An online video shows Lance Lacrosse, 29, of Marrero, dancing with the giant reptiles and even holding one above his head as in the classic 1987 film. Lacrosse said he has worked with alligators for 20 years and the worst injury he has had is a bite mark on his finger.
A shocking online video was taken of a man getting very close to alligators in the water and even using dance moves reminiscent of the 1987 movie “Dirty Dancing.”
The video shows local tour guide Lance Lacrosse, 29, of Marrero, getting very close to the giant reptiles, feeding them pieces of chicken and at one point allowing an alligator to snatch a marshmallow from his mouth.
He also playfully wrestles with the gators that seem calm during the entire performance. At one point, the beast is lifted over Lacrosse’s head -like the famous scene between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.
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Arlen Benny Cenac, Jr.
Captains, mates and the pilots of water vessels are the jobs most unique to Louisiana, according to the website Mental Floss.
The results were determined using a formula that compares the percentage a particular job makes up in a state’s workforce compared to the percentage that job occupies in the nationwide workforce.
Captains and mates are 17 times more common in Louisiana than they are nationwide. In Mississippi coil winders, tapers and finishers are 11 times more prevalent. The most unique jobs in Texas are petroleum engineers and in Alabama tire builders.
The Louisiana Department of Education released school report cards Tuesday summarizing and evaluating academic achievement for the 2013-2014 school year.
Each school report card includes information used to calculate school letter grades and provides parents and educators information on the performance of schools statewide.
Student achievement results announced in the summer showed steady progress with modest improvements. School report cards and letter grade ratings reflect these modest, steady gains.
According to the report, the percentage of students scoring “mastery” and above on grade 3-8 tests increased by 1 percent in English language arts and 2 percent in math to record high levels; graduation rates rose by 1.2 percentage points to 73.5 percent, a record high; 23,560 seniors earned college-going ACT scores, a state record; and 6,407 Louisiana students earned college credit by passing an Advanced Placement test, a state record. As a result, the number of schools earning a letter grade ratings of “A” increased by 54, resulting in 241 “A” schools in 2014 compared to 187 in 2013.
“School and school district report cards are tools that parents and educators can use to understand what is happening in their schools and what choices they can make in response,” said Superintendent White. “Student performance statewide was steady in 2014, and letter grade ratings reflect this. As the state transitions gradually to higher expectations, it will become more challenging for schools and districts to maintain high ratings.”
The overall performance letter grade was a B for Bossier schools and a C for Caddo schools.
Both districts received the same grade back in 2013. While the Bossier Parish School District’s overall performance score improved by just over 2 points, Caddo’s remained the same.
DeSoto Parish retained the B the district had in 2013, but their performance score rose 2.7 points to 92.0.
The Claiborne Parish School District stayed with a D, although the district’s performance score rose just over 6 points from 60.6 to 66.5.
The Natchitoches Parish School District dropped a few points on their overall performance score, but remained a C.
Webster Parish School District letter grade remained a C, the same they received in 2013. The district’s performance score rose just .20, to 83.0.
Sabine and Bienville Parish school districts were the only 2 in Northwest Louisiana to improve by a whole letter grade, with both going from a C to a B.
Have you heard of “bulletproof coffee”? It involves putting grass-fed butter in your coffee, and it’s becoming quite the new thing. Check out this article on the health benefits of bullet-proof coffee, and why you should be drinking it, too. Who knows, maybe it will become the next item added to the Starbuck’s menu.
There’s a new trend going around that may forever change the way you drink coffee. Instead of the usual cream and sugar, many people are now adding butter to their coffee and it’s just about the greatest thing ever.
To most people, putting butter in their coffee sounds skeptical if not borderline dangerous, but not all butters are bad for you. In this case, there is only one kind of butter you should put in your coffee: grass-fed butter. Kerrygold unsalted brand is probably the most common that you can find in stores. But why grass-fed butter?
Most cows are corn or soy fed. It’s cheap and filling, but cows aren’t actually meant to eat that- they can’t even digest it properly- and their milk produces the kinds of fats you don’t want in your body. Grass-fed cows on the other hand commonly produce the best milk and beef, and the butter made from those cows is just as good. Here are five reasons why you should be putting this kind of butter in your coffee (and just using it in general from now on):
1. Only grass-fed butter has the right fats that regulate cholesterol, not add to it. Grass-fed butter has the best ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (which reduces body fat) and is a good source of vitamin K, both of which according to a studies reduce the risk of heart disease.
3. Drinking it each morning puts your body in the routine to burn fat all day, helping you trim down overall. CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), found in grass-fed butter, has been shown to reduce body fat mass especially in overweight individuals.
4. “Bulletproof” coffee will give you energy as well as increase cognitive function that you can literally feel when it kicks in for about six hours- and without the crash. Mixed with more healthy fats from coconut oil, this amped up drink will help produce ketones, which are created when your body creates energy from fat rather than carbohydrates.
5. Two tablespoons of butter in your coffee is all you need to replace a breakfast meal altogether, making this a quick alternative for people on the go. Providing your body with essential fats and calories is a higher performance blend than a carbohydrate source like oatmeal.
When you blend it with coffee, what you get is the most pleasantly creamy drink that you can actually feel energizing your body. But why stop there? If you are going to put the best butter in your coffee, you should have the best of everything. According to bio-hacker and entrepreneur Dave Asprey, who formulated this popular blend, the quality of your coffee beans can make a noticeable difference and adding MCT oil will absolutely boost your brain’s focus in the morning. If your coffee isn’t doing it for you anymore, this is one recipe you’ll want to try. Watch the video below to try it or check out Trainer Kim‘s great blog post on it.
Gator hunting is a long-standing tradition in Louisiana. But one group put a unique twist to it.
It’s called the Fourth Annual Chute N Gators Fly-in and it attracts people from across the U.S.
They rise early, gathering for a day of gator hunting. But not in the way you might imagine.
They’re called powered parachutes and Lowell Henderson has been flying them for more than a decade.
“It pops up off the ground, inflates overhead, rolls forward and takes off,” explained Henderson, President of Bay Area Recreational Flyers.
About 150 feet off the ground, Lowell explains the birds in the sky keep an eye out for potential gators on the lines below.
“We help each other in flying and gator hunting,” said Henderson.
That’s where the boats come in.
Four years ago, Kelly Precht came up with the idea to combine his love for both flying and gator hunting – hence the name Chute N Gators Fly-in.
“We got people from Oklahoma, Missouri. They travel in and we all camp out and have a good time. I’m doing alligatoring anyway, so they come with me, and those who don’t, fly,” said Precht, founder of Chute N Gators Fly-in.
Lowell admits he’s not much of a gator hunter and prefers to be up in the sky.
“It’s a sightseeing tour for me,” said Lowell.
But fellow pilot Wayne Spring says he wanted to try something different.
“It was a perfect morning for flying but I opted to go in the boat so we could go out and get hands on experience with some of these gators,” said Spring.
His daughter Sarah got in on the action too.
Of course the whole point is to get some gators. And they did.
One after another, the group pulled in nine gators. The largest was seven feet in length.
But the event is more than just gator hunting, it’s also a chance for old friends to get together and campout for the weekend.
And for the event’s founder, Precht says, “it’s a childhood dream come true.”
The group doesn’t keep the gators. They sell them to a co-op who processes the meat and sells the hyde to a tannery.
Louisiana ranks #7 out of all U.S. states and the District of Columbia when it comes to giving parents fundamental power over their child’s education, according to the fifth edition of Parent Power Index (PPI), released by The Center for Education Reform (CER). While only six states earn rankings above 80 percent on PPI, Louisiana scores 79 percent, falling three spots from its previous #4 ranking.
Parent Power Index is a web-based report card that evaluates and ranks states based on qualitative and proven state education policies. The higher a state’s grade, the more parents are afforded access and information about learning options that can deliver successful educational outcomes for their children.
Louisiana has adopted parent empowerment measures of national significance in the last ten years that have helped reverse decades of decline. Thousands of children once stuck in failing schools now have access to the private schools of their choice, and a robust charter law serves students in need. However, having an independent charter school authorizer would help encourage growth. Digital learning opportunities are available across the state for Louisiana students, a dramatic change in teacher tenure and accountability for all schools has been enacted, and parents have ready access to information, driving a high Parent Power Index where once no measurable parent power existed.
“While it’s true some states have made progress, it’s not nearly enough to meet demand. Simply put, we need more learning options available to more families, and we need them fast,” said Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform.
