Laissez les bons temps rouler! Eatocracy is in New Orleans this week getting ready for the second edition of our Secret Supper. We'll be sharing the people, purveyors and places that make this such a significant food town, and hope you'll join in with your questions, memories, restaurant suggestions and general bonhomie.
New Orleans (CNN) - Without a blink of hesitation, Renee Fish grabbed a squirmy-raw oyster off an iced platter in New Orleans and sloshed it into her mouth.
“It’s definitely the texture,” she said, her eyes lighting up at the experience of just having eaten a live mollusk from the Gulf of Mexico’s once-oily waters. “And they’re clean. They have a real silkiness. I try not to think about what other nasties could be in there.”
On a neon-lit night at the Acme Oyster House, Fish and her husband went on to order two-dozen raw oysters, a half-dozen charbroiled oysters and two “oyster shooters,” which are essentially vodka shots with oysters staring up from the bottom.
As for the oil spill: “It really didn’t even enter my mind.”
Ten months after the BP oil disaster that spewed about 200 million gallons of crude into the ocean off the Louisiana coast, oysters are starting to make a comeback in New Orleans restaurants - a remarkable feat, considering that about half of the local oyster population was killed during the spill; and considering that a majority of Americans surveyed still express some squeamishness about eating seafood from the Gulf of Mexico.
Signs of the molluscan renaissance are all around the city: At Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, famous charbroiled oysters are back on the menu after being replaced by mussels; Antoine’s Restaurant, home of Oysters Rockefeller, started serving Louisiana oysters again this month; “oyster loaves” - massive, fried “po’ boy” sandwiches - are available all over town; and, after a hiatus, Jacques-Imo’s Cafe is plopping “Cajun croutons” - another version of fried oysters - on top of its spinach salads.
“Right now, anywhere you go in New Orleans, you can have all the oysters you want,” said Tom Fitzmorris, a longtime restaurant critic here. “The price is a little higher. That’s the only evidence that this (oil disaster) ever happened.”
Perhaps this isn’t surprising to people who know New Orleans well. After Hurricane Katrina, the city has a reputation for being able to bounce back from anything.
But getting oysters and other seafood back onto New Orleans tables has been an epic struggle for oyster farmers and chefs. In many ways, it’s a struggle that still continues.
Part of this has to do with the direct effects of the oil disaster.
After oil started gushing in April from a BP well a mile beneath the surface of the ocean, the state of Louisiana came up with a plan to keep the oil as far from its fragile coast as possible: It would flush fresh water into estuaries and streams, pushing back against the oil.
That move may have saved coastal marshes. But it had an unintended consequence: It probably killed many oysters, which thrive in water that is “brackish” - or part salty, part fresh.
Oil also encroached on some oyster habitat, preventing harvest. That’s a big deal in Louisiana, which produces 40% of the nation’s oysters, more than any other state, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA closed much of the Gulf to fishing after oil spewed from the bottom of the ocean in April. Only about 1,000 square miles of federal waters remain closed after the oil disaster, according to NOAA, which is down from a peak closure in June of 88,500 square miles. Oysters and other fish could not be harvested from areas where the government feared oil would affect food safety or quality.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration took charge of this seafood safety effort, using chemical tests to check for seafood safety and also employing humans with highly trained noses to sniff for petroleum contamination of the food.
With all of these precautions in place, any food that is legally harvested from the Gulf of Mexico is absolutely safe at this point, said Don Kraemer, an FDA seafood safety expert.
“If they’re buying commercially harvested seafood, there’s no reason to be worried about the effects of the spill on the safety of that seafood,” Kraemer said in an interview.
Some independent scientists, however, have criticized the FDA’s process, calling the smell tests junk science and saying the FDA isn’t testing for a wide enough range of contaminants. The FDA’s chemical tests look for only one line of potentially cancer-causing chemicals, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Others have citied what they see as alarming levels of compounds that can cause liver problems.
Kraemer dismissed those claims, saying those lipids are found naturally in the fat of many fish and other seafood species - something he said the studies don’t account for.
And he’s “dumbfounded” by criticism of the FDA’s sensory tests.
“They truly were experts,” Kraemer said of the human smell testers, who were trained specifically on the scents of Gulf oil spill. “And quite frankly, the sensory test is even more sensitive than most of the chemical analyses. The human nose is an incredible sensory organ. It can pick up odors that are extremely faint when it’s properly trained.”
Then there are the lingering long-term questions.
