We have dodged a couple of storms so far and I am happy about that, but I wonder whether some of my friends who’ve moved here recently understand how lucky we were. We geared up for disaster and it turned out to be much ado about nothing. It was a tempest in a teapot. I do not blame them too much. It took Katrina for me to evacuate and we took clothes for a weekend.
When I returned from exile in 2005, I started looking for restaurants that had reopened. In the early days it was slim pickings. So many places were destroyed and too many of those places never reopened. I took pictures and wrote about the places that had come back and reported on the places that didn’t.
There was a time I thought our restaurants would never really come back, but then we actually added restaurants to the number we’d had before the levee failures. It was amazing and I still don’t know how it happened, but I fear it won’t happen this time. Not least because this crisis is not limited to a specific region or to singular events like a hurricane or an earthquake or a wildfire. This time the problem is global, and we have to rely on ourselves to pull through.
I am no longer concerned about our restaurants or our food culture surviving. I have come to accept that New Orleans is an essential city, and not just because we are located at the mouth of the Mississippi river. We are unlike any place else, and we’re essential for that reason alone.
After Katrina there were a number of restaurants who stepped up to serve food to people who were here trying to rebuild the city. This was a natural thing because restaurants exist to serve people, and that’s what they did. In most cases, they served those meals without any thought about the cost or hope of reimbursement.
We relied on that spirit when we started Chef’s Brigade, because we were raising money even as we were signing restaurants up to serve food. We ended up raising enough money to serve meals for a month and a half, and through our participation in the City’s Mass Feeding Initiative we’ve served close to a half million meals cooked by local restaurants to residents of New Orleans.hau
What this shows is that you don’t need a big corporation to come in after a disaster and hand out MREs for weeks at a time. Local restaurants can produce all of the food needed and they can do it efficiently. There are logistical hurdles involved, but they’re not insurmountable and the benefits – to everyone – are worth the work.