“Out of the over 54 million K-12 students nationwide, only an estimated 6.5 million students are taking advantage of charter schools, school choice programs such as vouchers or tax credits, and digital or blended learning models,” said Kerwin. ”With the United States’ school-aged population expected to grow at unprecedented rates in the next 15 years, how will our school system be able to meet demand when we already have wait lists for charter schools and oversubscribed scholarship programs?”
A median PPI score of 67.4 percent (Delaware) shows just how poorly most states have implemented policies surrounding charter schools, school choice, teacher quality, transparency, and online learning, the five main components that comprise state PPI scores. Mississippi, ranked 20, made the most progress, moving up 21 spots and breaking into the top 20 states after being in the bottom 11 states on previous analyses.
“While Louisiana is not one of the 36 states electing a new governor this fall, it’s crucial that current state leaders ensure enacting parent-empowering policies remains a top priority, as only 24 percent of Pelican State eighth graders are proficient in reading and 21 percent are proficient in math. America’s future depends on states’ ability to enact good policy to accelerate the pace of education reform and grow new and meaningful choices for parents.”
CER President Kara Kerwin and CER Executive Vice President Alison Consoletti Zgainer are available for comment on CER’s Parent Power Index. Members of the media should contact CER Communications Director Michelle Tigani at 301-986-8088 or email@example.com to set up interviews.
The PPI education scorecard reveals state summary data, while full state-by-state details, including methodology, can be found at parentpowerindex.com.
This year’s Parent Power Index takes into account CER’s first-ever voucher and tax credit scholarship rankings and analysis, School Choice Today: Voucher Laws Across the States Ranking & Scorecard 2014 and School Choice Today: Education Tax Credit Scholarships Ranking & Scorecard 2014.
Acadians have been a large part of south Louisiana for more than two centuries. But some of their earliest history in the Bayou State has never been written.
Now, a team of researchers is trying to uncover the mystery and find the birthplace of Cajun culture.
Around 250 years ago, the very first Acadians to reach Louisiana made their way up Bayou Teche, a slow-moving waterway that snakes through southwest Louisiana. The 193 French-speaking Acadians were expelled from their homes in Nova Scotia by the British.
“We want to know how they survived, what they lived in. When they first got here, there was absolutely nothing that we know of,” said Al Broussard.
Broussard is the mayor of the small village of Loreauville, located on Bayou Teche. He has traced his ancestry directly to those very first settlers. He is a 9th generation descendant of leader Joseph Beausoleil Broussard and his brother Alexandre Broussard. But shortly after their arrival, 34 of the settlers, including Beausoleil, died of disease.
“You know, it would be so nice to know that my grandfather’s remains are somewhere on this property near the bayou and go there and kneel and pray and thank him for preserving us and letting us be who we are,” said Broussard.
But where those settlers lived, died and were buried is a mystery.
Researchers are confident that Joseph Beausoleil Broussard and his group of Acadians settled in the general area near the present-day town of Loreauville. But pinpointing the exact site of their homes and their graves is quite the challenge.
Students Maegan smith and Christian Sheumaker of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette are searching along the edges of sugarcane fields and cemeteries within a stone’s throw of Bayou Teche.
“That can be kind of difficult, especially around the Teche where there’s a lot, a lot of stuff,” explained Smith. “Not necessarily what we’re looking for, not the specific time period.”
Clues can come in the tiny form of a piece of pottery.
Mark Rees, an archeological anthropologist at ULL, is leading the search.
“The very idea that they are buried in unmarked graves along the Teche somewhere at the first locations, the first settlements and that these places are still unmarked strikes a lot of people who are the descendants as sad, and as something that needs to be corrected,” explained Rees.
Rees believes that the popular Longfellow poem ‘Evangeline’ satisfied some people’s need to know where they came from. For generations, people have visited the Evangeline statue and oak tree in St. Martinville, which are linked to a fictional story of the Acadians’ arrival. Now, the focus is on artifacts and history.
“The priest who traveled with them in 1765 recorded at least 34, maybe as many as 44, burials of the Acadians who arrived here. He recorded the dates, and interestingly, the places and he named these places, the different camps,” said Rees.
The ‘camps’ and burials are believed to be within a four mile radius of Loreauville. Old burial plots are being scrutinized.
“This is, of course, called a Broussard cemetery of which there are many,” said Christian Sheumaker. “But the property owners do have information and paperwork declaring that there are up to six or seven children buried here.”
No one expects a quick discovery.
“I think this is at very minimum a 3-5 year effort to do a survey of this scope and to find the sites,” said Rees.
With each dig, sites are eliminated. Researchers hope each step moves them closer to finding the very spot where Cajun history began.
The top brand searched on Google in Louisiana is telecommunications giant AT&T. Most states favored some of the biggest companies in the nation. Texas searched for Facebook. Arkansas sought out Walmart. Mississippi looked for Chevron.
“Digging deeper into our survey, the #2 favorite brand of each state offers a closer look at regional preferences,” the blog said.
For Louisiana, that was Domino’s Pizza. The third most searched brand might come as a surprise for people in the Pelican state. It is Aeropostale, a company that sells clothing for guys and girls. The company’s shops are usually located inside malls. They also offer online sales.
Direct Capital explained its methodology behind the study.
“We compiled our list of top brands by state using keyword search popularity from Google Trends. The Google Trends tool provides data for the history and volume of Google searches performed for branded terms, as well as the popularity of a branded searches across different cities and states in the US,” according to the blog. “The maps featured throughout this article were constructed by testing a base list of 200+ US brand names and their results in Google Trends. The states were assigned a ‘top’ brand for the brand that was most popular from our list in that region.”
Honorably discharged, Louisiana resident veterans will have extra hunting dates on private lands during the 2014-15 Louisiana deer hunting season.
Legislative action initiated by Rep. Jeff Thompson (Dist. 8, Bossier City) during the 2014 Regular Legislative Session, and signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal as Act 678, provides a special deer season for Louisiana residents who are honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. This season will run concurrently with the open Youth Season in all zones, and will be restricted to hunting on private lands.
“Louisiana has a long and rich tradition of those who serve our nation and protect our freedom. As the Sportsman’s Paradise, it is appropriate we show our appreciation with this special hunting season for these heroes,” said Thompson
The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission adopted in June the following dates for a special Resident Honorably Discharged Veterans Deer Season on private lands:
Areas 1, 4, 5, 6, and 9: Oct. 25-31
Area 2: Oct. 11-17
Areas 3, 7, 8, and 10: Sept. 27-Oct. 3.
This special deer season, which is available for youth (ages 17 and younger) and physically challenged hunters, precedes the opening weekend of regular firearms season.
Interesting video report showing the alarming effect coastal erosion will have on Louisiana.
The state of Louisiana is facing an environmental threat because of its unique geographical location and climate change. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Louisiana is drowning.
Within the next 50 years, most of the southeastern part of the state, not protected by levees, could be underwater. According to some projections, the southern part of Louisiana could be 1.3 meters underwater by the end of this century. The city of New Orleans could be 83 percent underwater.
The global economic impact could be enormous. This area is home to half of the country’s oil refineries, a major port that 31 states depend on, a gateway for international exports and where more than two million people live.
Global warming would likely only make the challenges more difficult. The state has an ambitious plan costing tens of billions of dollars to divert sentiment and restore marshlands.
From primitive working decoys to decorative and collectibles, each piece is unique. The 37th annual Louisiana Wildfowl Festival will be held on Oct. 4 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Oct. 5 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Castine Center in Pelican Park, located at 63350 Pelican Drive in Mandeville. The event is hosted by the nonprofit Louisiana Wildfowl Carvers and Collectors Guild.
“Like last year, there will be hundreds of competitors from all over the U.S. and as far away as Canada, Oregon, Wisconsin and New York,” said Richard Reeves, who has served as guild president for seven years. “The Louisiana Wildfowl Carvers and Collectors Guild started over 40 years ago to promote and preserve the unique decoy carving heritage of Southern Louisiana. Since then this organization has evolved to promote not only the carving heritage, but the conservation of Louisiana wetlands and its wildlife. We also promote art programs with schools and Boy Scout troops.”
Hundreds of carvers will compete for more than $40,000 in prize money. Categories include decoys, fish, interpretive art, caricatures and wildlife. New categories include adult wildfowl fine art and photography, a Boy Scouts carving competition and a wildfowl fine art category for school children. There also is a category dedicated to Louisiana antique carvings. Cash awards, trophies and ribbons will be given in every category of competition. Cash donations also will be given to school art programs, Boy Scout troops and to the Audubon Zoo Wildlife rehabilitation programs.
