Gulf Report: Good Times, Great Food. Come Visit.

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These words do not come easy. When I began to write these words about the most incredible whole red snapper—still on the bone, grilled with island spices with the oily skin crisped by the coals, worth the boat ride over to a little island called Prickly Pear in the British West Indies not far from Anguilla—I could not help but feel a deep sadness that was brewing underneath as I walked those pristine white beaches and ate the food that was freshly caught from those clean aqua waters. As I return to my home in Mississippi, the sadness is gaining strength over me. As our Mississippi coast has been showing true signs of recovery after Katrina, now the oil spill.

The same sadness exists when I think fondly of Louisiana, which is much like home to me. The Gulf Coast of Florida, where I walked white beaches and ate fresh fish not so long ago, which is already feeling the absence of June visitors. However, I do not want my sadness to turn to anger. I am personally so opposed to "the blame game." As horrific as this oil spill is, I know we will survive it. Somehow, I hope we will be better for it. I do not want to hear about class-action lawsuits, I do not want to hear about how horrible BP is, I want to hear that progress is being made and that the clean-up effort is gaining momentum. I also don't want potential visitors to these Gulf areas to have the wrong perception and not visit. The lack of visitors can be as caustic to this area as the spill itself.

Here are a few things to reflect upon:

    • I have not heard anyone talking about the manmade "dead zones" in the Gulf caused by a flood of nutrients, such as agricultural fertilizers, which boost algae production. These growths consume huge amounts of oxygen, creating a "marine desert" nearly devoid of sea life. There was much talk about this in the late '90s when it was over 7,000 square miles—that's probably the size of one of our Gulf states.

    • What happens when the amount of corn-based biofuels produced in the U.S. goes from 15 billion gallons to 36 billion by 2022, with the amount of pollution in the Mississippi projected to increase by 19 percent at the same time?

    • People are worried about the contamination of Gulf seafood when the FDA has repeatedly issued import alerts or bans against several species of Asian and South American farmed seafood because of contamination with drugs and food additives. Most were filed against imports from massive fish and shellfish farms in China, Thailand, and Indonesia. The contaminants—some of which were listed as carcinogenic—included a number of antimicrobial agents, disinfectants, and drugs to combat diseases and parasites in heavily overcrowded fish pens. Now restaurants are talking about using these imports because they fear seafood from the Gulf?

    • As of this week, there is still plenty of tested, safe seafood from the Gulf. I know there is a chance this may change, but if they are selling it you can trust that it is safe.

I asked Liz Williams, president of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFAB) in New Orleans, what her thoughts were and what she would encourage people to do. She said, "By continuing to visit the affected locations, everyone continues to support these economies. If you decide that they are spoiled—which they are not—you are just adding to the harm."

There is still so much to appreciate, such good food to eat, fun things to do. Visitors can be amateur anthropologists, gathering interviews, photos, and artifacts of their visit. SoFAB will be happy to post these findings. Taken together, they will make a great statement all along the Gulf Coast. The SoFAB's website is www.southernfood.org .

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Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of Regina's Table at Twin Oaks. More

Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of two cookbooks: A Collection of Seasonal Menus & Recipes from Regina's Kitchen and Regina's Table at Twin Oaks.
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