I am no stranger to defending the good name of New Orleans where food and culture are concerned, and I was certainly among those complaining that we have kale enough and to spare, thank you very much. But I think I missed the broader point, which was that it was written from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with New Orleans who interviewed people who moved here recently because they like the “seediness.” It’s condescending to those of us who’ve lived here a long time in an amusingly clueless way.
The same woman who thought we had no kale also said, apparently without expiring of irony poisoning immediately, “So many of the cool places here are really rundown,” she said. “And not because a stylist designed them that way.” Then there’s Alex Ebert, who is the singer in a band called Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. He was worried New Orleans would become “Brooklyn South” but now isn’t, citing our poverty, heat and general messiness as too difficult for earnest “bright-eyed strivers” to endure.
All of this came up for me again when I read a story at Gambit which linked to a piece at a website called The Grist. The takeway from that story? That kale may be available in New Orleans, but only at Whole Foods.
That’s not true either, but I’m sick and having trouble working up the energy to say something snarky about it. And it is true that certain parts of New Orleans are very much under-served where supermarkets are concerned. It’s getting better — see the Mid-City Whole Foods for example — but there are still few options in the East and when I’ve driven through the lower 9th Ward for work recently I certainly haven’t seen a Rouse’s. I imagine from the merchants’ perspective it’s because there aren’t enough people to support it, but there’s a chicken/egg quality to that argument which suggests shopkeepers aren’t betting on a dramatic turnaround any time soon.
But wherever you go in New Orleans, and regardless of where the ingredients are purchased, you’re likely to find people eating red beans on Monday, fried fish on Friday and cooking kale (and pretty much any other vegetable) with a big hunk of pork. New Orleans is not all about food, of course, but it’s a big part of who we are, and that’s likely why the kale issue was what struck some of us first. If I’m honest, it may also have been a way to contest the allegation that we’re not cosmopolitan without really thinking about it too much. “We do have kale here, so the article must be wrong about everything!” said the straw man I have constructed for this blog post.
But what the woman who saw no kale said is true, isn’t it? We’re not particularly cosmopolitan when compared with cities like New York, London or Tokyo. That’s OK by me and, I suspect, you. No, we’re not as seedy and rundown and impoverished as depicted in that story, but if those characterizations are what’s needed to keep us becoming “Brooklyn South,” then so be it.