Posted: 18 Aug 2010 10:17 PM PDT
New Orleans food activist Poppy Tooker is mad as hell and she's not going to take it anymore. In June, she was asked to write a blog entry in response to the BP oil spill for Slow Food USA, an organization in which she thought was in line with her belief in preserving culinary traditions and endangered flavors – so much so that she had pioneered the New Orleans chapter over a decade ago.
Yet the organization made an editorial decision to add a question mark to the title, demonstrating to Tooker a lack of support for her and the article's message.
"It infuriated me," says Tooker. "I was skewered and put on the bar-b-cue pit. That's a monthly newsletter sent out to all national members."
Tooker's article, entitled "Eat Gulf seafood" – but listed in the online newsletter as "Support Gulf Fishermen – By Eating Gulf Seafood?" – quickly began a heated debate one step above children's taunts on the school playground.
This is incredibly stupid advice, wrote a reader named Katherine Welsh. How does eating seafood help clean up the oil spill? And who would want to eat seafood from the Gulf?
Another individual, identified only as "SP" thought fishermen in the Gulf should give up their way of life altogether: Wouldn't it be better to support Gulf fishing families by funding a retraining program or a small business incubator just for them? Or perhaps a relocation program? The damage to the Gulf cannot be reversed in the near future, and these people have to do something to support their families in the meantime.
When Kate Walsh the publication's director of communications was reached by phone and asked about the blog entry, the editorial decision to add the question mark, and Slow Food USA's position on the consumption of Gulf of Mexico seafood, she had no comment. Walsh said that Josh Viertel the President of Slow Foods USA would send a statement by e-mail but no such document arrived.
The only written statement on Slow Food USA's position is an online comment in response to Tooker's article on June 11th, from Emily Vaughn, the Biodiversity Program Manager.
Like you, Slow Food USA strongly values the conscientious sourcing of food, especially seafood, where the methods of harvesting can be especially devastating if done the wrong way. That's why we provided links to groups of fishermen (White Boot Brigade, Louisiana Seafood Board) whose practices are in line with our values, and who are every bit as interested in staying away from plumes and solvents as the rest of us.
So while there are certainly a different set of considerations and criterion, the Committee feels that the eater-based conservation method can still be ethically and successfully applied to wild-caught foods.
Tooker feels that her experience with the online blog reflects the national debate over seafood safety.
"The problem is the public perception," says Tooker. "I know a lot of chefs who have and will continue to call it [Gulf seafood] by name on their menu, but the customer isn't buying it. So what do you do about that?"
Tooker's answer, like any good New Orleanian, is to educate and share the pleasures of the table, a view she expresses weekly on her radio show on NPR affiliate WWNO, Louisiana Eats!
"Your tongue and your heart are tied together by what my grandmother used to call heart strings," says Tooker. The concept of preserving endangered flavors through education and publicity via the Arc of Taste, a virtual Noah's Arc where endangered foods are nominated because of their cultural ties to a place, because they are endangered, and because they taste good is what interested Tooker to the slow food movement in the first place.
After Katrina, Creole Cream Cheese, heirloom Louisiana strawberries, the citrus fruit satsuma and Louisiana wild caught shrimp were all accepted on the Arc of Taste – a acknowledgement of their importance and deliciousness.
Now disenchanted with Slow Food USA, Tooker is following her personal mantra – eat it to save it – and voting with her fork. She continues to eat and enjoy the fresh Louisiana seafood that inspired her career and life's passions.