American military personnel serve across the country and around the globe, but thanks to a new initiative many more of these service members and their families will be getting a taste of the Gulf Coast when they shop for groceries on their bases.
The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), an adjunct of the Defense Department that sells groceries through nonprofit military base commissaries, has launched a program to supply more fresh and domestic food products to its customers. Gulf seafood is in that number as part of a special effort to support local fishermen who have suffered since last year’s BP oil disaster upended their industry.
“Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus asked us what could be done to support the economic recovery of this part of our country, and this is just one example of what’s being done,” DeCA director and CEO Joseph Jeu said during an event introducing the program.
DeCA’s customers include active military personnel, reservists, retirees and their families, who can all purchase groceries at steep discounts when they shop at commissaries. The Gulf product will be part of the inventory at some 72 commissaries located in the South and East Coast regions.
One of these facilities is the newly opened commissary complex at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse. DeCA estimates around 40,000 eligible shoppers live within a 40-miles radius of this store, which opened in February with an event featuring New Orleans chefs preparing local seafood dishes. In addition to fresh seafood, commissaries are also now stocking frozen product from the Gulf, and DeCA is installing signs so shoppers can easily determine which seafood items are domestically sourced.
The program comes as concerns linger about the safety of Gulf seafood. Local seafood advocates point out that Gulf products have been rigorously tested since the oil disaster, whereas the vast majority of frozen, often farm-raised product imported from other countries rarely undergoes such scrutiny.
“This is a major play on the part of DeCA, and it’s so appreciated by the folks in this area who are recovering from the one-two punch of Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill,” said Chris Laborde, a spokesman for the Gulf Coast Alliance, an organization that promotes regional economic recovery, at the event. “We’re getting the message out to the rest of the country that Gulf seafood is healthy, nutritious and good to eat.”