Do You Know What It Means for a Vegan to Miss New Orleans?

Douglas Doneson

No matter how many cups of Yerba Mate I drink or how many lamps I turn on (or off) to get the right lighting, I can’t focus on my law school work. After living in New Orleans for close to six years my body knows Mardi Gras is approaching. It knows I should be there. Anyone who has been to the New Orleans Mardi Gras knows that once the thought of Mardi Gras comes to mind, so many good memories are recalled and flow throughout the brain.

One memory that always comes to mind is the amazing food New Orleans has to offer.  This is a funny thought for me because I am vegan. I actually stopped eating meat, while working at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans in 2007. But for some reason when I think about New Orleans, food is always the first thought that come to mind. Not surprisingly, New Orleans has a pretty small selection of vegan restaurants.  One of my favorite qualities of New Orleans, its stagnancy, is also its worst enemy. 

Still, I am thinking about king cakes, crawfish boils, catfish Po-boys, overstuffed shrimp Po-boys, half oyster half shrimp overstuffed Po-Boys, cheese grits, and of course anything from Camellia Grill (the most vegan unfriendly place ever) or Jacques-Imo’s Cafe (this place has only one vegan meal available). Why do I have these thoughts? I do not eat any of this stuff.

The people of Louisiana have a quality that others lack, ties to the land. Crawfish, oysters, and shrimp are not factory farmed. Crawfish are harvested from swamps that look like rice paddies. Shrimp are caught right off the coast. Oysters are wild caught or raised on oyster farms which are in the ocean. In fact, oyster farms, unlike any other factory farm, are good for the environment since oysters are natural water pollution filters. Some vegans consider oysters a vegan food.

Anytime this New Orleans fare is consumed it seems to be with family and friends at a party or family gathering. I guess this makes sense since nobody wants to eat just a few  shrimp or oysters, or have a solo crawfish boil; it is family food and large portions have to be made if it is going to be made at all. In fact, an attorney I interned for last summer in New Orleans told me that she was vegan until she moved down to New Orleans from Massachusetts. But her decision to eat meat again was not based on hedonism. She told me that when she had to meet with her client’s parents, it was always over freshly made seafood right out of the gulf coast.  So, for my former employer, food was a means to really connect with the locals (as opposed to eating wings with friends over a football game).

As a proud native Texan, I do not share these same sentiments about Barbecue. But that is because the meat industry in Texas is so detached from respect for the animals or for the land, that it is hard to even think of barbecue as Texas fare.  Most of you know animals are treated terribly in the meat industry and that eating meat is wasteful. Eating meat actually hurts the environment. But to me, the fact that entire cities in Texas smell bad as a result of the meat industry is enough for me to see how distant we are from our food and our land. As opposed to the exclusively money driven agribusiness industry in Texas and the Mid West, after the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, an entire culture was destroyed off the coast of Louisiana.

I realized I wasn’t missing the food of New Orleans. I missed the culture which is inextricably related to the food and deeply tied to the land, which is what makes eating New Orleans fare more understandable than eating other non-vegan food. I am not defending a non-vegan-New-Orleans-only-food-diet. I do not think crawfish, oysters, and shrimp suffer any less than other animals, when they are prepared and eaten. But they are appreciated more than fish served as “art” by a waiter with a geometric haircut, at a sushi restaurant with mood lighting and techno music playing in the background.


5 Responses

  1. Wild salmon sea lice linked to B.C. fish farms…

    In the new study, Price and his collaborators captured hundreds of young salmon in the Discovery Islands, between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland, where there were 18 active salmon farms, and the north coast of B.C., where there are no salmon fa…

  2. I am a little unclear about the author’s message…is it that the culture he writes about was one that had many enjoyable elements for him…and the death of sentient beings was one of those elements?

    The post left me confused, it sort of sounds like he is saying some kinds of killing of sentient beings for human pleasure, profit or convenience are better than other kinds (of such killings). Is that the message?

  3. No, the author was not recalling the killing of sentient beings and looking back with pleasure. Rather, he was taking two examples (N.O. vs TX) and showcasing each city’s approach to their food culture. One may think that the reason there is such apathy towards the welfare of animals is because of the disconnect people have from how it arrives on their plate. In
    New Orleans, and much of the gulf, there is respect for the animals and the environment (it was the fisherman who first sounded the alarm about the wetlands and the disappearing brown pelican).

    Maybe for you there is no difference in how an animal dies (which is fine and commendable) but for people who still live off the land, how the animals are treated, the environment they live in, and the services they provide is close to sacred.

    Perhaps you had to be in the gulf during many of our disasters, both man made and natural, to understand but there is a difference.

    Full disclosure: I have also lived in New Orleans. The post was fantastic.

  4. Hello Ve Ganelder,

    Your comment clarified my thoughts. Thanks! Truth is, I don’t think I had a message per se, the post was just an observation.

  5. interesting article. i also think it was confusing and somewhat hypocritical although i can relate somewhat to its timbre.

    i understand, doug, what you are saying about the difference between the general way in which animal foods are produced between NO and Texas. And, generally speaking, it is much better for the environment the way it is done in NO. however, i can say with certainty that a fish that is hauled in on a small family boat and left to die suffers just as much as one hauled onto a massive commercial liner. same thing with a live crabfish or crawfish that is taken from the gulf and thrown into a pot of boiling water. does it matter if it was collected by a rural cajun or a marine robot on an ocean-going commercial freighter? the pain is just as real for the captive.

    despite what i see as the fallicy of your arguement, i still think there is validity to what you are saying. the way in which animal foods are raised/collected in NO is not as damaging to the environment and to the animals as a collective whole in the long run as compared to Texas. however, even more beneficial to the environment and animals as a collective whole is a non-animal diet altogether!

    this article would have been better suited towards a non-vegan/vegetarian audience. in that context, what you are saying carries more weight and needs to be said.

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