Posted by Benson
For those of
ya'll who have never been to a crawfish boil, you're probably curious
about exactly what it is. Before last year's crawfish boil I wrote a
post about what a crawfish boil is and described its significance in the
culture of south Louisiana. You can check that out here.
are important social events within the fabric of southern Louisiana
culture. A crawfish boil is a time for people to come together to
appreciate all of the best things in our lives. It is not just about
making food and spending time together. It is a shared celebration of
home and culture.
can be found all over the world to one degree or another, the way in
which they naturally flourish in the landscape of south Louisiana is
somewhat peculiar. Because of this, in Louisiana, the consumption of
freshly boiled crawfish in such large quantities has a very strong
relationship to place. Louisianians produce the vast majority of US
crawfish and we actually eat almost all of it ourselves. Even though
Louisiana accounts for more than 90 percent of total US crawfish
production, an estimated three quarters of Louisiana crawfish are
produced for local consumption!
crawfish like we do in south Louisiana, but the way that we experience
crawfish is also self-perpetuating. Today, most of the crawfish in
Louisiana is produced through aquaculture. The mudbug thrives naturally
in the Atchafalya basin, and this tasty crustacean was relished by each
successive wave of the basin's human residents. Even so, the crawfish
long had a stigma in modern Louisiana culture. It was, much like
oysters, strongly associated with the diet of Cajuns, and was viewed as a
low class food eaten by the rural poor. But as Louisianians began to
appreciate the story of their collective experience, Cajun culture
became less and less stigmatized, and the crawfish along with it.
crawfish has grown into a symbol of Louisiana's cultural roots, and the
delicious, jovial excess of a crawfish boil help to connect us with a
unique past and allow us to participate in an identity based on
recognition of our shared experience. The Atchafalya basin and
the port of New Orleans have always brought together a rich diversity of
residents, and acknowledging shared experience has long been a vital
part of successfully navigating such a varied social landscape. The
humble crawfish acts as a catalyst for this process because of its
Louisiana today, everyone eats crawfish. Crawfish are plentiful, cheap,
and make extremely good eating. The crawfish has grown above social
distinctions such as class, race, and gender. It carries virtually no
social stigma to locals and is a food that is accessible to almost
anyone. The consumption of crawfish, especially in the context of a
crawfish boil, therefore forges commonality of experience that cuts
across lines of difference.
Louisiana style crawfish boil is relatively unique, the purpose it
serves is not, nor should it be. The Atchafalya basin and the port of
New Orleans are a microcosm of what defines our country. The Unites
States is defined in many ways by its diversity. It is a tapestry woven
of many different strands, ideally focused on the singular goal of
liberty. Diversity is a source of great strength when otherwise
disparate peoples are united in a common purpose, but liberty on its own
is an all too nebulous idea.
In his recently published book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,
author Charles Murray argues that what he identifies as an alarming
rate of increasing class division is rooted in a lack of common
experience between people from different economic backgrounds. He
argues that cultural differences have become so deeply ingrained that in
addition to having different views on education, childcare, etc.,
people from different classes often experience popular culture in
radically different ways. They don't watch the same movies, listen to
the same music, or even eat the same type of food.
shared experience is vital to the success of our republican experiment.
Common experience helps to breed unity while simultaneously celebrating
diversity. It is how we are able to form and perpetuate a society.
But as Charles Murray has argued, our nation is drifting apart into
increasingly insular communities. In southern Louisiana, the crawfish
boil helps to focus our attention on the commonalities of our
experiences, rather than the differences. It reminds us to focus on the
ways in which we are connected, and if you take the time to look,
you'll find that they are manifold.
Not only are we
all heirs to a common history of North American experience, but we are
connected by a complex interplay of environment and culture. We
Louisianians may eat three quarters of our crawfish, but they flourish
in an alluvial plain formed from a river system that drains more than
forty percent of North America. They are as much a part of the rest of
the country as New Orleans is. And it is in this spirit that we extend
to all of our friends the opportunity to come to New Orleans and share
some of our experiences. We invite everyone to spare a moment and think
about what we all have in common, regardless of how different we may
seem on the surface.