No one knows for sure what effects the oil spill will have on fish, oyster and shrimp reproduction over coming years, said Julie Olson, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Alabama. “If you look at previous oil spills that have gone on throughout history, while we’ve gained a lot of information, we’re still in our infancy in terms of understanding the long-term effects,” she said.
The public seems to have ignored the nuance of this debate, choosing instead to translate images of oiled pelicans and dead dolphins into fear of food from the entire Gulf.
A December survey by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board found that more than seven in 10 people express “some level of concern” about eating seafood from the Gulf of Mexico after the oil disaster. In July, three months after the event started, more than 90% of people surveyed expressed such reluctance.
The perception that Gulf seafood is unsafe is perhaps the single biggest challenge for the oyster industry, said Ewell Smith, executive director of the seafood marketing board. His group is using $30 million from BP, which has claimed responsibility for the disaster, to try to “rebrand” Gulf seafood as safe and delicious, he said.
Surveys show that people who live far away from the Gulf Coast are more fearful of Gulf seafood than locals, but not everyone in New Orleans is willing to eat local seafood.
“I just doesn’t feel safe,” said Kerry Seaton Stewart, owner of Willie Mae’s Scotch House, a fried chicken restaurant in New Orleans that stopped serving fish after the oil spill. “I was a big raw oyster eater - I just haven’t eaten it since,” she said.
While many New Orleans restaurants again are offering oysters, others are so unsure of seafood supplies that they’re changing the menu by the day.
This is true of Dooky Chase, a Cajun restaurant in New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood. After rebuilding from scratch after Hurricane Katrina, the restaurant had to adopt a paper menu after the oil spill, since high-quality seafood isn’t always available.
“As the seafood industry goes, really, so do we,” said Edgar L. “Dooky” Chase Jr., the restaurant’s 82-year-old, second-generation owner, who squints as he talks, as if he’s in the middle of playing a trumpet solo. “It’s like a quarterback. It’s the quarterback of culinary food in New Orleans.” Chase said his restaurant is developing a new menu that will not lean as heavily on seafood, so that it can adapt to changing times.
People who harvest and sell oysters seem to be hurting worse than those who serve them on white-tablecloth settings, where the effects of the disaster aren’t as obvious.
On the streets of the city’s vibrant French Quarter, which once were made of crushed oyster shells, Al Sunseri still arrives at the headquarters of the P & J Oyster Co. at 3:30 each morning. He’s determined to keep business going even though P & J - the oldest oyster wholesaler in the county, in operation since 1876 - doesn’t have enough business to process oysters in its warehouses.
The company headquarters sits in a chilled silence, pierced only by the hum of refrigerators that keep the few oysters the company has at a preservative 33 degrees Fahrenheit.
“I kind of feel like a cork bobbing in the water,” Sunseri said of the limbo the oil spill has put him in. He comes to work every day just to keep moving - to try to start something.
“It’s hard to change a leopard’s spots,” he said.
Sunseri and other oyster wholesalers in Louisiana say they’re buying the majority of their oysters from Gulf Coast states other than Louisiana, because so many oysters were killed here and because some of the oyster grounds are still closed in this state.
The Louisiana oyster harvest was down 50% in 2010, during the oil spill, compared with an average of the four previous years, according to data provided by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries. Wholesalers like P & J and Motivatit Seafood, out of Houma, Louisiana, say about half of the oysters they sell come from outside the state.
Restaurants are passing along these non-Louisiana oysters to customers, sometimes with a disclaimer that they aren’t local, and sometimes not.
For example, Fish, the vacationing taxidermist from Michigan who was slurping down raw oysters at a New Orleans oyster bar, may not have known that, according to restaurant staff, the oysters she was eating came from Texas.
It didn’t matter much. Fish and her husband, on vacation for his 40th birthday, said they saw tar balls washing up on the beaches of Grand Isle, Louisiana, earlier that day, and they still weren’t at all concerned about the quality of oysters from that ocean.
Fish said she trusted chefs to protect her from the bad stuff.
And anyway, it’s the “gross factor” that attracts her to oysters in the first place.
the marketing issues are only slightly mitigated by the fact that the price effect for me is favorable.
They tried to convince you that Illegal Immigrants were Good People too. Then we found out they make up 30% of our Prison population. Now they still try to convince us that they're all Good People. Don't you hate being treated like a Dumbass?
They can have my share. They're nothing I can't live without. How much did BP line the Inspectors pocket with. Who cares about America's Health when you can save Billions in compensation to Oystermen?
