by Kate Heyhoe
[Note: By the time you read this, the Gulf coast will be recovering from Rita, but the message in my column below, written in Katrina's aftermath, holds true for all of us, whether it's a hurricane, earthquake, or tsunami.]
As I write this, five days after Katrina's grand slam, tens of thousands of victims are still trying to escape, and even more are arriving in Texas, where I now live...
Houston has long been a butt of jokes in Texas. The standard response when hearing someone say they live in Houston is, "I'm sorry to hear that." Well shut my mouth, because Houston has just shown that the nation's fourth largest city can be an inspiring model of compassion—and action.
Within two days after Katrina slammed New Orleans, the mayor and officials of Houston inhaled deeply and put on their running shoes. Instead of wallowing in bureaucratic inertia like the feds, Mayor Bill White volunteered the Astrodome as a haven for 25,000 victims. But he underestimated the capacity. When fire marshalls declared only 11,000 could be safely housed there, he said, okay. Then he squeezed another few thousand victims into the Astrodome, before channeling an additional 8,000 victims to Reliant Convention Center and 3,000 to Reliant Arena, short treks across the Astrodome parking lot.
"Reliant Center can take 11,000 people," the mayor announced, knowing full well that previously booked conventions would have to be cancelled. "We want this exhibition hall open right now," the mayor said. "We're going to kick people out who were planning to do things. This is an emergency. If it entails someone suing us, then OK. Then (they can) explain to the American public why.''
To his credit, Mayor White acted swiftly, and when he discovered a strategy hiccup, he sought another solution. Maybe not perfect, but he kept things rolling and continued to work on finding other solutions.
He also expressed a critical viewpoint echoed in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and other communities: We must make every effort to treat these people with dignity. They are taxpayers, families, and Americans, like you and me.
Looting for food is not the same thing as looting for TV's...
Before aid arrived in New Orleans, looters stormed grocery stores, and every place else. But it started with the food stores. People were desperate, hungry, and thirsty, with no evidence that the government would attend to their needs any time soon. Now, I'm a fifty-year-old, overeducated white/Asian woman, but would I have done the same thing? You betcha. I'd have been at the very front of the scramble.
One thing that the poor and the cynical like me have in common is the belief that when times get tough, it's good to question authority. In some situations, rule breaking is advisable, especially when your options are 1) obey the law and endanger yourself, or 2) break the law, without harming anyone, and survive. Even the cops took food and water from stores because that was their only source, and most of the looters grabbing food and water were not habitual lawbreakers. The real looters ignored the food and went for the TV's.
By the time you read this, the immediate food and water issues will be behind us. But as psychologist Abraham Maslow identified, after a person's physiological needs are met (water and food), come the needs for shelter, safety, and security, both immediate and long-term. Then come the needs for love, belonging, and community, for without them none of us can reach the next critical level: self-esteem. Overnight, Katrina pulverized every one of these critical foundations.
Rebuilding is all about restoring the human infrastructure. With self-esteem, people begin to grow, to self-actualize, to create true goodness and a social stability that rewards acceptance, honesty, and ethical behavior, values that sound so simple yet are so fragile to maintain. And in each step of the process, let's remember Mayor White's urging: to treat each other "with dignity."
The rescue starts with a slurp of water and a mouthful of food...
Without sounding trite, food can also be a bridge to recovery of spirit and self-esteem.
Ever been traveling abroad and just yearn for a real American hamburger? Think about the ways we turn to food in times of stress, how certain foods offer comfort. As Katrina's victims settle into their upturned lives, join with them in plating up the comfort foods of the Gulf Coast. These people come from a heritage they can be very, very proud of, and that heritage may be the only thing they have left. Break bread with them, and take the opportunity, if they offer it, to learn how they make real Louisiana gumbo, pecan or Mississippi Mud pie, beignets, etouffee, and anything with crawfish. Sharing food, whatever end of the equation you're on, is good for the spirit and the soul.
If you were to drop a quarter into a piggy bank every day for a year, you'd end up with $91.25. And you'd probably never miss any of those quarters on a daily basis. So, why not make it an even $100 and donate it now to your charity of choice?
In Austin, Sharon Ely (wife of musician Joe Ely) launched a bicycle collection campaign, in conjunction with a local sport shop. Donated bikes, working or not, are fixed as needed, to give survivors free, independent transportation, as well as a physical way to help clear their minds and spirits.
Keep the demand flowing for Cajun and Creole foods. Many companies were hard hit, including Paul Prudhomme's Magic Seasonings, and most of their workers lost their homes. Support these businesses, even if it takes them a while to get back on their feet.
with Halloween (and All Souls Day) coming up, instead of asking for candy door to door, ask your neighbors for cash donations. For 55 years, Halloween has been UNICEF's key collection drive, so split the proceeds between them and a domestic recovery agency. (Unicef aids children outside the U.S., but has been authorized to extend its relief efforts to within hurricane victims within the U.S.)
And finally, out of our recipe files comes this idea: Red Beans 'n' Rice for Recovery: grassroots fundraising by individuals, families, organizations and restaurants. The idea: Eat red beans and rice once a week, or serve this iconic Louisiana dish at a benefit dinner. Send the money saved by not cooking a fancy meal, or the money earned from an event, to a recovery effort. And keep doing it over the many months ahead. Traditionally, red beans and rice simmer on Mondays in Louisiana kitchens, often served with a link of smoked sausage. It's simple, thrifty food, but also tasty, comforting and an edible reminder of how our traditions help anchor us, in good times and in bad. Every bite will taste even better, knowing your efforts can feed another needy mouth somewhere else.
Over the past 11 years, Global Gourmet has spotlighted the cooks and cuisine of Louisiana and her surroundings. I leave you with some of these articles, as a reminder of exactly where our new neighbors come from, both in place and in spirit.
Copyright © 2005, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created October 2005
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