On Oct. 4 (Saturday) at 11 a.m., Audubon Zoo will present a showing of owls and other birds of prey. Boy Scouts will compete in a carving competition at noon. All supplies except knives will be provided free of charge. Awards will be given on Oct. 5 at noon. Prize money will be given to winning competitors and to each troop.
Other features of the festival on Oct. 5 include an auction from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. It will showcase hand-carved wildfowl pieces, some carved by World Champion Master Carvers, along with paintings by professional artists. A carving demonstration will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., along with a decoy painting contest from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and a head whittling contest from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
The festival also will have vendors with a variety of wildfowl art, antique decoys, wooden miniature carved boats, bird carvings, hand-carved pins and more available for purchase, as well as art and carving supplies. There will be plenty of opportunities for enthusiasts to share information about types of wood, paint, tools and techniques.
Festival food will include seafood gumbo, crawfish etouffee, shrimp pasta, hot dogs and chili, hamburgers and more. Sports fans do not need to worry about missing the game, because the LSU vs. Auburn game and Saints vs. Buccaneers game will be broadcast on a big-screen television.
This year’s LWCCG Wildfowl Festival will honor Joan Bonner, 2013 member of the year.
Admission to the festival will be $5 for adults and $1 for children ages 6-12. If you mention this article, the entrance fee will be $3 per adult.
Those wishing to join the Louisiana Wildfowl Carvers and Collectors Guild to help preserve the tradition of carving, can join for $30. The yearly membership includes two free admissions to all guild events, including the festival, as well as a free yearly banquet, a monthly newsletter and free carving advice, if needed. Membership meetings are held the last Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. in the meeting room of Piccadilly Cafeteria, located at 2222 Clearview Pkwy. in Metairie.
For information, call Reeves at 985.892.2215, or visit the website at www.LWCCG.org.
Louisiana Education Superintendent John White is making the rounds talking up the new Jump Start high school initiative and revamped career diploma for vocational-technical instruction. He says it’s time to “restore the dignity” of career education and to recognize 4-year college isn’t the only path to the middle class.
Here are some key points about the new policies. Further questions? Tell us in the comments section of this article, and we’ll try to get the answers.
1. Career diploma now more demanding; you must participate in Jump Start to earn one.
Almost no one graduated with Louisiana’s old career diploma – 1 percent, according to the Education Department. And students could, if they wanted, graduate with low-paying training in customer service and Microsoft Office. But employers in booming fields want to see graduates who are, for instance, certified as welders by the American Welding Society.
The new diploma requires 9 Jump Start units: a sequence of vocational classes and workplace experiences in a high-demand industry, that earns a recognized credential or certification. Students must also earn 4 units each of English and mathematics and 2 units each of science, social studies and health/physical education, including certain prescribed classes. There is no foreign language requirement. Instead of taking the ordinary ACT, they may take the ACT WorkKeys job-skills assessment.
The career diploma is open to all 2014-15 freshmen. Students in upper grades may choose to earn either the old career diploma or the new one.
2. Jump Start not the same as “dual enrollment.”
“Dual enrollment” means only that high school students take some college courses, for college credit. It could be any course — a foreign language not offered at the high school, for example – and it need not result in a certification or lead to a degree.
However, dual enrollment is one way students may fulfill their Jump Start requirements. In many cases, high schools are sending Jump Start students to local community colleges, such as Delgado’s welding certificate program.
Jump Start classes may also take place at the high school or in industry apprenticeship or training program.
3. Jump Start not available everywhere.
Schools need not “opt in” to the career diploma; it’s automatic. But that key Jump Start component is not yet available statewide. There are 11 Jump Start teams in 2014-15, covering about 50 of the state’s 70 public school systems. They include all of the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas.
Gulf River Parishes team: Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James and St. John the Baptist Parish school systems.
Greater New Orleans team: Orleans Parish School Board schools and New Orleans’ state-authorized charter schools.
Capitol team: 11 Baton Rouge-area systems
Northshore team: Includes St. Tammany Parish.
The Orleans Parish School Board and St. John the Baptist systems are participating in two teams each.
4. Authorized career areas are different in different parts of state.
The goal of Jump Start is to improve local communities by graduating students who can get good jobs in their hometown industries. Some parts of the state have a lot of oil-and-gas jobs; some have film jobs. For that reason, regional teams set the career areas for their local Jump Start participants. These teams are partnerships between K-12, higher education and business.
5. Students won’t be rigidly “tracked” into vo-tech.
Until this year, students had to decide upon entering high school whether to pursue the career diploma, and it was difficult to switch between tracks. Now students need not make the decision until the end of 10th grade, and they may switch after that. State officials and schools are discussing the need for more career counseling to help students make the right decision.
Graduates may also complete both sets of requirements. Several New Orleans students said in the winter they pictured themselves working in a trade while earning a 4-year degree.
6. High schools aren’t penalized for career graduates.
High schools are rewarded in the state letter grade system for successful career graduates just as they are for graduates with college-preparatory diplomas. The school earns more points for students who earn an advanced Jump Start credential, not just a basic one. An ACT WorkKeys score is treated the same as an ordinary ACT score.
7. There is some money for this.
Nine of the 11 Jump Start teams split $450,000 in state grants. A second, $845,000 round of grants is now open. Applications will be judged in October.
In addition, the state doubled the amount of extra money it gives high schools for resource-intensive classes such as welding. Some of the vocational-training programs are being offered through the state’s Supplemental Course Academy, formerly called Course Choice, and schools are given money for them as well.
8. Some New Orleans public high schools still offer vo-tech training.
Booker T. Washington’s cobbler program is a thing of the past (as is the school itself), but vocational-technical education continues at some schools. Landry-Walker High in Algiers offers cosmetology, nursing and welding and process technology. Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High in Treme has a new vo-tech program, NOLA Tech, that’s enrolling about 60 students this year, Clark officials said. The alternative school Crescent Leadership Academy is expanding its vocational options.
Lagniappe: The college-prep diploma changed as well.
Thanks to a 2013 law, the requirements to earn a college-preparatory high school diploma now line up exactly with what Louisiana colleges require for TOPS money. To earn a TOPS University Diploma, students must take four years each in English, math, science and social studies, including certain prescribed courses; two years in a foreign language and health and physical education; one year in the arts; and three electives.
There are few cities that are as renowned for their food as New Orleans, Louisiana. The Crescent City has a food culture all its own; insanely delicious po’ boys, hushpuppies, and other specialties that put it on the map beckon around every corner. From French Quarter institutions to restaurants further afield, we’ve rounded up the 5 best restaurants in the city.
To assemble our ranking, we started by compiling the New Orleans restaurants that were included in our own rankings of the 101 Best Restaurants in America and the 50 Best Casual Restaurants in America, and rounded the list out with pre-existing rankings in both print and online from leading culinary authorities. We then scored each restaurant on food quality, level of renown, service, atmosphere, and overall experience.
A serious cult favorite since it opened in 2006, Cochon is the domain of pork-loving chef Donald Link, proprietor of the popular Herbsaint and winner of a James Beard Award for his Real Cajun cookbook. Inspired by Cajun and Creole culinary traditions of his grandparents, Link serves dishes like “fisherman’s style” oven-roasted gulf fish, catfish courtbouillon, smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle, rabbit and dumplings, and the namesake cochon: slow-roasted Louisiana pig with turnips, cabbage, and cracklins.
#4 Peche Seafood Grill Peche demonstrates that chef Donald Link can glorify fish just as well as he does pork. Named one of Bon Appétit’s Top 50 New Restaurants in 2013 and the home of James Beard Award winner for Best Chef South, Ryan Prewitt, the restaurant is centered around a coal-burning open hearth. The daily whole grilled fish — no matter what it is — is always a smart choice, but the traditional classics, like smothered catfish, shrimp and corn bisque, and the seafood platter certainly shouldn’t get overlooked.
John Besh is one of the most interesting and ambitious chefs in the Crescent City today. The American menu at this splendid eatery shows his love for, and understanding of, French, Italian, and high-level American cuisine; much of it interpreted with a New Orleans lilt. His dishes also always incorporate the finest local food that the Gulf has to offer; for example, his roasted Gulf dorado with house cured lardo, crisp farro, and Swiss chard, or his Chappapeela Farms tête de cochon with crispy pig tail and house pickles.
