Tuesday, December 11

Kitchen to Classroom: Grad Student Spotlight

Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Today's "Kitchen to Classroom" post is written by Paige Prather, a first-year MA student in Southern Studies here at the University of Mississippi. Paige is a native of Austin, Texas. She tells us about her final project for Professor Angela Jill Cooley's Foodways and Southern Culture class.

Photos by Paige Prather
After reading Cultivating Food Justice, edited by Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman, I was inspired to research food justice movements in the South. I was particularly interested in grassroots organizations addressing food sustainability in low income neighborhoods. I learned of the backyard gardens, Saturday market, and fishing industry run by the Vietnamese American population in New Orleans East from my current roommate here in Oxford, whose family immigrated to New Orleans from Vietnam.

I researched scholarship on Vietnamese history in New Orleans and discovered that New Orleans East inhabits the highest concentration of Vietnamese Americans in the United States. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, Vietnamese refugees established a community in the neighborhood’s Versailles Arms Apartment complex. Today, more than 11,000 Vietnamese Americans live within three contingent residential areas of the neighborhood. The agrarian and fishing background of the refugees and the comparable climate of New Orleans and of coastal villages in North Vietnam influenced gardening and fishing practices still prevalent in the New Orleans East community. I traveled to New Orleans and conducted interviews with the Mary Queen of Viet Nam Community Development Center and Vietnamese American residents in New Orleans about the gardens and fishing industry.

My paper explores the significance of gardening and fishing to Vietnamese Americans living in New Orleans East since 1975.  The strong cultural connection to agrarian practices learned in Vietnam provided the residents of New Orleans East with sustenance and employment that is now threatened by poor city planning and environmental disasters. In response the Mary Queen of Viet Nam Community Development Center has built a farmers' co-op and an aquaponics agricultural system to assist displaced fishing industry workers and elderly gardeners in New Orleans East. This system offers sustainable alternatives to the individuals most vulnerable to environmental catastrophes on the Gulf Coast. The solutions formed by the Community Development Center employ agrarian practices learned in Vietnam and reinforce the resilient and adaptive culture of Vietnamese Americans living in New Orleans East.