, and critique local food system studies and data collection processes; and if so, to discuss how such a community of practice could be structured.  A number of questions have arisen:

  • How effective are communities, local food practitioners, and researchers at evaluating local food system activity?  What are the strengths and weaknesses?
  • Has the capacity to evaluate local food market activity improved in the previous five years?
  • How strong and mutually reinforcing are the partnerships between community practitioners, researchers, and food system funders (like government agencies) at collectively and satisfactorily evaluating local food projects?
  • Are there opportunities to advance such a community of practice?  How would it look?  What are effective strategies for doing so?

Additional Information

This webinar will bring some high level insights from the Local Foods Impact Conference April 3-4, 2017.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), in partnership with George Washington University, hosted this conference that was designed to explore how to best measure the impacts of local food investments, improve coordination across USDA agencies, and evaluate the extent to which disparate local food investments are complementary and reinforcing. Over 300 people attended with  and another 500 tuning in via livestream for the plenary sessions. FYI, here are videos of the mainstage presentations, photos and slide presentations.

As background, the discussion for this webinar  grew from a 2013 meeting to address the state of economic analysis of local and regional food systems convened by Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems and the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food & Environment Program (http://foodsystems.msu.edu/resources/econ-analysis-webinar). Subsequently, in 2014, the USDA AMS convened a team of regional economists and food system specialists to develop a best practice Toolkit for evaluating the economic impacts of local food system activities. This NAFSN Webinar will provide an update on the thinking since that conference and the experience with the Local Food Systems Toolkit.

You can visit the NAFSN web site for more information on the webinar series.

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