Finally made it to New Orleans! I got here yesterday. My taxi driver from the airport was a spirited older gentleman who's lived his whole life in the Lower 9th (minus a 2 year absence following Katrina). We were talking about the Deep South, and he remarked: "This here's the butter biscuit bottom. You get any farther south and you'll be in Mexico."
I can now say I've eaten an official po’ boy sandwich (grilled shrimp and fried green tomatoes) and seen the Lower 9th. It's a fascinating city – chock full of rich flavor, deep pride, and paradoxes. It’s a place of hope amid pockets of despair, of progressive leanings intermingled with the legacy of Deep South conservatism.
This morning I met with the representatives from different local orgs who are all part of the coalition group - New Orleans Food Policy Advocacy Committee (FPAC). They include direct service providers (food banks, garden educators) and more policy oriented folks (from Tulane). There seemed to be a lot of enthusiasm for the potential of an event like this. The consensus was to hold it in early April in a central locale easily accessible to various communities the group is interesting in attracting. Desired objectives varied, but the most popular idea consisted of using this to really promote local healthy food programs (both growing projects and farmers markets/newly opened food markets). Many saw it as a great opportunity to let residents and community leaders know about these services and opportunities, and to be informed on how to get involved and reap the benefits.
It was also decided that in January, another planning meeting/screening should be held for an assembled group of community and church leaders from different neighborhoods in the city, who could galvanize community members to attend, and be directly involved in the organizing and follow-up efforts.
Afterwards, several of the meeting organizers took me on a tour of some of the sites they work in, including the absolutely beautiful new Edible Schoolyard project. We crossed the 17th St. Canal into the lower 9th. It's quite amazing how slow things have progressed since Katrina. There are large pockets of the neighborhood and adjacent neighborhoods that remain largely abandoned, the X's still emblazoned on waterlogged front doors, and the 8 foot water level marks clearly visible. In some tracts, I could easily have been convinced that the storm had just blown through yesterday. Yet, in the disrepair and abandonment is also a sense of hope and opportunity. Despite the obvious overwhelming challenges, there is a sense of optimism - a sweep-the-slate-clean sentiment - that this is the time to really have an impact, to make lasting positive change in a community that, long before the levees broke, had been plagued by urban blight and severe nutrition-related health disparities.
Which is why, I believe, the groups I met with today were so enthusiastic about a public screening like this - a chance to rejuvenate communities throughout this city that for so long have been overlooked.