The Longhorn, The Salmon, and The Oyster. These are examples of signature food sources from Texas, Oregon, and Louisiana- the three states that I call home.
As a server, I have worked in restaurants that feature these regional cuisines, over the past 12 years, between all three states.
Often times, we look back on the things that we wish we did when we had a chance. For me, there are the foods that I wish I ate more of, when it was served just around the corner from my home.
When I moved from Portland to New Orleans, I missed Pacific Northwest seafood and vegetarian options. I craved smoked salmon, breakfast at the Paradox Cafe, and healthy snacks from the Daily Grind. When I left New Orleans for Texas, I missed Gulf Coast seafood, backyard crawfish boils, and Creole favorites, like gumbo. When I left Texas to go back to Portland, I missed the convenience of taco trucks on every corner, and the short, beautiful drives out to the country for award-winning BBQ.
Now that I am back in Portland, I realize my pattern, and I am eager to indulge in what this land and food culture provides for me at this point in time.
Recently, I have thought about the micro-cultures that are built up around certain foods, most specifically, the longhorn, the salmon, and the oyster, and I feel curious. I am curious about the life of the rancher, fisher, and farmer. This curiosity was piqued recently on a trip to Astoria, Oregon for the annual “Fisher Poets Gathering”. Astoria is the oldest city in Oregon. It overlooks the Columbia River, just minutes from where it collides with the Pacific Ocean.
Most of the participants of the event had spent time in some capacity as fishers, crabbers, deck hands, captains, oyster farmers, or other odd nautical jobs; and they had a tale, a poem, or a song to share with their comrades and literary fans. Workshops were held for those who wanted to strengthen their written and verbal storytelling skills, in addition to boat tours and historical lectures hosted at the Columbia River Maritime Museum.
I was pleased to hear the romantic and poetic sea-faring stories that I expected to hear. I was fascinated by the type of relationships built on the ship, and the struggles between those whose partners stayed behind, sometimes, alone. My weekend ended with some insight of the lifestyle and culture of commercial fishing, which I had never had a reason to think about, until now.
I left town inspired, as I had hoped, but I couldn’t shake this odd feeling that held on to me for weeks. This nosiness lingered in me- I wanted to know more about the struggles and successes of commercial fishermen. I appreciated the common sentiment among the storytellers- to fish and be out in the open sea- was in their blood and nothing else on earth would suffice, to make a living.
My heart broke, as I learned of the continued effects from the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill back in 1989, to the struggles on land and in the private lives of families suffering from the bad luck of a dry season mixed with depression, alcoholism, and domestic violence.
Their stories reminded me of the the struggles that I had witnessed in New Orleans, from the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental destruction, and financial hardship wreaked havoc not just for the fishermen, but the food industry, and the citizens of Louisiana. The effects still linger 4 years later. Emphasis was placed on the hardship of the shrimpers and oyster farmers of the Gulf, but it is reasonable to expected that other kinds of fisherman suffered as well.
My relocation between multiple regions, allows me to see a greater perspective of the local food movement and its role in the economy. The comparison of environmental devastation allows me to see the powerful forces of the corporation that our local food providers are up against.
These experiences have built my appreciation for this ocean-industry culture that I have only indirectly crossed paths with, as a restaurant server. The more I know about what I serve, the more pride I have to serve it, and the more I want you to partake in it.