I saw a car burning in a grass lot today across from the Gentilly Winn Dixie. I didn’t think much of it. A couple people stopped to see what was going on. Most of us were trying to beat the freight train that crosses Louisa then Desire. The train with the mismatched cars that back up and go forward over and over again across the tracks like a long man scratching his back against the sharp edges of a door-facing. The train scratches at the Louisa that connects me home to the Upper Ninth Ward.
There was a car burning on the side of a busy intersection, and I didn’t think much of it. It was a white sedan with red interior. The flames were shooting out of its open doors and billowing from beneath its engine. I didn’t think much of it. Three weeks ago, the I-10 was shut down because a young man was shot and killed by the driver of the moving car on the Interstate beside him. I took an alternate route to my meeting.
Where is this apocalyptic world where cars are burning and bullets are flying on the highway? It is a place where gas station attendants say, “All right, baby,” when they give you your change. It is a place where we dance in the street and cry with laughter. It is a place where we hold doors and ask about your mama even if we don’t know you. It is a place where food is the center of our culture.
We are food-centered. Yet, people in our community are going hungry–right now. People in our community feel helpless–right now. People in our community are eating fried chicken wing parts, a hubig’s pie (a local 99-cent pie made out of fried dough and sugar filling), and a soda for dinner because their store does not carry fruit and vegetables or, if they do carry them, they cost too much. Right now.
Our charge is urgent. The New Orleans food disparity is a daily reality for those of us who live in this food-centered city full of jazz, history and old stories passed down through generations. The old porches were built at the same height so people could be at eye-level with their neighbors as they exchanged stories and complaints about day-to-day living. After three hundred years of developing our community, our citizens still do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Tonight, when we go out on our porches, let’s talk about that. Let’s shout it!
Part of the disparity is a Katrina-recovery problem. Most of the grocery stores have come back to high ground and mostly wealthy areas. The other part of our problem with healthy eating is a systemic culture of food sprung from intense and pervasive poverty. More than 26% of Louisiana children live in poverty. In turn, Louisiana is ranked 5th in the United States for obesity according to the 2010 Trust for America’s Health Report and 64.9% of Louisiana adults are overweight or obese according to the 2009 CDC BRFSS. Since 1990, the prevalence of obesity in Louisiana increased by 135%, according to the United Health Foundation. For all these reasons, cultivating affordable, healthy eating habits, long-term is my first reason for coming to work everyday.
Secondly, we believe that knowing where your food comes from creates a community of conscious eaters, neighborhood participants and people open to positive social interaction. Our members have already shown that through their compassion for one another and their dedication to the gardens. I see that everyday.
So what about that burning white sedan? It is too late to do anything about that or the boy who lost his life on the highway. However, I am stopping my car, getting out and touching our vegetables, touching your hands, touching the soil and the restaurant scraps and the hose and the bucket. Together we are stopping, turning the car off, and planting the seeds of a different outcome for our members like Charles and Danielle, their new baby, Judah, and their son, Israel, 2, who has grown up in the Mid City Garden. Did you know Charles is studying to be a dentist? Ask him about it next time you see him out there turning the compost.
We are stopping to lay roots. We are coming together to demand more from our immediate communities. We want the good stuff—the heart of us—to not only live in our music, our parties, and our once-in-a-while barbecues. We want the good stuff to happen daily.
I plan to write frequently on this blog with recipes, poems, videos, songs and words that describe what it feels like for me to be a part of this movement that is greater than any one person. I am the girl who keeps going past a burning vehicle because she is so jaded, so post-apocalyptic, that it doesn’t faze her. I am the woman who kept her doors locked and stayed inside when the porch conversation got going. In the last four months, y’all have made me see that community organizations can make our lives better. All it takes is people like you who get out there and get their hands dirty.
Tell me what you think of the blog as we go forward. We are all in this together. This is the first day of the documentation of our collective journey. It is a journey that has no end and no beginning. It is the walk toward the most positive, healthy and joyful life we can find for ourselves. Let’s talk about it here. Let’s talk about what we want, what we see and how things change over time.
For now, I’ll leave you with a recipe.
Garden Special #1:
“No One Will Ever Know You Didn’t Think of It” Asian-Inspired Beef and Broccoli
I found the recipe on the back of $0.75 Sun Bird Seasoning package in the Gentilly WinnDixie.
All you need is: (I pride myself in using as few ingredients as possible.)
NOLA Green Roots Broccoli (whole bag)-FREE
1 Large Sweet Onion-$0.70
Rice (I used brown.)-$1.23
Beef (.075 pound round steak-$6.77
Soy Sauce (2 tablespoons)-Hopefully, you already have it.
Water (2 tablespoons)-FREE
Add some hot sauce and pepper for the real deal-already have it
Sun Bird Beef and Broccoli Seasoning Packet-$.075
Damage to your account: $8.78
Makes 4-6 servings (depending upon portion)