When the devastation of Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury upon the city of New Orleans, I watched on like most of you did, to the TV reports and the flood of articles inundating the web. The same convention center I had visited for a coffee and tea show mere months before became home and unruly hearth to oh-so many displaced New Orleansians.
This past weekend found me in New Orleans on the sixth anniversary of hurricane Katrina at a food conference. One morning, I spent an hour walking the French Quarter, marveling at the architecture and the details in the structures that remind me of our charming gingerbread Victorians in San Francisco. The bulk of the weekend was spent in seminars and meeting incredible people with a passion for food and stories like myself. But I had to wonder, apart from this section of the city reveling, how much of the city still lies in ruin? How much of it still grieves the vacancy of its former spirit and verve? Chef John Besh talked to our group about staying in New Orleans and about rebuilding. As he talked about his community, his city trying to find its footing again, it led me to think aboout what commitment to your neighbor and neighborhood looks like truly.
Late into the first evening of the conference, I conferred with Brona, a gutsy woman also in the food industry if it would be feasible to eat fresh produce without GMOs on a welfare budget. At lunch one day, I chatted with a food blogger named Tanya who lives in the 9th ward. She told me that residents in the 9th ward shop for groceries in a convenience store where two aisles are earmarked for food. You can imagine with me that the bulk of the food available is highly processed and missing the nutrients originally in the food. She told me about traveling 30 minutes on the train to go to an uptown market for fresh vegetables. I sat rapt and horrified. There is something so disconcerting and wrong about access to fresh food versus targeted marketing of fast food restaurants when thinking of lower income neighborhoods and families.
I think of Mama and her family, Mexican immigrants eking out a place for themselves in a hostile South Texas town during a time when ethnic diversity was not cool or eagerly accepted. I think about her stories of making do with what they had, about Tita, my grandmother making feasts out of next to nothing. As a wise person said at the conference this weekend, “deprivation breeds creativity.”
I signed up to participate in a hunger challenge September 11-17 and would invite you to join me. Did you know 1 in 5 children, adults and senior citizens in San Francisco and Marin struggle with hunger everyday? For seven days, Beck and I will be living off a food stamp budget of $4.72 a day per person. I consider this venture with a mite of trepidation. Will I be hungry in the evening? Will I be able to balance the meals with all the good knowledge gleaned about proteins and nutrients from vegetables and grains? I consider this challenge with knowing if I feel hunger pangs in my overindulged body that week they will be prayers of solidarity for my neighbor.
I want to believe there is a way my neighbor can live healthfully on little.
I’m going to post the week’s menu after it’s over and check back in with a report, but seriously give it a thought. There are far too many hungry people in the world and though I can only feed some, I want to learn what it is to love my neighbor as myself. And perhaps let that involve an organic apple.