A Bourbon Street landmark, Galatoire’s has been serving classic Creole, New Orleans-style cuisine for many generations. The immense menu has changed little over the past century-plus and is full of things like turtle soup au sherry, oysters en brochette, seafood okra gumbo, a variety of seasonal fish and shellfish, chicken Clemenceau, and black bottom pecan pie for dessert. Anyone can get good cooking here, but go with a regular if you can; that way you’ll be guaranteed good service (regulars have their “own” waiters) and maybe a taste of something not on the menu.
#1 Commander’s Palace
A slice of New Orleans dining history — it opened in 1880 — this culinary landmark has long been collecting accolades for everything from its service, to its wine list and its “haute Creole” cuisine. Two of its alumni, it might be noted, are Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse, but with chef Tory McPhail at the ovens for over a decade, Commander’s Palace is still going strong. Come hungry and ready for such dishes as the foie gras and candied pecan beignet with foie gras infused café au lait or satsuma and Grand Marnier-lacquered quail with bacon-braised Vidalia onions.
Six Louisiana high schools are among the best public high schools in the United States, according to Newsweek. Four of them are in the New Orleans area:
Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans, which ranked 63rd on Newsweek’s list of 500 schools honored for overall excellence. Franklin is a selective charter school.
Thomas Jefferson High School in Gretna, which ranked 152nd in overall excellence and 42nd on a separate list of 500 high-performing schools with significant low-income student populations. Thomas Jefferson is a selective magnet school.
Early College Academy in Lafayette, which ranked 239th on the overall excellence list and 110th on the list honoring schools with low-income students. Its students earn college credits while in high school. They must pass a test to get in.
West St. John High School in Edgard, a conventional public high school that ranked 50th on the list honoring schools with low-income students.
Sicily Island High School, which ranked 378th on the low-income list. It is also conventional high school.
Lake Area High School in New Orleans, which ranked 399th on the low-income list. Lake Area is an open-admissions charter.
It’s the third time in recent months that national publications have honored the state’s high schools. U.S. News and World Report and the The Daily Beast website also recently announced top scorers. Thomas Jefferson and others were featured on those lists.
These rankings do not include private schools. And their methodology matters, as each news outlet emphasizes different aspects of perceived excellence. To recognize overall excellence, Newsweek and the research organization Westat first segregated each state’s schools that performed in the 80th percentile on state assessments. To recognize high-performing, high-poverty schools — a new measure used in this year’s rankings — it first looked at schools where performance exceeded that of their state’s average significantly.
Then, for those schools, analysts crafted college readiness scores based on graduation rates, test scores, counselor-to-student ratios and other factors. Finally, they ordered schools either by their index scores or, for a high-performing, high-poverty school, by how well the schools performed when compared to an average.
Franklin High principal Timothy Rusnak said the results are encouraging, but added: “Quite frankly, we’re not going to be happy until we’re No. 1,” he said. “We believe we are the best high school in the country.”
Further, because methodologies differ, it’s hard to gauge Franklin’s performance by these metrics, he said. And he disputed the latest calculation of his school’s graduation rate; Newsweek lists Franklin’s “rate” at a mere 48.1 percent, but researchers say this is a percentile that weighs Franklin’s actual rate against that of other schools in the list.
Jefferson Parish schools Superintendent James Meza Jr. congratulated Thomas Jefferson High. “It is an honor for the efforts of our students, teachers and school community,” he said. “The high rankings demonstrate the district’s focus on the academic success of all our students regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds.”
This is the first time that West St. John has been featured in Newsweek’s rankings. Quentina Timoll, the St. John the Baptist Parish schools system’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, said West St. John is seeing academic gains this year after its principal, Erica Merrick, instituted professional development communities for teachers, among other moves.
Further, Timoll said, “The community is very much involved with that school.” At a recent open house, parents spent the day with students rather than the typical few hours, she said — another initiative by Merrick.
Growing interest in making fresher, more healthful food available in Louisiana communities has led the LSU AgCenter to implement the Louisiana Harvest of the Month pilot program in some Louisiana schools.
Dufrocq Elementary School in Baton Rouge, Andrew H. Wilson Charter School in New Orleans and North Bayou Rapides Elementary School in Alexandria will participate in the program.
Program director for Harvest of the Month Ann Savage said Harvest of the Month is designed to deliver fresh-from-the-farm specialty-crop fruits and vegetables one day each month to each school.
The program is being developed this fall and will be implemented starting in Jan. 2015 by the LSU AgCenter in partnership with The Louisiana Farm to School Network, Fresh Beginnings, Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, Slow Food Baton Rouge and other community partners.
The program is funded through a U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Grant Fund coordinated by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
Savage said currently, childhood obesity is at its highest rate and in Louisiana, 40 percent of youth are overweight or obese.
Savage said, “Innovative programs like Harvest of the Month aim to connect kids with food and where it comes from. There is no question that the areas where children live, learn and play can have a real impact on their eating habits.”
The program will promote Louisiana’s horticultural diversity and long growing season by highlighting a different, in-season, local fruit or vegetable each month.
Savage said, “We are excited to have the opportunity to pilot the Louisiana Harvest of the Month Program so that we can use this program to create a model for the purchase of local produce and serving it in schools. By starting on a small scale we hope to develop protocols and recommendations for schools statewide and demonstrate it is possible and adaptable to schools around our Louisiana.”
Savage added in 2012, the National School Lunch Program served 92 million lunches to Louisiana students. If we could buy just a fraction of this food locally, it could be a huge boost for the local economy.
Throughout the year this program will extend from the classroom to the cafeteria to the home and community, promoting healthier habits and futures for Louisiana students.
The pilot program will affect nearly 2,000 students and their families during its first year, Savage said. It will allow students to learn about the various nutritional benefits, history, fun facts and botanical and growing information of fruits and vegetables through educational materials for all involved.
Director of the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University Carolyn Johnson said, “Given that children spend the majority of their day at school, school meals and snacks have a significant impact on youth’s diets. The Louisiana Harvest of the Month statewide program for fruits and vegetables will allow the LSU AgCenter to promote fruit and vegetable consumption and educate youth about the origin of food.”
Louisiana state lead for the National Farm to School Network Katie Mularz said, “The program is a win for everyone – kids win because they are gaining access to nutritious, high-quality, local food while learning the origin of their food; farmers win because they are gaining access to a new institutional market; communities win by reducing carbon footprints of food transportation while stimulating the local economy with local purchases.”
According to Savage a successful farm to school program has three components, local and regional procurement, education and gardening.
Savage said, “The Harvest of the Month program will work in its pilot stage to target the first two components in a way that provides a sustainable model for continued support when funding ends. We hope in the future we can target the third component of gardening while also taking the model we have created and providing the program to more schools throughout the state.”
Food is pretty great when you think about it. (Although, you probably shouldn’t think about it non-stop like I do.) Luckily, the Internet has been thinking of food since its inception and has you covered. Here are some hilarious and surprisingly philosophical thoughts about food from around the Internet.
How did I never think of any of these?
1.) If you were illiterate, alphabet soup would just be noodles.
15.) A spoon is a small bowl on a stick used to eat from a larger bowl.
16.) Menus should include prep times so you can order based on how much time you have to eat.
17.) Fettuccini alfredo is macaroni and cheese for adults.
18.) We eat pizza from the inside out.
19.) Toasters are like tanning beds for bread.
20.) When you go food shopping you’re buying supplies for this week’s poops.
21.) Everything we eat is processed sunshine.
Pretty incredible, right? Most of my thoughts about food pretty much just come down to “can I have more of it?” so this was a welcome change. Maybe in addition to praying at the dinner table we should read some of these quotes from these brave food philosophers.
A must read article on the coastal erosion crisis in Louisiana and how it has changed the state’s shape as we know it.
The boot-shaped state isn’t shaped like a boot anymore. That’s why we revised its iconic outline to reflect the truth about a sinking, disappearing place.
Early this year, I drove from Arnaudville, Louisiana, to Morgan City, hoping to walk where I’d heard there was land.
Arnaudville is in Cajun country, in the southern part of the state. Morgan City is roughly halfway between Lafayette and New Orleans, if you take the Highway 90 route. Directionally speaking, that’s all I knew.
I was aware Arnaudville is just outside Lafayette, but I couldn’t have told you in what direction, even though I’d been there several times before. Compulsive use of my smart phone’s map apps has eroded whatever navigational confidence — and, by extension, awareness — I ever possessed of areas outside New Orleans, where I’ve lived for over a dozen years. And this part of Cajun country can be disorienting. Boats traverse rice fields flooded in winter for crawfish production, and the slow-running bayous look innocuous until you get trapped on the wrong side of one. In Arnaudville, I met a tourist from Arkansas who, upon entering the tasting room at Bayou Teche Brewing, announced, “We tried to Google this place and ended up in a muddy swamp by the levee over there.”
