Louisiana is disappearing before our very eyes.
Along the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River Delta, a football field’s worth of Louisiana wetlands vanishes every ninety minutes. The BP oil spill of 2010, alongside a succession of ongoing micro and macro spills that receive far less attention, continue to devastate marine ecosystems and local fishing industries. In addition, Louisiana’s waters, which once fed the nation with oysters, shrimp, and a bounty of finfish, now must with anthropogenic effects of shifting oceanic temperatures and salinities, rising seas, and an increase in extreme weather events. Traditional foodways, descendants of centuries-old Indigenous, African, French, and Spanish cultures, are fading away.
But there is hope.
In 2011, Louisiana began issuing off-bottom, cage-grown oyster licenses. A common farming practice on the east coast and Canada, floating oyster cages result in a healthier sea floor, faster growing bivalves, and, some say, cleaner, tastier shucked meat. Grand Isle, the traditional, reef-grown oyster capital of Louisiana, now boasts an aquaculture park where oystermen with deep generational roots in the industry, like Jules Melancon, and newcomers, like the Guerrero family, grow oysters.
Offshore shrimpers and fishmongers have also made sustainability a key issue, by endeavoring to minimize their environmental impact. Fishing captains now outfit their vessels with devices that allow bycatch, or non-targeted species such as turtles, to escape trawling nets. Others, most notably Lance Nacio of Terrebonne Parish, sell their finfish bycatch directly to chefs willing to explore new varieties.
Onshore, farmer-entrepreneurs are finding new, more sustainable methods to revitalize old farming traditions. In the town of Youngsville, Charles Poirier has resuscitated his family’s sugar trade by cultivating and crafting small-batch cane syrups. In Baton Rouge, Galen Iverstine uses the rotational, regenerative field model to grow cows, pigs, and poultry that he sells directly to the consumer.
Throughout Acadiana, the lowly mudbug has been reimagined over the past three decades. A highly sustainable product, crawfish are often grown in repurposed rice fields. Two restaurants in particular, Hawk’s in Rayne and Cajun Claws in Abbeville, upgrade the traditional, backyard crawfish boil by selling only select-size crustaceans purged clean of any grit and grime.
Whether we call them activists, culinary preservationists, or local heroes, each voice featured here is advocating for a more sustainable South Louisiana.
For their underwriting of the Sustainable South Louisiana Oral History Project and their long-time investment in our mission, SFA thanks McIlhenny Company, maker of TABASCO® brand pepper sauces.