Currently on a trip to see the real effects of the Gulf Coast oil spill firsthand and document them, I’m spending 10 days in a region known for its culinary heritage, and in the last few I’ve been in the Southern foodie capital: New Orleans. That means lots of gumbo and poboys. In fact, you can’t really get away from food here. As one local put it, “We’ve got a culture that’s based on two things: music and food, and I think those two are pretty good.”
It’s an understatement to say that food has been on my mind, from keeping an eye out for just what local joints have on their handwritten menus to listening to fishermen talk about their concerns over the federal government opening up the shrimp season just a little too soon before knowing what the real health effects of dispersants are going to be.
The devastation that New Orleans went through in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina permeates every conversation and every interaction. The idea of “restoration” is everywhere, and that includes the food movement. With such a central role in this city’s culture, it’s no surprise that food can easily be used to bring people together after disaster, and to assist in simple community building.
Last month, Cafe Hope opened up in Marrero, on the West Bank of the Mississippi River, and has become a shining example of how food and community building certainly go hand-in-hand. “Cooking up great food and bright futures,” the non-profit restaurant was set up to give at risk youth the educational and professional skills to succeed. This is done through a 12-week curriculum of hands-on training in the kitchen and dining room with participants responsible for working as kitchen or wait staff during lunch hours, five days a week. The apprenticeship program is aptly called Seeds of Success, and along with training its participants, it partners them with a member of the community to become their mentor.
The menu is chocked full of regional classics like Southern Comfort Bread Pudding and Cochon de Lait Poboy, and the restaurant even has its own vegetable garden (deemed “The Farm”), another key element of building more sustainable communities.
Cafe of Hope is new, so keep checking back on its website as the farm and restaurant expand.
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground. Each week, Anna will be taking a look at something new and different that’s taking place in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to culinary avant garde.