What’s Cooking: Exploring food far beyond the plate _lowres

Photo by Ian McNulty - A crab harvested from waters in Des Allemands.

Visitors to New Orleans usually learn about our food culture at restaurants, maybe at festivals, or, if they’re very lucky, in someone’s home.

But one small group now in the middle of a New Orleans visit is getting quite a different view of what makes our food culture tick, and why the clock may be winding down on it.

A contingent of college-age men and women from around the country are here on a tour organized by Slow Food USA, which is part of an international group promoting what it calls “good, clean and fair food.” When it comes to steeping these ideals in potential future leaders, Louisiana offers both some of the best and the most perilous lessons in one trip.

In the city, they’ve been pulling volunteer shifts at grass-roots ventures involved with small-scale local food, like Hollygrove Market & Farm and the food distribution hub Good Eggs.

But they’re also leaving the city to explore the entwined landscape of estuaries and refineries, resilient cultural hubs and galloping land loss just outside New Orleans and to witness how the changes are affecting the environmental cradle of Louisiana food culture.

It’s an immersive way to tell a bigger story of Louisiana food for a targeted audience now exploring interests that range from sustainable food systems and nutrition to business ideas and policy work.

“The South still has a lot of food traditions intact, and Louisiana is really a stronghold for that,” said Gary Granata, leader of the local Slow Food chapter. “When we look at what works and what’s sustainable and valuable, that puts us ahead of the curve in some ways. So we think there’s a lot to learn here.”

The visit culminates at this weekend’s free, three-day Bayou Boogaloo festival in Mid-City, where you can meet some of these visitors.

The youth group will staff a Slow Food NOLA demonstration stage, cooking alongside New Orleans restaurant chefs and others between musical acts.

Granata hopes the New Orleans visit will become an annual retreat for youths engaged in the future of food issues.

“This is just the start,” he said. “We need people to understand our story, to know what we have and what’s happening to it, and the best way to do that is to see it all in action.”

Find details on Bayou Boogaloo at thebayouboogaloo.com.

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.