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Friday, November 20, 2009

Do Po-Boys Need Preservation?

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2009 at 6:10 PM

French bread parade at Po-Boy Fest

The advocacy thrust of this Sunday's third annual New Orleans Po-boy Preservation Festival is pretty obvious. The festival motto is "Save Our Sandwich," and the word "preservation" is written into its very name. From its start in 2007, the festival founders were unambiguous about the preservation impulse behind their efforts.

Yet I have to wonder how many of the people expected to throng Oak Street this Sunday for the festival will turn up because they believe the po-boy needs their support as a culinary cultural icon and how many just like po-boys and a New Orleans street party.

Last week, the New York Times ran a story about the festival titled "Saving New Orleans Culture, One Sandwich at a Time." It named the biggest threat to the po-boy as competition from national chain sandwich shops (Subnos, Quizway), which does seem serious. I'm always surprised when I see people walking past a real po-boy shop downtown with bags from a sub chain. A $10 or $12 oyster po-boy can't be an everyday lunch, but most po-boy shops prepare straight-up turkey or ham and cheese, and small po-boys at most places are comparably priced to the chains' menus.

The Times article has certainly stirred up discussion of the po-boy's future. When I traveled out of town last weekend, a couple from New York asked me if it's true what they read, that the po-boy was dying out and there was a preservation effort to save it. Around New Orleans though, friends who brought up the issue were dismissive of any danger to their perennial lunch pick. They eat po-boys all the time and they planned to hit the po-boy festival for a good party, not to champion a cause.

How about you? Do you think your kids will be eating shrimp po-boys or "Baja Chicken" subs? And, if you're going to the Po-Boy Preservation Festival on Sunday, what's the draw? Cultural statement, street party, or a little both?

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