There was a non toxic Alternative to clean up the spill that has been successfully tested by BP after 10 months of spill damages. The Coast Guard sent a letter from headquarters stating to the FOSC to take action with OSE II, and the EPA, Lisa Jackson stopped the Coast Guard from allowing BP from implementing OSE II. In fact the EPA stopped the application of OSE II 11 times denying State Senators direct request for use of OSE II from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. La Department of environmental requested the use of OSE II as well, EPA's Sam Coleman denied their request without reason. Governor Jindal tried to get OSE II demonstrated on the Chandelier Islands on May 6, 2010, and the EPA stopped the Governor as well. The EPA in fact stopped the use of OSE II 11 times, without a reason given. Had the EPA allowed Governor Jindal to allow the demonstration of OSE II on May 6, 2010, it is possible a significant portion of the environmental damages, including the shorelines and the seafood industry would have been spared. The toxicty test comparison between OSE II and corexit really cannot be compared since with corexit, the label states it can cause red blood cells to burst, kidney, and liver problems if a chemical suit and respirator are not worn. OSE II in contrast can be used to wash your hands and is non toxic. The BP Deep Horizon spill has proven that corexit only sinks oil and causes the same oil to be addressed a second time when it comes ashore as under water plumes, or tar balls, while OSE II has a substantiated end point of converting oil to CO2 and water. See Coast Guard letter below
U. S. Department
of Homeland Security
Commanding Officer 1 Chelsea Street
U. S. Coast Guard New London, CT 06320
Research and Development Center Staff Symbol: Contracting Office
Phone: (860) 271-2807
July 10, 2010
P.O. Box 515429
Dallas, TX 75251
Attn: Steven Pedigo, President/Owner
DEEPWATER HORIZON RESPONSE BAA HSCG32-10-R-R00019, TRACKING #2003954
We are pleased to inform you that the initial screening of your White Paper submitted under Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) HSCG32-10-R-R00019 has been completed. It has been determined that your White Paper submission has a potential for benefit to the spill response effort.
Your White Paper has been forwarded to the Deepwater Horizon Response Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC) for further action under its authority. Subject to the constraints and needs of the ongoing oil spill response, you may be contacted by the FOSC or the responsible party.
We appreciate your interest in supporting the Deepwater Horizon Response effort.
Contracting Officer /s/
USCG R&D Center
Staceyann C. Dolenti
I am a little scared to eat anything that comes from the Gulf right now. It will probably take me a few years to get over my fear.
I just got back from visiting family down there and believe me the oysters are not back and wont be for years.There are some oysters but most are coming from Texas,Fla.and the Carolina's.Dont look for oysters,shrimp or crabs for years.Don't let anybody kid you,the Gulf is screwed.
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This article is a nice bit of spin but you couldn't pay me to eat anything coming out of the Gulf right now. And i have lived in NOLA and loved Gulf seafood. People are becoming seriously ill and dying just from breathing in all the chemical vapors coming off the water. Eat the seafood? Uh, no, I don't think so.
Lot's of happy talk goin' on there. Does anyone in their right and reality based mind think that just because the FDA says its all o.k. that it is? Talk to the fishermen in Alaska doomed by the Exxon Valdez spill. 200 million gallons of crude in these coastal fisheries is without a doubt going to have a major impact, not only on the the oysters themselves, but the people that eat them... Are you soooooooo stupid to think that BP and government people aren't behind a pr campaign to simply tells us... oh, everything's o.k. folks, nothing to see here, let's just all us folks get back to touristing and eatin' that great gulf food! Stupid is as stupid does, said Forrest "bubba" Gump. People... its all about the money..... don't you get it?????????
How nice for your sh*t for brains corpro-fascist right-wingers, to just say, oh, everything's o.k., drill, baby, drill....
I am just going to love photographing your waterfront beach home covered in crude in the next spill, and do the chant, drill, baby, drill....
It will happen............
Just polished off a couple of dozen raw
They're back... and filled with crude oil.
IT doesn't matter if they didn't harvest the Oysters from under the oil rig or not. Oysters FILTER the water so ANYTHING in the water goes THOUGH them and by slandering somebody for being a conservative your not a very good person.
It's not ignorance, just pure stupidity for Fish to be eating those oysters!
My family just closed an oyster bar due to this...a few months too early I guess...
Oh goody!! Great news!!! I also heard that gulf oysters can now be used as fat lighter for your fireplace, or as a substitue for tiki lamp oil, or can even be used to pack wheel bearings!! Added benefit!!
hmmm. I remember all the histrionics at the time, all the doomsdayers shouting that the gulf would NEVER recover.