I was gearing up to feel a variation on that pain myself as I made my way from Arnaudville to Morgan City. It was the first in a planned season of road trips during which I’d compare the facts on the ground in coastal Louisiana with the facts as presented by the official state maps produced by government agencies. Paper maps.
Remember those? They’re obnoxious to fold, and their search functions leave much to be desired, but it wasn’t that long ago that paper maps were universally accepted as the killer apps they are. Up until the mid aughts, when online mapping services like Google Maps and MapQuest started to find their way onto GPS-enabled mobile phones, paper maps were our go-to tools for navigating unfamiliar terrain on our own. These non-digital guides enjoyed a good run. A Babylonian tablet map of the Mesopotamian world at the British Museum dates to between 700 and 500 BC.
My plan to purchase one of these analog tools to chart my course quickly proved quixotic. I got directions to Myran’s Maison de Manger, a boiled crawfish house at the intersection of two bayous, and from there down Highway 31 to Breaux Bridge, where I planned to stop at Poche’s, a Cajun butcher and diner, to eat some pork backbone stew; neither sold maps. A Breaux Bridge Shell station sold everything from Krispy Krunchy Cajun Recipe Chicken to faux taxidermy albino tiger heads, but no maps. Neither did the Mobil I stopped at in New Iberia. By the time I got to the Patterson Truck Stop and Casino in Patterson (cell phone accessories and broccoli cheese bacon bites but, again, no maps) I had nearly arrived in Morgan City.
The GPS and digital mapping tools built into smart phones and car dashboards have reduced demand for proper paper highway maps to the point of near extinction. The United States Geological Survey, once one of the country’s main mapmakers, has essentially abandoned the map printing business. (Its website still allows people to print copies of digital maps on demand.) And while the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development historically created new state maps with fresh data roughly once a decade, its last map, now 14 years old, is in no threat of being updated. There are still copies left over from their last printing, according to John Snead, cartographic manager at the Louisiana Geographic Survey, which created the map.
Digital maps have expanded our freedoms to roam, removing much of the fear and hassle inherent in exploring unfamiliar terrain by exponentially decreasing the chances we will become hopelessly lost. But smart phone screens are programmed to spit out the granular information we need to get from point A to B. We don’t look to them to give us the large-scale views of border, land, and water of accurate paper maps. And so it’s becoming harder and harder to communicate the most urgent crisis facing Louisiana.
According to the U.S.G.S., the state lost just under 1,900 square miles of land between 1932 and 2000. This is the rough equivalent of the entire state of Delaware dropping into the Gulf of Mexico, and the disappearing act has no closing date. If nothing is done to stop the hemorrhaging, the state predicts as much as another 1,750 square miles of land — an area larger than Rhode Island — will convert to water by 2064. An area approximately the size of a football field continues to slip away every hour. “We’re sinking faster than any coast on the planet,” explains Bob Marshall, a Pulitzer-winning journalist in New Orleans. Marshall authored the series “Losing Ground,” a recent collaboration between The Lens, a non-profit newsroom, and ProPublica, about the Louisiana coast’s epic demise.
While the kind of state map that might have been useful for navigation or perspective was elusive on the road to Morgan City, the image such maps project — the iconic “boot” shape everyone recognizes as Louisiana — was impossible to escape. The map’s outline was ubiquitous on my drive: on bumper stickers (with the boot standing in for the “L” in “Love”), engulfing T-shirt fronts (my favorite emblazoned with “I drove the Chevy to the levee but the levee was gone”), and glowing on Louisiana-shaped neon beer signs in barroom windows.
But the boot is at best an inaccurate approximation of Louisiana’s true shape and, at worst, an irresponsible lie. It has to be.
My preoccupation with Louisiana’s boot dates to the morning in September 2005 when I followed smoke to a ruinous house fire just off Magazine Street in New Orleans’s Uptown neighborhood. I ran into my friend and colleague Jeff Duncan at the scene. We both commented on the irony of fire making news in a city still filled with water from the levee breaches triggered by Hurricane Katrina, which had made landfall a week prior.
Jeff and I are both non-natives who moved here around 2000 to work at The Times-Picayune, the New Orleans newspaper. Jeff had already been in the city for several days; most of the reporters who’d stayed through the storm, and witnessed the early horrors of Katrina, had taken a much deserved break that day or were filing other stories, essentially leaving us as an ad-hoc bureau of two.
We went from the fire to a press conference being held by then mayor Ray Nagin. Jeff took that story. I wrote something about local cops committing suicide. A few days later Jeff and I worked together again, interviewing victims as they emerged from the floodwaters onto the elevated highway that runs through downtown New Orleans. Jeff still ribs me for tripping over the same discarded corpse twice.
We knew as much about crisis reporting then as we did about maps when Jeff started asking questions about Louisiana’s suspiciously unchanged boot over dinner a few years later. Jeff is a sports columnist. I’m a restaurant critic. But Katrina and its aftermath enveloped our lives, personally and professionally, and that continued to be the case even after we returned to our regular beats. Jeff and I, like many of our colleagues, became defacto authorities on the disaster that dominated local news until 2010, when the BP oil spill kicked Katrina to the back seat. People who lived through Katrina wanted to compare notes. People who didn’t wanted to know what happened. People who didn’t ask what happened got an earful anyway.
This is what everyone heard: The disaster was manmade. A hurricane is the hand of a higher power, but the flood control structures that failed and caused so much death and destruction did so because human beings screwed up. Levees are expected to hold, just as bridges, skyscrapers, and subway tunnels are expected not to collapse. It took Katrina — and the destruction caused by her less publicized but also ruinous sister, Hurricane Rita—for flood protection to enter mainstream cocktail and dinner conversation, shedding harsher light on the incontrovertible fact that the system built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers was an accessory to its own malfunction.
The shape of Louisiana — to say nothing of the course of U.S. history — would be much different if not for the human efforts to hold the Mississippi River in place. The deltas comprising Southeast Louisiana sit at the bottom of the Lower Mississippi River Valley. The alluvial land mass had been forever subject to the shifting course of the Mississippi, whose sediment deposits created the land where Native Americans and, later, European settlers built communities in the fertile, strategically crucial areas near its mouth. “Southern Louisiana exists in its present form because the Mississippi River has jumped here and there within an arc about two hundred miles wide, like a pianist playing with one hand,” is how John McPhee put it in a 1987 New Yorker article. Had the river not ranged so widely, southern Louisiana would, McPhee wrote, “be a long narrow peninsula reaching into the Gulf of Mexico.”
The corps allowed civilization to flourish along the banks of the world’s fourth-longest river and the country’s major commercial artery. But the levees and dikes erected to protect people and property from the Upper Midwest through the Deep South to the Gulf of Mexico have had the effect of starving Louisiana’s coast, depriving it of the replenishing soils the river once deposited in the form of sediment during floods. The land is sinking, as the weight of a massive layer of mud compresses against the deep bedrock without any new sediment layers to maintain elevation and nourish the flora and fauna.
Louisiana’s wetlands act as a buffer protecting the southern part of the state against hurricanes and tropical storms. This is a vitally important feature not just to Louisianans, a third of whom reside in the state’s coastal parishes. The state is one of the U.S.’s top producers of energy and seafood, and its ports facilitate 20 percent of the country’s waterborne commerce. These natural resources are dependent on Louisiana’s fertile wetlands and the billions of dollars in infrastructure necessary to access it — the great majority of which is clinging to the state’s eroding coastline. D. Phil Turnipseed, the director of the U.S.G.S. National Wetlands Research Center, calls Louisiana’s shrinkage “the worst environmental and socioeconomic disaster in North America.” He adds: “I would dare say it’s the worst thing in the hemisphere if not for what they’re doing in the Amazon jungle.”
In the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, the legislature created the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (C.P.R.A.) to oversee Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. The plan’s $50 billion budget is projected over 50 years, and nearly every politician, governmental agency, academic, and business invested in Louisiana’s coast turns to land loss maps to provide a concise rationalization for such an expenditure. This one, created by Snead’s team at the Louisiana Geological Survey, was completed in 2007, around the time Jeff started going off about the map one night over dinner.
