Monthly Archives: June 2010

If the oil comes

I could barely make out the shape of the city’s skyline though the smog. The nighttime lights bathed it in a sickly yellow glow, but there was the unmistakable arc of the Superdome and the twinkling curves of the Mississippi River bridge.

The boat bobbed gently on Lake Pontchartrain, the water below dark as crude. I don’t sail often, so I couldn’t help thinking that this could be the last time I see the lake this clean. Summer means hurricanes, and hurricanes mean that oil slick in the Gulf could be pushed our way, up into the rivers and lakes and bayous and marshes I’ve spent many summer evenings staring out over.

The lake has always been dirty. I remember learning what a syringe was as a kid because the shore near our house was littered with them. And I noticed every summer when we went fishing in Slidell, our catches would diminish. We clearly don’t need any help polluting out waterways.

The biggest shame, though, is that all we can do is sit here and wait, helpless, for the places we love to take a final spin around the toilet bowl.


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Fontainebleau’s middens: the legacy of the Northshore’s earliest residents

The brick ruins of a sugar mill outside the visitor’s center at Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville give visitors a rough sketch of life when the town was a getaway for wealthy New Orleanians and the park was a plantation.

But hidden in the forests and bayous of the park, the shells hint at something even older.

Some 2,500 years before there were New Orleanians in top hats or hoop skirts walking through Fontainebleau, Native Americans called the area home. The Tchefuncte Culture existed across the Lower Mississippi Valley and the Gulf Coast from around 1,000 B.C. to A.D. 200, occupying the areas now known as Fontainebleau from around 890 B.C. to A.D. 1.

“‘Tchefuncte’ is not just a river,” says Grayhawk Perkins, an interpretive ranger at Fontainebleau State Park. “It was a people.”

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Take one down, pass it around: world travels lead to a unique collection

When Harland Johnson opens the door to his showroom, thousands of tiny bottles materialize, arranged just so on the white shelves at the room’s perimeter. He has 23,658 as of this writing.

Johnson estimates that his miniature liquor bottle collection is one of the most extensive in the world. “I know of four other collections that exceed 20,000,” he says, but notes that not everyone discloses their numbers. The world’s largest collection belongs to The Mini Bottle Gallery, a museum of 53,000 bottles in Oslo.

Johnson keeps his collection in a showroom carved out of his Madisonville home’s large garage. He built a wall to enclose the space, installed more lighting, added air conditioning and put down thick carpet to protect the bottles from clumsy hands. Whiskey, rum, tequila, vodka, cognac, gin, scotch, liqueurs and even some wines line the shelves Johnson made in his workshop.

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The slaughterhouse problem

Justin Pitts knows exactly how far he has to drive to get his animals to the slaughterhouse: 217 miles one way. That’s an eight hour round trip.

“I get up early and give them some feed and get going while it’s cool and quiet,” the Ellisville, Miss. farmer says of his preparations for the drive. “Gas is one of my biggest expenses.”

Pitts raises heritage beef, pork and lamb and sells at the Crescent City Farmers’ Market in New Orleans. His locally- and sustainably raised meats are popular among market goers and restaurant owners, but Pitts’ long trip to the slaughterhouse highlights a problem that small meat farmers across the country are facing: The demand for local meat products is growing, but the slaughterhouses that small farms depend on-many of them small businesses, too-are scarce.  Getting his animals processed, Pitts says, is “the biggest obstacle I face in farming.”

Today’s meat industry is dominated by a handful of giant, industrial-scale meat producers that process the vast amount of meat consumed in this country. By 2005, four companies were slaughtering over 80 percent of the nation’s cattle and over 60 percent of hogs.  As these industry giants have taken over the market, the number of small slaughterhouses across the country has steadily declined, even as the number of small farms has rebounded in recent years.

Read the entire story online at Edible New Orleans.

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