I don't hear the media saying anything and I don't hear any locals feeling confident about it's recovery. Just like I don't hear anybody from Exxon talking about the oil spill in Alaska either.
I have tried oysters from waters other than the Gulf of Mexico, and they do not begin to compare. My husband and I just made one of our frequent visits to South Louisiana, and I ate as many oysters on-the-half-shell as I could, along with every other wonderful item of cajun and/or creole food I could stuff into my pie hole. Love the Colorado climate and scenery, but the food does not begin to compare!
"I have tried oysters from waters other than the Gulf of Mexico, and they do not begin to compare"
LOL That's probably because their not laced with the petroleum and dispersants.
Personally, Being from New England I love Seafood, especially Oysters. Anything from the Gulf of Maine or the North Atlantic, I'll be avoiding the Gulf coast, for at least a couple of decades.
No, Aunt Linda, THEY'RE saltier and have a better texture–Gulf oysters, that is. I made that observation originally long before the oil spill. The oysters (and other seafood) from the Gulf are back to their yummy goodness.
You go right ahead and enjoy. My share is yours as well.
You should try the small, richly tasty oysters that grow wild among the mangroves in the Caribbean if you ever swing that way, a little lime juice or hot sauce...exquisite.
You are doing a great job telling story of the food of Louisiana and New Orleans. I wish that you would stop by the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, where we are documenting this food culture every day.
anybody who thinks Gulf seafood is safe to eat needs to watch the docmentary "Black Wave", about the Exxon Valdez disaster, and watch this 8-minute video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rAQ7PACKkg
this is not uncommon down there. yes, they are still spraying Corexit, as well as other materials like phosphorus, iron, and copper to feed the synthetic bacteria which are creating foreign algal blooms in cold cold February. Your cognitive dissonance may tell you otherwise, as your heart wants to believe your government has your best interest at heart, bu t it doesn't. Real people are sick and dying from the Corexit they 'aren't' spraying ... including me and several of my friends. I'm still homeless because of the spill, waiting for them to stop spraying Corexit so I can go back to NOLA. I personally know of one ship's captain that was changing boom for BP who is dead now, whose family settled out of court with a non-disclosure agreement with the company. Who knows how many people have actually died so far from this disaster. It can only be seen as a slow-kill method of population control in the name of continuing profits, at this point.
It's so weird to be fighting a war with one's own corporate government, on one's own soil, while the other side pretends it's not happening, and the mainstream media goes along with it all. Whoever wrote this article, I hope you can sleep at night. Do some more research before encouraging your readers to ingest poison. "Exactly *how much* gasoline is safe to put in my baby formula?" Etc.
I'm sure these oysters have not been tested for VOCs and PAHs – cancer-causing agents invisible to the human nose. The whole "smell test" thing is BS, just like the "top hat," "top kill," and "junk shot" ... cutesy little names; "ponies and balloons" for the consumer-serf. The FDA, USDA, EPA, NOAA, DEQ, and everyone else are in on this, to protect their own asses as well as to keep the economy from crashing. For example, 85% of Alabama's income comes from that one tiny swath of poisoned beach. Ask yourselves why Halliburton bought the world's largest oil spill cleanup company 11 days before the well blew, and why Goldman Sachs shorted their BP stock, and why even Tony Hayward sold off 1/3 of his shares. HmmmMMMM.
Poor, poor enviroscum. The world didn't end, did it?
[Hey! I can love the environment AND have a sense of humor/sarcasm, too!]
Can be used as an alternate fuel source.
Don't smoke while eating them.
Of course the oysters came back. Mother Nature is pretty tough. Example, the large amount of marine life that returned to the Bikini Atoll after the atomic tests in the late 40's and 50's.
Yes and the life that came back so very quickly after Mount St. Helens exploded, and anyone who has been to Nagisaki would see this as well. I pray these diasters don't happen but am happy to hear that the folks there in the Gulf seeing their lves coming back together.
HOW MUCH IS THE OYSTER INDUSTRY PAYING CNN?????
enough to run this article egging on Gulf Coast oyster consumption that flies in the face of reason, science and common sense.
What good is testing for oil in the oysters when the banned Haliburton chemical dispersant that BP used is two hundreds times more toxic than the oil. It's banned all over the world (except in the U.S. thanks Dick Cheney having the backs of the oil companies) because it causes liver cancer. No effing way am I touching any Gulf Coast seafood for the next twenty years (about the time large number of cancers deaths will show up).
Yeah, It's not as if they test every batch that comes in anyway.
