Kitchen table convos from the Gulf Coast South. 
The language around how we describe the inequalities across the American landscape is always evolving. At one point, the federal government decided to describe neighborhoods or regions that lacked commutable access to grocery stores or other vendors that might carry healthy, nutritional foods as "food deserts." Now, collectively, we’re being more succinct about the problem.

We’re calling it what it is: Food apartheid. 

In many ways, apartheid is a synonym for segregation, albeit in the sense that it can be more widely applied across assets like housing or land ownership—and, in this case, food.

I have two guests this week, in tandem. Y’all might be familiar with Margee Green, the executive director of SPROUT NOLA, a former Louisiana agriculture commissioner candidate, and the inaugural Salt, Soil, & Supper guest last summer. Joining Margee today is Amy Ndiaye, a senior at Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans and an avid community gardener who finds herself thinking about many of the issues mentioned below. 

Once you’re finished wrapping your mind around our talk this week, check out my recipe for crawfish pies.

More from Scalawag on the intersection of global and Southern foodways:

Fighting climate gentrification with a radical community garden

Xander Peters: In terms of gardening, where do you think the work to end food apartheid starts? 

Amy Ndiaye: One thing that I love about gardening is that it's much more than just putting plants in the ground. I think especially with community gardening, you have this much, much wider system of things that you're tackling—and also dealing with—within your community. When you talk about food apartheid, and how that intersects with community gardens that specifically sprout up because they might be in a situation where food apartheid is rampant in their community, I think the work really starts with building that community. I think that's why community gardens are so important in combating [food apartheid], because they not only disrupt our current food system and supply chain by centering food sovereignty, but they also center people and education over profit. So, just having a community garden can bring people in. We see this at SPROUT all the time, when people just walk by and they stop. It gets people interested in what's going on. And when they come in, that's where the work begins [as it relates to] building that community around the people and educating people. 

XP: Do you have anything to add to that, Margee? 

Margee Green: I 100 percent agree with everything Amy said. When people are engaging with their food, I feel like that's the key. We have to find those ways to do it, like community gardening. I think once people are in gardens, they have more choice over what they want to grow. When we build community around foods, [we see] people who are looking for plants that they remember from their youth, or [who are] learning about plants from other people's culture.

We grow peppers a lot. It's Louisiana, and we have such a strong relationship with peppers. Historical events and everyone's individual culture also have a relationship with different kinds of peppers. Not every culture does, but many do. We see people say, ‘I'm looking for this pepper that I remember from my childhood,’ or like, ‘I'm looking for this pepper that my mom uses in cooking,’ or something like that. That's where we can actually seek those things out together and give people greater control over the specific food that they're interacting with, and that they might not be able to find in a grocery store, or that they might not be able to find in an affordable way, like online or by going to any sort of ethnic food store. They actually have the control to grow the things that are important to them, instead of waiting around for an industrialized food system to provide them. Like Amy said, those things are not going to be profitable, because they're emotional. Generally, the emotion or sentimentality that one person has wrapped up in a very specific Hungarian pepper is never going to be grown on scale, but we can grow it together. Then, because we have relationships, we can learn about each other's food cultures. That, to me, feels like it's like super saccharin—but it's also definitely an act of resistance, bringing your food with you and sharing it in a way that you're empowered to share it; it doesn't feel like colonizing.

 (See also: Let’s talk Indigenous gumbo, in Scalawag) 

XP: When we look at food apartheid at the macro-level, it's this sprawling issue. But on the micro-level, what particular aspects of food apartheid should we try to tackle first if we’re to solve the larger issue at hand? 

AN: I think that, obviously, the long-term goal is to start reversing some of the historical disinvestment in these communities. That's a larger issue that will have to do with policies and ensuring grants and benefits and things like that. But I think the starting place is with the terminology. Saying ‘food deserts’ is basically taking away the life and potential of these communities. 'Food desert' is essentially just saying it's about a lack of access to food when that's not really the case. Talking about it as apartheid, oppression, or something else—that gives it justice, identifying that it's not just about a proximity issue as it is a much larger issue, like you just said. From there, I think we can start actually identifying the specific causes in specific neighborhoods, because it's a complex issue. Not every neighborhood is the same in their history, or in what's currently happening. I feel like the biggest thing for an individual to do right now, to learn more about why that terminology is detrimental.

