The Cajun Food Crisis

I was lying in bed last night, thinking about the devastation of New Orleans. Our five months there, just over a year ago, seem like yesterday.

Suddenly, my thoughts turn to mustard. My eyes pop open and I am wide awake.

What does this mean to the distribution of Zatarain’s Creole Mustard, my favorite condiment in the whole world? What about Tabasco? And Louisiana Fish Fry products? Will there still be Luzianne tea?

Forget about the strategic oil reserves. We have a Cajun food crisis.

The destruction of New Orleans’ infrastructure means not only houses are gone, but jobs. The people who worked in those factories, who lived paycheck to paycheck, have no paychecks now.

Where Barry and I lived, in a boatyard in an industrial zone, was surrounded by black neighborhoods. To the west were tiny houses, black folks trying to move up the ladder. To the east, on the other side of the canal, were vast tracts of subsidized rentals with weedy lawns and abandoned cars. We came face to face in the grocery store, the gas station, the post office. These are not people who could load their cars and flee north. They are the ones who were left behind, because they couldn’t afford a car or a bus ticket to get out.

I wonder what became of Darren, the young black felon we met at Mardi Gras. We’d made the mistake of parking in a desolate spot, and he followed us to our car, high on drugs and drinking Thunderbird out of a paper bag. He showed us his scars — knife wounds, bullet entry and exit holes. He badgered us for a lift across town, but we refused, afraid we’d never be able to shake him. When the hurricane came, I doubt anyone would give him a ride.

These people can’t leave New Orleans and make a fresh start somewhere else. It’s been their home for generations. There are vast networks of siblings and cousins and grandparents, people who gather for barbecues, parades, and birthday parties. You can’t just pick that up and move it to, say, Peoria.

Lying there in bed, thinking about the upcoming mustard crisis, I thought of a way to help.

What we need to do, as a country, is help New Orleans reconstruct their economy. Forget tourism. When New Orleaneans finally go home, it’s going to be a smelly mess of garbage and rubble. Instead of jazz funerals, there will be mass burials. These folks won’t want visitors for a long, long time.

Instead, they’ll need to rebuild their factories and export stuff. Blues, gospel, and jazz music. Cajun, Creole, and Southern ingredients.

So run out today and buy a Henry Butler CD — poor Henry’s really got the blues now. Pick up some Zatarain’s Jambalaya mix, which we’ve seen for sale as far away as Alaska. Replenish your supply of Tabasco, Crystal, or (in our case) Melinda’s XXX hot sauce. Check your local grocery store for blackened spice mix, marinades, gumbo file, cornbread mix, and dacquiri mix.

This Monday, and every Monday, serve up red beans and rice to all your friends. Take up a collection for the relief effort. And remember: The more New Orleans products you buy, the more jobs you make.

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