Mapping New Orleans: Finding Everyone a Good Meal

One of the longstanding ironies in New Orleans is that in a city that prides itself on its food culture, so many people eat exceptionally poorly. This was true even before Hurricane Katrina. Grocery stores were closing down one after another in poor neighborhoods, forcing many residents to choose between shopping at a quick-mart and eating fast food, or taking a bus or two to a real supermarket in another part of the city.

Of course, after the hurricane, things got much worse. No matter which neighborhood people lived in, it was difficult to know where to find good food. Restaurants and grocery stores were re-opening here and there, but rumors and hope sometimes preceded reality by quite a while.

Into this void stepped the New Orleans Food and Farm Network, a small non-profit organization that had begun working on food-security issues in 2002. Within months of the storm, two dedicated volunteers began conducting a city-wide food assessment. They scouted out everything – grocery stores and restaurants, emergency food sites and quick-marts. In the summer of 2006, NOFFN launched the NOLA Food Mapping Project. You know we at LocalHarvest have a penchant for food maps, but objectively speaking, this is a very cool website. NOFFN also printed thousands of maps in Spanish and English and distributed them throughout the city. It was an impressive project.

It is also an important public health issue. Even now, two years after the storm, only six percent of New Orleanians live within walking distance of a grocery store. And as in many cities, many people, especially poor people, do not own a car. No car, no grocery store close by – what are people going to eat? Unhealthy food, that's what, and already the rates of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes in New Orleans are climbing. Thankfully, many smart, savvy people are working hard on changes that will offer people better options.

Recently, NOFFN expanded its food mapping project. For Algiers, one of the neighborhoods in which it works, NOFFN made a new map. It is printed on a large square of paper, and it is beautiful. The new map includes much more information than before. Community and school gardens and potential food-growing sites are identified, as are all stores selling fresh produce and those accepting food stamps and WIC. Interestingly, it also points out what types of food resources are not found in the neighborhood. In Algiers, for example, there are no fast food restaurants, grocery stores, supermarkets, farmers' markets, or gas stations selling food.

NOFFN is working with the people of Algiers on projects that go far beyond the map. They have surveyed neighborhood residents, asking what kinds of food solutions are most important to them. Ideas included cooking classes, community gardens, school food projects, stocking healthy food at corner stores, urban orchards and backyard gardens. This fall they are training a group of teenagers in food security issues as part of the Food Story Project. The youth will then interview important members of the local food culture (chefs, older residents, growers) to learn about the past and get ideas about what could be set up in the future. Finally, the students will present their findings to the community.

A genuinely grass-roots organization, NOFFN has established itself as both a clear voice for food justice in the new New Orleans, and an able bodied worker in the ongoing effort to make sure the city's people are fed well. NOFFN brings groups of neighborhood and city leaders together to talk about food and how to make sure that fresh, healthy food is available to all. NOFFN also teaches city residents how to grow some of their own food in their own yards. At the same time, it is creating opportunities for larger scale urban agriculture to take root, so that more local food will be available. Honestly, they are doing so much good work that the best way to get a true sense of it is to read about it yourself.

We don't often solicit contributions for other organizations, but these folks are the real deal. If you want to support a group that is working hard on food issues, we think you could not pick a better organization. Here's how.

Back to the October 2007 Newsletter