In the face of so much shocking and widely available imagery, why does the boot look same as it did in the 1930s? That was why Jeff and I started devising an expose—this expose—about the boot. In our imagining, the idea spread beyond the confines of journalism, sparking a movement united around the cause of revising the boot in the spirit of advocacy and accuracy. Supporters would mobilize armed with t-shirts, stickers, and posters, all printed with the image of an alternative boot. More wine brought talk of a website and a conference launched under some incendiary title. (The Map is a Lie! Change the Map Now!) Politicians across the ideological spectrum would find common ground on the issue, because one thing environmentalists and global warming deniers can agree on is the basic fact that Louisiana is shrinking. The rest of the country would take notice, forging national agreement on the Master Plan and its funding as the most effective means for averting economic catastrophe. And then Jeff and I wouldn’t have to worry about tripping over more corpses, or being forced to move someplace with inferior cuisine.
South Louisiana has always vexed cartographers. Lawrence N. Powell’s book The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans is front-loaded with tales of early explorers being led astray by maps that were imprecise at best. In the 16th century, Spanish explorers relied on charts that showed the Mississippi “emptying into the Bay of Espíritu Santo, in present-day Texas.” When Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, the Canadian who helped colonize Louisiana for France, arrived in the late 1600s, in search of the river’s mouth, he “carried with him a fraudulent map prepared by a disgraced Récollet missionary. It depicted a mythical east fork of the Mississippi.”
“Louisiana has perhaps the most complex coastline of any state in the union. It’s not just a coastline but a coastal zone that has many inland lakes that are part of coastal change,” said Snead. “Any map you make of the Louisiana coast is obsolete the day you make it. It’s an exercise in futility.”
Snead was the first person I called in my pursuit of the truth about the boot. He neither agreed nor disagreed with my theory that it’s a disingenuous artifact. Cartography, as Snead explains it, requires navigating tensions between precision and compromise. The 2000 map, he explained, is “‘official’ because there is an act of the legislature that says the Department of Transportation will produce an official map of Louisiana. And you should be aware that the legislature is full of politicians.” Elected officials, according to Snead, are not so concerned with the map depicting an accurate coast as they are with the visibility of the public works projects, like highways and canals, that signify their accomplishments. Complicating matters is the sheer expense of collecting the fresh data necessary to render a land-water interface perpetually on the move. As a consequence, the Louisiana map holds “a very generalized coastline,” according to Snead, that “is hard to draw even under ideal conditions. You have to have a very large scale to render it.”
Viewed from a distance, the shape of Louisiana on Snead’s 2000 map isn’t noticeably different from the boot. But its larger scale allows for the wetlands along the coast, particularly in the southeastern part of the state, to convey some of the porousness that is so obvious when you actually see them in real life. On the boot, those same feeble swamps and marsh appear as invulnerable as Iowa farmland.
The 2000 map was the first Louisiana map ever created entirely digitally using Geographic Information System (GIS) software, which enables the storage, management, and manipulation of massive quantities of geographic and scientific data. GIS technology is behind the spread of the web-based mapping tools that have disrupted the paper cartography trade in a manner similar to how the internet disrupted every other business tied to the printing press.
James Mitchell, the GIS manager at the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, is a former professor in environmental studies at Louisiana State University with the confident air of a person in possession of truths you may not be able to handle. His embrace of GIS technology is tempered by a frustration over what he sees as the public’s tendency to see digital maps as windows to the material world. “No one questions these things,” Mitchell told me when I met him at D.O.T.D.’s state headquarters in Baton Rouge. “A map is a model. It’s an abstraction of reality. So by making a model of reality, we can’t depict anything exactly.”
He pulled up a PowerPoint to help illustrate what he calls “Mitchell’s first rule of GIS: Everything you know is wrong,” which basically boils down to the idea that GIS technology is only as good as the data you feed into it. His experience updating maps with digital tools has exposed how inconsistent existing maps already were. “The topographic layer might have been done in 1956, and the land cover layer was done in 1962, and the transportation came from 1945,” Mitchell said of his findings. “And those are some of the good ones.”
Mitchell said the aerial photography and satellite laser data that lend GIS maps their lifelike immediacy pose problems of their own, particularly in Southeast Louisiana. He pulled up an aerial image of Pass Manchac, the channel between lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas. On both the image and the Louisiana state map, the area appears to be forest. Anyone who has visited the flood-prone town of Manchac, about a 45-minute drive northwest of New Orleans, knows it is surrounded by wetlands. “People see the vegetation and the trees and think it’s land,” Mitchell said.
Setting aside the disorienting business of mapping swamps, Kurt Johnson, a former U.S.G.S. hydrologist and Mitchell’s colleague, pointed out that Southeast Louisiana’s dizzying interface of coastal tides, river currents, and sinking land can make what appear to be distributaries flow like tributaries, and visa versa. The hydrology is so atypical that he and Mitchell believe USGS should establish new protocols for collecting the dataset it uses to portray surface water on maps.
In March, I boarded a seaplane that took off from a canal in Belle Chasse, a suburb across the river from New Orleans, for a bird’s-eye tour of Louisiana’s imperiled coastline. The vulnerability is unmistakable from the air.
Our flight path took us south and then west, away from Lake Pontchartrain and across the Mississippi River, which winds east through the city before angling sharply downward en route to the mouth. New Orleans is nestled between the river and the lake. On a map it appears as if the city sits comfortably inland from the ocean. In reality, Lake Borgne, which land loss has allowed the gulf to annex, is knocking at New Orleans’s door from the east. Much of the “land” separating the city from the ocean to the south isn’t really land. It’s deltaic swamp and marsh that satellite images — a crucial source of mapping data — cause to appear indistinguishable from inland soil when reduced to the low-resolution shorthand that is Louisiana’s boot. But wetlands are not terra firma. Communities like Delacroix, an island in the wetland wilds below New Orleans, looks from the air to reside on the tips of reeds. It persists mainly due to the obstinance of its inhabitants.
By the time we reached Grand Isle and nearby Port Fourchon, south of Galliano, both just west of the bird’s-foot delta, our flight had provided us a sizable visual sample of arguably the world’s least stable coastline. At one point, as our pilot was preparing to announce our arrival at tiny Caillou Island, only to discover it under water, he said, “There’s supposed to be land here. There was a couple weeks ago.”
Comparable examples of incidental tragicomedy occur whenever I commune with Louisiana’s coastal estuary. I’ve never set foot on a boat in Louisiana without hearing my captain offer a running commentary on the landmarks — cypress trees, barrier islands, fishing camps — that have recently disappeared, casualties of the encroaching gulf.
“How do you represent a place where there is no edge?” asked Jeff Carney, director of L.S.U.’s Coastal Sustainability Studio. A wall of his studio on the university’s Baton Rouge campus contained various map-like representations of what he calls South Louisiana’s indeterminate landscape. As Carney put it, “We don’t have a shoreline. We’re not Florida. It’s not like you’re on solid ground and then you step into water.” That “unclear edge,” Carney said, “creates problems with land ownership, insurance, all of these things. We don’t deal with ambiguity very well.”
Carney, in partnership with the state, is trying to capture this fluidity with data visualization tools that communicate the progress of the Master Plan’s sundry land building projects. Because many of these projects will employ Mississippi River diversions to create land over time with sediment-filled water — in essence flooding land and wetlands you’re endeavoring to protect — detractors fear the Plan could cause more harm than good. Members of Louisiana’s seafood industry are particularly vocal opponents, because the fresh water from diversions kills oyster beds and chases other prey offshore.
Carney, a professor with degrees in architecture and regional and city planning, nimbly mingles left- and right-brain concepts. He said one of the goals for his maps will be to help “develop a language that doesn’t undermine confidence but actually allows people to better understand the environment we live in.” Thinking out loud, he began drawing a series of curving lines on a piece of scratch paper. Carney’s sketches brought to mind the famous maps Harold Fisk created in the 1940s that visualized the various paths taken by the Mississippi River before it was artificially fixed in place (that’s them running alongside this section). The maps look as much like posters in an art museum’s gift shop as pages from an atlas. They also effectively communicate the scale of a never-ending engineering conundrum whose complexities continue to fill shelves of doorstop-size books.
Carney was imagining how wetlands could be depicted “as neither land nor water” on future maps, encouraging people to recognize them for what they are. “Louisiana has an inferiority complex about its wetlands. We don’t understand them, so we dump everything into them. We tear them apart,” Carney explained. “But what if we had a way of drawing future maps that said, basically, all that fluffy green stuff is actually protecting everybody and building our economy?”
The political drama in Louisiana over the past year has revolved around the disappearing coast, the oil and gas industry’s role in contributing to it, and a lawsuit that seeks billions of dollars from the energy companies for the damage they’ve caused the environment.
