Louisiana oysters, a local delicacy hit hardest by the BP oil spill

Po’ boys.  Rockefeller.  Blackened redfish.  Étouffée.  All Louisianan in origin, inspired by the bounty of Gulf waters.  Local seafood, an integral part of the rich culinary history of the state and the star of the aforementioned dishes, is in a precarious position.  The latest figures from Tuesday’s government panel estimate 60,000 gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf every day, a reality that has potential to bring Louisiana’s $2.3 billion fishing industry to a grinding halt for years to come.  The local oyster has been hit the hardest, with oyster beds being either shut down entirely or flooded with fresh water in an effort to mitigate the damage done by the oil spill.  The shortage that has occurred as a result has chefs wondering if regional culinary traditions can survive.  Chef Paul Prudhomme, the father of modern Cajun cuisine, sums up the thoughts of Louisiana’s chefs, lamenting “not to have [the local oyster], or to see it destroyed, just would be a tragedy.  I’ve been in Louisiana all my life, and my family’s been here since 1760.  And we’ve always lived off the land — farmers and fishermen. It’s just sad to see what could happen here.”

While there is still seafood on the menu at the moment, certain items are becoming scarcer and thus more expensive, prompting Louisiana chefs to make difficult decisions with regard to their supplies. In the wake of the oil spill, they are facing a dilemma: how to honor a long-standing, cultural tradition of sourcing as locally as possible, while providing their customers with the same signature dishes they’ve come to love.  According to a University of Arizona study, “more than 240 kinds of ‘historically eaten, place-based foods’ are at risk for being lost from what has been a cornucopia for generations of Gulf Coast residents.”