TUESDAY, JUNE 22, 2010

A few hours ago I arrived in Fairhope, AL and it feels like I’m 1,000 miles away from the fishing communities of southeast Mississippi and southwest Alabama.
As one rolls into the village here you find yoga studios, Aveda spas, and some store that calls itself an “antiquery.” In fact there are dozens of stores here that I would definitely classify as “antiqueries”, if that was a word. I had a cheese plate for dinner with two glasses of Tavel.
It’s lovely here. If you drive to the end of a residential street, you can see the sun set right into Mobile Bay. But right now I’m thinking of earlier today. I spent some time in Biloxi, MS, a small city gutted by Katrina. First thing in the morning, I spoke with Richard Gollot of Gollot Seafood Company, another seafood processor. He gave me a tour of the plant, and I have some great photos. He has a super regional perspective, and the most optimistic attitude I’ve encountered so far.
I sat down with the super-smart, ultra-passionate, spunky, honorary mayor (I only say that because she is so invested in her community), Leonie Johnston. She owns a hair salon, gives back to her community constantly, is on four local boards, and, after a lifetime on the beleaguered shores of Biloxi, is, for the first time, wondering what she has left emotionally.
Frank Parker also generously sat down with me. He’s given oral histories before, to the very talented SFA member, and Salon.com Food Editor Francis Lam. Frank is a devoted, no-nonsense shrimper with a college degree in fish. Now working for BP, he’s bored, but providing well for his family.
Each of these people have a unique perspective of the relationship of oil and Biloxi. They’re all life-long residents, all equally devoted to its success. But emotions today were all over. At one point I was convinced the oil spill was a minor hiccup. Later I felt inspired to action. I knew this would be emotional, and it is. But in the face of these fierce people of Biloxi and Bayou La Batre, these people who lost ev-er-y-thing fewer than five years ago, you can’t help but keep your chin up.
I plan to publish their stories in detail soon. It was an honor to spend time with each of them.
-Ashley Hall
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Ashley Hall is an SFA member and contributer toGravy, the SFA’s foodletter. She is traveling along the Gulf Coast to capture stories relating to the oil spill as a traveling Gravy correspondent. We’ll be posting relevant entries here, but visit the blog she’s set up for the project, Third Coast Byways, for more.