Louisiana is both the country’s second-biggest crude oil producer and refiner and the largest entry point for crude oil coming into the U.S. (It is also near the top in the nation in total and per capita energy consumption, a reminder that producing energy requires a lot of fuel.) Oil and gas removal exacerbates subsidence of land, and the canals the companies have dug through the marsh disrupt the delicate balance of salt and freshwater in wetlands, killing plant and wildlife and causing erosion on the interior swamp and marsh already threatened on the outside by global sea level rise.
“It’s crystal clear, according to every single scientific study, including studies done by the [oil and gas] industry itself, that industry activities are responsible for a substantial part of the land loss,” said John M. Barry, the best-selling author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America and former vice president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E), the government body charged with overseeing the flood protection system covering most of metro New Orleans.
Last year, the authority filed a historic lawsuit against more than 90 oil, gas, and pipeline companies, demanding that “the catastrophic effects of the oil and gas industry’s canal dredging be abated and reversed and the damage to the coastal landscape be undone” and seeking what could be billions of dollars in damages. Barry told me, “State law requires them to restore areas. So do the Corps of Engineers’ permits. And they simply haven’t done it.”
But Louisiana’s reputation for political chicanery is inseparable from its entanglement with Big Oil. If the state’s modern elected officials are less flamboyantly corrupt than the despotic Huey Long, who built a national power base in the early 20th century opposing Standard Oil, their positions on laws affecting the energy industry are still often gaudily compromised.
Instead of leaving it for the courts to decide the suit, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and other oil industry-friendly lawmakers have done everything they can to kill it (and, by extension, emasculate the SLFPA-E). Jindal has accused the board of overstepping its authority, dismissed the suit as “nothing but a windfall for a handful of trial lawyers,” and effectively removed Barry from his SLFPA-E position for supporting the suit. State lawmakers passed a bill that retroactively nullified the authority’s right to sue. Now that Jindal has signed it into law, the suit could end up in federal court instead.
Both sides of the suit claim the state’s ability to fund the $50-billion Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast is at stake. While that plan was unanimously approved by the legislature in 2012, its funding is not certain, and many of its projects remain controversial, particularly sediment diversions. Fishers, for instance, fear the displacement of seafood populations, and coastal landowners aren’t amused by the idea of seeing their properties flooded.
(Regardless of what happens to the suit, the fight over energy company liabilities is far from over. Last week, United States District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier found BP grossly negligent in the oil spill disaster. As a result, the company could pay up to $18 billion in penalties atop the $3.5 billion in settlement money it has already paid.)
The mark the oil and gas industry has left on the wetlands was clearly visible out the window of my low-flying seaplane that day in March; the view en route from New Orleans to south Lafourche was of a vast, green-brown maze, the result of the over 9,000 miles of navigation and pipeline canals energy companies dredged in the state’s coastal marsh starting around the turn of the last century. There are also more than 54,000 oil wells in Southern Louisiana’s wetlands and in its coastal waters, and the well-heads and supply boats appeared in increasing density as we approached Grand Isle and Port Fourchon, as did shrimp boats, whose long horizontal trawl nets give them the cast of graceful water spiders.
That’s the other complicating factor here: Around Fourchon, where commercial fishers routinely supplement their incomes working for the oil companies, there is no perceived disconnect between environmental advocacy and support for Big Oil. The fishers I got to know during the 2010 BP drama, all of whom were adversely affected by the disaster, uniformly dismissed the deepwater drilling moratorium on the Outer Continental Shelf following the spill as little more than hypocritical liberal posturing that ultimately hurt working Americans. In the summer of 2010, Nick Collins, a third-generation oysterman, asked me sarcastically over oyster spaghetti in his father’s Golden Meadow kitchen, “Do those people in California ride horses to work?”
In fact, in Southeast Louisiana, the theory you often hear is that the best way to keep sinking land from disappearing is to make it economically indispensable.
While politicians, lawyers, scientists and engineers fight over the future of the state, people like Jonathan Foret are trying to give shape right now to the emotional toll exacted by Louisiana’s massive wound. Foret spends his days educating young people about our disappearing coast as executive director of the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center.
“I was telling the kids, ‘Let’s go plant marsh grass because this is going to help.’ And then the kids go back three years later and all of that is washed away,” Foret told me. “They say, ‘Mr. Jonathan, that was supposed to help!”
I met Foret one morning in May at his house in Houma, an industrial town in Terrebonne Parish, near the frayed toes in the southeast of Louisiana’s boot. The combined unemployment rates in Houma and Thibodeaux, 50 miles to the north, are consistently below national averages, thanks in no small part to jobs in the energy and water transport industries. But while the two-story house Foret purchased on a corner lot near where Bayou Terrebonne intersects with the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway, framed by the sprawling branches of a mature oak tree, could swallow his former New York City apartment many times over, Houma does not exude the optimism of a boomtown.
When you come across construction in south Terrebonne, it is invariably related to the sinking coast, and what modern architecture there is appears frozen in the 1970s or ’80s. An exhibit of work by the artist Brooks Frederick, a Houma native living in New York, was on display in a gallery behind Anelas Wellness & Yoga Lounge on Main Street. One picture was a portrait of Tony Hayward, the locally despised former CEO of BP, painted in “ink” made from the tar balls that have been washing ashore ever since the 2010 oil spill. A watercolor depicted a man on the verge of ejaculating into Louisiana’s boot, presumably against the boot’s wishes. The painting is entitled No Means No.
Both Frederick’s art and Foret’s teaching are powerful examples of citizens behaving as if Louisiana’s point of no return has already arrived. Their work suggests the only way to reverse course is to bring others to their desperate point of view, through shocking visual representation and more.
In a class Foret teaches to local high school students, he asks kids to study coastal restoration projects to identify which ones are the most cost-effective. “Then we throw in, ‘Here’s a senator who needs to be re-elected, and here’s an engineering firm that gives a lot to his campaign,” Foret explained. “Now let’s vote on which project will get through.”
Foret also introduced me to Sandra Maina, until recently an environmental science graduate student at Florida International University who has been spearheading the development of Vanishing Points, a tool that locates local landmarks threatened by coastal land loss with pins on a digital map, along with information — collected by Maina, although in the future Terrebonne students will ideally do that work — about what makes them unique. When it’s complete, Maina plans for it to include data from surveys for each location that assess citizens’ “risk perception of the land loss, and how it’s impacting their decisions to adapt.”
“It’s a way to celebrate what we have while we have it,” Foret said of Vanishing Points. “My hope is that it will help kids be better at facing inevitable loss.”
In 1854, a doctor named John Snow set out to test a theory as to what was causing a cholera outbreak in London. After plotting the addresses of plague victims on a map, Snow discovered the greatest number of them lived near the Broad Street water pump in the Soho neighborhood where he lived. As Peter Turchi explains in his book Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer, Snow’s findings contradicted beliefs held by London officials concerning the plague: “Some people believed cholera spread through polluted water, but others believed it was airborne, and still others felt it rose from the ground in cemeteries, from the bodies of plague victims.”
After confirming the presence of an unknown bacterium in water samples taken from the Soho pump, Snow plotted his evidence on a map. “Map in hand,” Turchi writes, Snow “approached the local authorities and persuaded them to remove the pump handle, thus bringing an end to the epidemic — and, even more importantly, helping to solve the mystery of the origin of the disease.”
The “map cures plague” story is commonly cited by cartographers as an example of how their craft is about more than drawing lines on paper. So it wasn’t shocking to see Snow cited on the series of display panels chronicling the history of GIS inside a building at the serenely modern headquarters of Esri, a leading GIS software company based in Redlands, California. “Mapping the Nation,” a company report of sorts, is a glossy, spine-bound book worthy of a coffee table detailing complex GIS mapping efforts contracted by an alphabet soup of government agencies, from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to the National Cancer Institute.
Drew Stephens came on board at Esri during the BP oil spill. Now Esri’s Ocean and Coastal Environments Industry Manager, he found himself in Houma in the spring and summer of 2010, working inside one of the Incident Command Centers erected to coordinate response to the incident. He hired ten cartographers to build a database for generating maps of a disaster area then too large for a plane to survey in a single day.
“There was operational data that was coming in twice a day,” Stephens recalled, referring to the spill. Emergency responders “needed maps of where the blob was. Where are my National Guard people putting up dikes and dams? Where are the fish and wildlife? The demand for up-to-date maps was so great, we started a queue.”
