New Orleans, La. – Thanksgiving conjures all sorts of images deeply entwined with the American identity, even if they don't always fit too neatly with reality across this vast and diverse country. But when it comes to the traditional spirit of Thanksgiving, New Orleans is perhaps more in tune than usual this year.
The reason is food -- that great cross-cultural medium for holiday celebrations - and in particular our seafood. I suspect New Orleanians will be eating more Gulf seafood this holiday season, and giving thanks that we can. This year, the holiday table is set with gratitude for a local harvest.
It wasn't so long ago that some local cooks frantically crammed their freezers with shrimp or made batches of seafood stock they hoped to stretch from here to evermore, fearing that oil from BP's runaway Macondo well could change Gulf seafood as we knew it. No one knows the full impact of the oil disaster yet, and we'll be measuring and monitoring the outcome for years. Yet today, seven months after the blowout, there's cause for relief in the simple fact that we can buy local shrimp for our mirliton casseroles, make crab cakes with local product and, yes, even though their supply remains tenuous, we can get local oysters for our oyster dressings.
Supply is only one part of the equation here, however. For our seafood industry to endure there must be demand for its yield. Remember that some would-be travelers believed New Orleans remained flooded for years after Hurricane Katrina, despite any measure of logic or tourism marketing. In the same way, it seems inevitable that some will eschew Gulf seafood despite all the testing backing up the industry's persistent claims of safety.
That's why it's important for people who care about local seafood -- and it's role in our economy and our heritage - to do more. We have to support its underpinnings - the people who earn their livings bringing it to our plates and also its image in the marketplace that helps drive demand.
For instance, one campaign now underway is called Dine America 2010, which invites restaurants across the country to promote Gulf seafood on special menus served on Dec. 1. Susan Nash of the New Orleans marketing firm Culinary Strategies conceived the event as a national night of solidarity for our seafood and a chance for chefs to demonstrate their confidence in its goodness. Restaurateurs interested in participating, and diners interested in taking part, can find details about the event online at dineamerica2010.com
Now, the damage BP caused to our seafood industry can't be repaired overnight, but such efforts will help and it seems Thanksgiving brings another opportunity to further the cause right into our homes. Ensuring that local seafood has a place on the New Orleans holiday table this year is a chance to lend our support and also add a fresh layer of meaning to our own holiday observance. After all, those archetypal American images of Thanksgiving focus on the harvest, and today we can give thanks to many that there is a Gulf seafood harvest at all.