Food and Environmental Justice in New Orleans East

Go on the road with WhyHunger, as they uncover the issues surrounding food and environmental justice

by Jessica Powers, WhyHunger

In the morning, we head into a strip mall joint and order Vietnamese iced coffee— stovetop chicory coffee with sweetened condensed milk— in a smoky restaurant with tables of men gambling over cards and coffee.  We’re in New Orleans East, home to 14 thousand Vietnamese-Americans, the most concentrated population in the U.S.  We drive past tidy one story homes with statues of the Virgin Mary and dragons, past gardeners wearing conical hats, and past the specter of an abandoned Six Flags adventure park with a sign reading “Closed for storm.”  We learn that this area was one of the last to rebuild after Katrina, even though it comprises 60% of the land mass of New Orleans and 17% of its population.  The neighborhood is fraught with gun violence and sits on a brownfield.  Local officials presented an alternative:  “y’all can move.”

But the intergenerational members of the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation are persevering.  Elders were concerned that if they didn’t rebuild and beautify the neighborhood, youth would leave.  Traditionally working in agriculture and seafood, the community suffered another halt to their lifestyle after the BP oil spill.  In an area with 23 illegal dump sites, 13 illegal auto yards, 3 land fills, the largest Folger’s coffee plant in the country, and a planned incinerator plant, soil and water contamination are big obstacles.  The MQVN CDC is planning a 28 acre project called the Viet Village Urban Farm within walking distance from the community.  They are facing a new set of struggles, but after all they’ve already accomplished in the face of adversity, the community is up for the challenge.