Here is a piece in The American Scholar from a New Orleans writer on the argument over what constitutes local when it coms to restaurant fare. I do think his “gated community” comment seems misplaced and overwrought, since the French Quarter remains the most dynamic and constantly evolving neighborhoods in town. However, his suggestion that we need to maintain some perspective is apt:
…But when you take the long view, that alarm may be misplaced. After all, much of the city’s most beloved fare today resulted from an invasion followed by hybridization. New Orleans loves to talk about food, and after considerable argument, many newcomer dishes are eventually given a seat at the table. Restaurants that serve “red gravy,” like Pascal Manale’s and Mandina’s, are artifacts of a Sicilian influx in the latter half of the 19th century. What’s today considered classic Cajun (itself imported from western Louisiana) emerged when African fare favored by slaves met Acadian French. Even the city’s vaunted Creole dishes emerged out of a cultural meeting ground once populated by French, Spanish, Caribbean islanders, Africans and their descendants, and Native Americans.
Clearly, what we mean by local is elastic and that elasticity is a big part of what confuses the eaters who don’t read the blogs or follow producers by name on social media or talk regularly with them at markets. That confusions seems magnified as an active value in the restaurant field, so describing what is indigenous/native versus what is inspired by the cultural mores of the place seems to need better words to describe the steps in the chain. Maybe market organizations can write some grants to create a “brand” that can be shared by those restaurants that truly support local producers and harvesters and help to define what it means to be serving local fare versus locally sourced.
The American Scholar: Local Fare – Wayne Curtis.