Well if there is pesticide in our food, what's a little oil and toxin in oyster. It's not like you eat the oyster EVERY single day.
You couldn't pay me enough to eat any seafood from the gulf.....
This a great example of Denial in public policy. Rather than make BP Pay for the economic damage the oil spill has caused to the Gulf Coast Fishing Industry, We'll just pretend it never happened, and keep on fishing. 10 years down the road we'll see a spike in cancer rates. 20 years down the road we'll have a variety of studies providing a link to seafood consumption, and others that show no such link. The truth of the matter is that once this stuff gets into the food supply, it's virtually impossible to link long-term health problems with exposure, people often have no idea where their seafood comes from. BP is very happy about this.
I love oysters. So when I was vacationing in Clearwater, FL last November, on the Gulf of Mexico, I ordered them twice. They were delicious and very fresh tasting at restaurant # 1. At restaurant #2 I got a platter of petrolium – literally I couldn't believe how oily they tasted and stopped after the first few bites – I really thought I was going to get sick – nothing happened – just a little stomach upset.
That's exactly the problem. It was hit or miss with Ocean Ecosystems. I'm sure there are some healthy patches of ocean left. But their so much Petroleum and dispersant down there, you can never be sure.
Well I’ll certainly think twice next time…..is crab okay??!! I ate a lot of that too!
Aunt Linda: if you eat the seafood, oil & the detergent cleaner, you should be fine! The cleaner takes care of the oil and your body uses the nutrient from the oyster! All's Well!
America Rocks: It is not ok to have crabs (didn't we cover this on a blog already?). Once you get 'em, you need to give them away quickly!
Look at these backwoods Billybobs eating oysters out of that dump, right after an oil spill and subsequent dumping of dispersion chemicals in the same area. LOL crazy swamp dwellers
Well if the FDA says they are ok, then it must be alright. They would never purposely clear anything that could be harmful for the public, right?
Really –you trust the FDA? The same FDA that repeatedly approves drugs that cause heart attacks and strokes and eventually have to be taken off the market…???
Yes, the good old FDA! Can you say VIOXX or BEXTRA??!! Look, we NEED an organization like the FDA, but currently, there is way too much conflict of interest there, given the fact that many board members and contributors are ex BIG PHARMA EXECS! The FDA needs a top to bottom purging, and IMPARTIAL SCIENTISTS working there, not paid off executives who have vested interests!
Give them cake instead
Yes, Let them Eat cake! That pretty much sums up BP's response to the Gulf Coast fishing industry.
Aunt Linda.....so glad someone caught the sarcasm. You go girl!
What oil? What Coexit? What what are you talking about.....that was so last year.....Was there some kinda spill somewhere? uh?
Don't you know oil is harmless. Whaddya think french fries are cooked in?
Yuck, yuck, yuck. That is all I have to say. I would never, ever eat an oyster from that area. Too risky. Who knows how contaminated they are.
I tried oysters on the half-shell once and wasn't told not to chew 'em. Ick. I tried 'em a second time in oyster dressing/stuffing and didn't care for them then either. Someday I'll give 'em another shot in something else. But for now, I don't eat 'em .... BUT ....
.... I don't see any problem with someone eating whatever makes them happy & healthy. Sounds like the oysters in this story are safe enough to eat and I couldn't be happier for all the oyster-lovers! This means that the environment is also coming back and THAT is the best news of all!!
Ah, Nothing like the flavor of Oysters heightened by the finest Gulf of Mexico Petroleum and just a dash of 2-butoxyethanol. They should be paired with a nice Shiraz with "asphalt notes"
My guess is that the Gulf oysters people are eating are not contaminated with oil. Oil floats, so does corexit. The water the oysters are filtering may contain trace amounts of oil, but the vast majority of oil is on the surface of the ocean. My bigger concern is where are the underwater plumes of oil? Not everything went to the surface in the depths of the Gulf.
The latest science on that seems to disagree with you. International researchers have found evidence of a thick blanket of "Petroleum sludge"on the ocean floor. http://theweek.com/article/index/207088/did-the-bp-spill-kill-the-gulf-sea-floor
You "guess" just isn't good enough for anyone to gamble with their health.
Both chemicals may only exist on the surface, but "ersters" are shallow-water creatures. If there are still chemicals floating around out there, they are either floating with the oysters, or the chems are being controlled over deeper waters where the fishing holes & oyster beds are not.
You liberals are a bunch of baby's. A little oil and corexit never hurt anybody.
I'd eat these oysters and any fish out of the gulf without hesitation.
LOL that had better be sarcasm.
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