NEW ORLEANS. – Shrimp and groats served for breakfast on the sidewalk at El Pavo Real. ‘Super Secret’ spiced pork and braised vegetables are handed out at the door of Live Oak Café. Spicy jambalaya disk out under a canopy raised on the empty sunburnt tram tracks by a couple who just wanted to help.
The great fare is served from neighbor to neighbor, free to the inquiring and much-needed in a city where the topic at lunchtime is often the dinner menu, and where camaraderie flourishes over Monday plates of rice and beans.
In New Orleans, food is just one of the many ways residents help each other through hard times. And it has not been any different in the days after Hurricane Ida, which flooded or destroyed homes, tore up trees and knocked out the entire city’s electricity grid.
While both chefs and amateur chefs stacked plates high with comfort food, residents with generators charged neighbors’ cell phones and tore up chainsaws to clear down felled trees, while volunteers at a local church handed out bags of cleaning supplies and boxes of diapers.
“In times of crisis.
New Orleans’ problems reflect the problems in large parts of urban America: horrific outbreaks of violent crime, ingrained poverty, lack of affordable housing for the poor. Throw a dilapidated drainage system in one of America’s rainiest cities, and a confusing vulnerability to hurricanes, as climate change contributes to more severe and frequent storms – and one could forgive anyone here who wants to give up and get out.
Some do. The population here has shrunk over the years. But many remain, and not just those who lack the means to relocate. They do it to nurture beloved neighborhood traditions: second-line parade, jazz funerals, centuries-old social assistance and entertainment clubs “and good food.
In Treme, a cradle of black culture and New Orleans brass band music, Backatown Coffee Parlor owners Jessica and Alonzo Knox could not cook in their all-electric kitchen, but gave away salad making, baked goods and quickly thawing bags of frozen, ready-made crawfish tails.
El Pavo Real restaurant owner Lindsey McLellan used food canned ‘with ice cream and prayer’ to whip up a free steak taco meal Wednesday afternoon using herbs and peppers salvaged from a hurricane-deficient community garden by neighbor Jelagat Cheruiyot, an organic professor at Tulane University.
The garden is a project of the venerable Broadmoor Improvement Association, which rose to prominence to preserve the working class Broadmoor neighborhood after the failure of fraud during Hurricane Katrina flooded homes there in 2005.
Refreshment-related relief efforts were not limited to those with culinary skills.
‘Take whatever you want. Leave what you can, ‘read the hand-scraped sign taped to a box of potato chips and snack mix bags on a small folding table in front of a’ shotgun ‘cottage near the Mississippi River. Also available: bottled water, Pop-Tarts and granola bars.
Jessica Knox, a Mississippi native and 18-year-old New Orleans resident, said she and her husband were in Washington during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and she knows from experience that disasters bring people together wherever they are.
Still, New Orleans residents have had to show some resilience that many others have not, she said. ‘You would think we would be tired at this point,’ she said. And yet, she senses a spirit of hope and determination as she sits outside her powerless house chatting with people passing by. “I think we’re over the complaining part,” she said.
El Pavo Real owner Lindsey McLellan is a native of the area and Katrina a veteran who remembers serving free food after the deadly storm when she was a restaurant employee. She has lived in New York and Washington and said she has also seen examples of post-trauma friendships there, but – with a native’s pride – she questions whether it is as baked into the culture elsewhere as in New Orleans. .
‘I mean you can definitely find it,’ she said. ‘But it’s kind of the New Orleans way.’
Hank Fanberg knew he was facing days without power when he collected trees and trash in the yard of his home in the Carrollton area on Monday, the day after Ida hit. But he consoled himself by knowing that neighbors on either side of him had generators and were happy to help.
Bette Metheny’s friends helped her remove dried carpets and other water-damaged debris from her newly renovated ranch house in Lakeview, an area destroyed during Katrina’s failure in 2016 and hit by floods Sunday.
‘Every single person we know has offered us everything they can,’ Metheny said.
Metheny, who was 13 when she evacuated under Katrina 16 years ago, noticed that people often notice the storms that hit so often in New Orleans and ask, “‘Why would you stay there? Feel like moving? ‘ “
She reacted with emotion, her voice broke.
‘None. Why would I move? The people are so wonderful. You can not find it anywhere else, you know? ‘
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