 (See also: From the farms to Mississippi’s schools, in Scalawag) 

MG: Growing food in communities is a pretty radical and old act. I think one of the things that's happened as we've commodified food more and more, and commodified green space more and more, is that community gardens have lost their teeth–their politics. We hear people be like, ‘I don't actually want to engage with the political part of it; I just want to grow food.’ That sort of undercuts the fact that growing your own food, which is often more expensive to some degree than buying food from the most affordable place in your neighborhood, or in a neighborhood that you might be able to get to on public transportation, is inherently a political act. Because, if I were able to say I don't care what kind of greens I'm getting, I just need greens, then you're going to go to the most affordable option. But...
Continue reading the rest of our conversation about gentrification, gardening, and reframing the "food desert."

An oysterman’s new worry: Will state’s coastal plan wash out his business?

The Christian Science Monitor, Xander Peters

“Sun-kissed lines frame Terry Shelley’s face like high tide stains a fishing dock. Today, those creases seem deepened by anger, but it’s the tone of his voice that gives it away.”

Environmentalists plan to sue state, port and property owner over Piney Point

Tampa Bay Times, Zachary T. Sampson

“They say officials let risks persist in spite of warnings about the danger to Tampa Bay.” 

A sunken river valley could hold the key to protecting the Texas coast

Grist, Emily Pontecorvo

“The valley's history—and the sand it contains—could help Texas with sea-level rise.” 

Louisiana boil water notices paint a picture of the state’s failing drinking water infrastructure

Louisiana Illuminator, WWNO, Sara Sneath 

“The state’s water infrastructure needs $7 billion in additional funding over the next 20 years.” 

Robert Bullard isn’t done yet 

The Texas Observer, Amal Ahmed

"More than 40 years after the Texas Southern University professor researched the first environmental justice case, communities of color still face an uphill battle claiming their right to clean air and a healthy neighborhood. Federal environmental justice legislation could change that.” 

Hackers and climate change threaten U.S. energy independence

The New York Times, Clifford Krauss

“The country relies less on foreign oil than it used to, but pipelines and grids are increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks and extreme weather.” 

Crawfish pies

The Ingredients: 
  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 onions
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 4 garlic gloves
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil 
  • 1 10 oz. can tomato 
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon creole seasoning 
  • 1 tablespoon parsley flakes 
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper 
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 pint heavy cream
  • 2 pounds crawfish tails 
  • 1/4 cup milk 
  • paprika (optional)
  • 2 9-inch raw deep dish pie crusts

The Steps: 
  • Start out by heating a large pot and pan over medium heat on the stove and take your pie crust out of the freezer to let them defrost.
  • Chop your onions, celery, bell pepper, and garlic.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
  • Melt the stick of butter in the large pot, then add the 1/2 cup of flour and stir consistently. You want to get your roux to a peanut butter color. 
  • In the large pan, add your small amount of olive oil, and drop your vegetables in. Sauté for 20 minutes. You want to be consistent in going back and forth between your roux and vegetables.
  • Once you've sautéed your vegetables for 20 minutes, add the drained can of tomatoes, and cook for another 5 minutes. 
  • After the 5 minutes is up, add a cup of chicken broth and let simmer. 
  • Once you've reached the desired color, slowly add in your vegetable mixture. Mix well.
  • Add the half pint of heavy cream. Mix until you see a creamy texture. 
  • Add the cajun seasoning, parsley flakes, pepper, Worcestershire, crawfish, and mix well.
  • Once blended, turn your heat off, and add the 1/4 cup of milk. Mix well.
  • Now you can start filling the pie crust. Fill each pie one spoonful at a time so they get equal amounts. 
  • Top them off with a sprinkle of paprika, place on a baking sheet lined with foil, and move to the oven. Bake for 1 hour or until you see golden edges. 
  • Let cool for 15 minutes and then dig in. 
Another week in the books. 
I hope you got enough to eat. There’ll be enough to go around next week and the week after.


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