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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Eat Local Challenge Day 12: Back to the basics

Posted By on Wed, Jun 12, 2013 at 1:28 PM

Nothing says New Orleans like a pile of hot crawfish

Days: 12
Total meals eaten today: 3
Non-local items eaten: 3
Vices: Beer, coffee, bread

Just about two weeks into the Eat Local Challenge and I'm finding myself realizing that, if I don't stop and over think everything, being a locavore in New Orleans can not only be easy, but also fun. After all, what other city can you hop into a supermarket and, for less than $20, walk out with a six-pack of beer and five pounds of crawfish That's how I started my eating yesterday after much-needed trip to the Hollygrove Market to restock my fridge after my three-day non-local bender over the weekend. Needless to say, it felt good to be home.

Of course, this is the blessing of living in New Orleans. Not only are we a port city near the Gulf Coast, we have a rich culinary history that prides itself on provincial specialties. We're no strangers to the European ideal that fresh food is the best food and it's reflected in our seafood-heavy diets. As a locavore for the month, I've noticed that even my most simply made dishes are healthier and more flavorful by virtue of the fact that the ingredients come from nearby locations. Even my vices can be satiated with local products: French Market and Community Coffee, Tin Roof beer and Hollygrove Market bread.

Long story short: It wasn't hard to get back on the locavore wagon.

The crawfish turned out to be my first meal because, despite my renewed zeal for getting back to eating local, the Hollygrove Market hours had not changed in my favor. I still had to wait until 10 a.m. to do any shopping and it also meant having to drive across town with just coffee in my stomach. Nearly delirious with hunger, I saw the sign for boiled crawfish in front of the Robert's on Carrollton and immediately went in so that I would have something ready to eat when I got home.

The only problem with all of the food I bought at Hollygrove was that none of it was ready to eat when I got home.
  • The only problem with all of the food I bought at Hollygrove was that none of it was ready to eat when I got home.

Now, for many die-hard New Orlenians, the concept of a single person walking into a grocery store and getting crawfish for themselves seems like a ludicrous idea. After all, crawfish is meant to be enjoyed at least 10 pounds at a time with nearly a dozen friends in a party setting. But, if like me, you enjoy digging through the tiny crustaceans for that succulent tail meat more than most anything in the world, it really doesn't matter what setting you're in while pinching tails and sucking heads.

Not having been born and raised in New Orleans, it's easy for me to eat crawfish by myself without a second thought. This seems to be in line with the new way of thinking among the hoards of young professionals that have invaded the city since Katrina; there are so many great traditions in New Orleans, but let's make them a little more practical. If I want crawfish, why should I have to wait to throw a party? (Though I did adhere to the tradition of having beer with my crawfish. I'm not insane.)

In many ways, the Eat Local Challenge reflects some of the changes brought about by the new New Orleans. After all, the ELC is just three years old and the Hollygrove Market was formed in 2008. But these new ideas are really nothing new for New Orleanians raised on crawfish, Gulf seafood and Louisiana jasmin rice. Just think of some of the staples of New Orleans cuisine - gumbo, etouffé, jambalaya, boudin, red beans and rice - and you realize most can be made with just local ingredients. That should come as no surprise considering these dishes are older than the national supermarket chains that dominate the country.

Dinner included a New Orleans staple, boudin, with a side of mashed potatoes and local bread and cheese
  • Dinner included a New Orleans staple, boudin, with a side of mashed potatoes and local bread and cheese

But the long-term benefit for New Orleans is that it seems we've been much more conditioned than the rest of the country to eating fresh and locally. You could argue that the Eat Local Challenge is something we partake in throughout the year. Who isn't excited when a new restaurant by a hot local chef opens up or when Ponchatoula strawberries come into season? Most everyone I know that's moved to New Orleans from out of town has become a convert eating mostly local cuisine. The Eat Local Challenge is just taking these learned ideas and taking it to the extreme. Thankfully, this means eating local isn't all that hard (if not a bit more expensive and time consuming).

I just gotta stay in New Orleans.

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