Stephens said the preponderance of inaccurate maps and lack of vetted centralized data only added to the chaos. “I saw people trying to process, ‘Why is this map showing me something that isn’t there anymore?’” he recalled. “One guy came in, already angry, and said, ‘I need place names for every one of these islands.’ I said, ‘That’d be neat. Do you have the data?’ We started searching around for those hundreds of thousands of place names, and we couldn’t find all of them.”
Stephens’s oil spill encounters are charged examples of how faulty maps lead to complications more severe than driving into a swamp where you expect to find a road.
As a reminder, the iconic boot that appears on signs, labels, billboards, and documents across the state, the boot that can be found sitting on every available U.S. map, the boot that pops up when you Google “Map of Louisiana,” the boot that each of us first learned to identify in elementary school, looks like this:
As I’ve pointed out again and again in this story, there is no shortage of digital (and digitally enabled) maps providing ample cartographic evidence as to the boot’s inaccuracies. Just this past spring, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released updated nautical charts that removed 31 official place names in a single county, Plaquemines Parish, just south of New Orleans. Meredith Westington, chief geographer with N.O.A.A.’s Office of Coast Survey, said the new navigation charts were produced after processing shoreline data collected in 2007. She expects the areas hadn’t been surveyed in decades — and for more place names to drop off more charts after N.O.A.A. finishes processing all of the 2007 data. That update, to my mind, provides a precedent for a larger rewriting of the map.
Significant barriers — bureaucratic, political, and economic — make any “official” alterations of the boot appear as difficult as actually restoring the land. The Department of Transportation and Development and the U.S.G.S. would have to agree on a shape and then implement a costly replacement plan for images currently in circulation. I called both D. Phil Turnipseed of the National Wetlands Research Center, and Jerome Zeringue, the chair of the C.P.R.A. board and Jindal’s executive assistant for coastal activities, who acknowledged that the state’s current map is deceptive. Of the existing map, Zeringue told me, “People get a false sense of security, they see these topographic maps, they see these solid platforms of marsh that aren’t there… it’s a false reality.” But both officials declined to publicly advocate for a change, which may be legally impossible. Eighty percent of Louisiana’s coast is privately owned.
When presented with my theories about the boot, Charlie Frye, chief cartographer and manager of the Cartographic Projects Group at Esri, pointed out that in “1981, the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that the state boundary of Louisiana was no longer an ambulatory line that could move in response to changes in the coastline, and was henceforth immobilized as a set of fixed coordinates.”
Believing a truer image of the state could be powerful enough to overcome those obstacles, Matter pushed forward with creating our own alternative boot. Andrea Galinski, a coastal resources scientist with the C.P.R.A., provided us with a map that answered this question. Here’s where we started:
Louisiana including non-walkable/non-inhabitable land:
What would the map look like if wetlands appeared as water and only solid, “walkable” ground appeared as land? Using publicly available data, Galinski created a map on which areas that commonly appear as land on government issued maps—woody wetlands, emergent herbaceous wetlands and barren land—were re-categorized to appear as water:
Louisiana’s walkable/inhabitable land:
From that map, we created a boot whose southern borders are drawn where terra firma meets water:
On our map, the real map, the boot appears as if it came out on the wrong side of a battle with a lawnmower’s blades. It loses a painful chunk off its heel in Cameron and Vermilion parishes. A gash cutting off the bird’s-foot delta, where the Mississippi empties into the Gulf of Mexico, from the center of the state is reason to consider amputation. Barataria Bay has joined forces with Bay Dosgris to take over Lake Salvador. Golden Meadow, Galliano, Montegut: They’re barely there, clinging to strands of earth as flimsy as dental floss. Lakes Maurepas, Pontchartrain, and Borgne form a contiguous mass flowing into the gulf.
Some people might criticize us for taking out the wetlands entirely, and there are places that do exist in real life—like Isle de Jean Charles—that aren’t on our boot (although they are visible, if barely, on the map we used to create the boot). Maps are approximate, as this story has made clear, even the big ones with lots of detail; symbols like the boot are even more so. Where ours errs, at least it errs on the side of the truth.
So, stop and compare the existing boot with ours. The two images are so significantly different that anyone who encountered the new map would have to squint and ask, What is going on here? Answer: a lot.
Nowadays, the job of communicating our states’ geographic boundaries has fallen almost entirely to the ubiquitous symbols that signal our presence in each of them. Many of those symbols — think Texas, Florida, California — are so effectively iconographic they require no label. Louisiana’s boot is among those, and the power of an altered version would rest on its capacity to communicate the irrefutable truth of its deformity.
A more honest representation of the boot would not erase the intractable disagreements — around global sea level rise, energy jobs versus coastal restoration jobs, oil and gas companies versus the fishing industry — that paralyze state politics, but it would give shape to the awesome stakes, both economic and existential, that hang in the balance. A new map would prove that Louisiana is ready to grapple with the extraordinary task ahead of it. A new map would prove that denial, like the boot, is a remnant of our past.
When I shared my desire to see the map of Louisiana changed with John Barry, the author and instigator of the lawsuit against the oil companies, he was quick to say, “It will never happen.”
He recalled a meeting he attended when he was still on the levee board. It was considering a proposal to install markers around New Orleans showing how high the floodwaters rose during Katrina. Some of the markers would go on levees.
“They came to us because you can’t do anything on the levee without our permission,” recalled Barry, who said the board was supportive of the plan. “There was a guy there from the Business Council [of New Orleans]. He said, ‘This is a bad idea whose time should never come.’ He was worried you were going to scare people.”
Our alternative version of the Louisiana boot is scary, in keeping with the truth Harold Schoeffler has been trying to voice for decades.
A Lafayette environmentalist, alternative energy entrepreneur, and Cadillac salesman in his mid-70s, Schoeffler doesn’t need to look at our map to know what’s lost. He claims to have “frogged, fished, and hunted just about every inch of marsh that’s out there. And of course, a lot of it isn’t there now.”
We were driving in Schoeffler’s SUV in January with a group from the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club. Every month they gather to tour a different section of the disappearing coast. “We want to see it before it’s gone,” Schoeffler said.
In our day together, these men expressed more calm resignation than anger over the coast’s degradation, perhaps because Schoeffler’s indignation is ferocious enough to speak for them all. Schoeffler is famous in the Atchafalaya Basin for his pugnacious and sometimes brilliant environmental advocacy, and he doesn’t always fall behind the government’s prescribed remedies. He is not terribly enthusiastic, for instance, about the prospects for restoring mass swaths of land with sediment diversions: “It’s like handing someone a pile of sawdust and telling them to build an oak tree.”
At each stop the men exited the van as if they were entering an ancient cathedral: slowly, silently, their eyes alert to sites they may never see again. At Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, south of Lake Charles, they snapped pictures of geese, ducks, nutrient-starved marsh grass—and of Schoeffler himself, as he surveyed the vanishing wetland through a pair of German World War II field glasses.
Two hours later Schoeffler parked at St. Eugene Catholic Church, in Grand Chenier, to let his comrades snap pictures of a stand of dying oak trees. Before turning back to Lafayette, we drove through the smoke of a wildfire down a bumpy, waterfront road lined with raised mobile homes. Schoeffler pointed to pieces of wood jutting out of the open water far in the distance. “It looks like an old pier, but it’s a cattle pen,” he said. “It was pasture 25 years ago. There were cows there.”
We arrived back in Lafayette eight hours after we left. I’d filled a notebook in a vain attempt to record every instance when Schoeffler pointed to a lake that used to be marsh, or marsh on its way to becoming extinct. Viewing the wetlands through Schoeffler’s eyes, I saw the same terminal patient that he did.
It all looked different when I returned in May on a self-guided tour of Louisiana’s coast. I drove the southernmost east-west roads along the coast of Louisiana, from New Orleans to Galveston, Texas, and passed back through Cameron Parish on the way. Without Schoeffler delivering his oral history of land loss in my ear, the lakes looked like lakes. The swamps looked like swamps.
I pulled off Highway 82, which runs parallel to the open gulf, and onto a sandy beach. Parents watched over children playing in the surf. Pelicans disappeared into the waves, reemerging with fish in their bills.
Turning away from the ocean, all I saw was the stark, beautiful expanse of marsh grass punctuated in the distance by cypress and oaks. I opened Louisiana’s official map to pinpoint my location. The map confirmed what I saw from the beach: a solid, healthy expanse of land ending abruptly at the open sea.
On our true map, I saw something the human eye can’t perceive: I was standing on a barely visible stripe of earth far offshore, land that anyone who cares knows is in imminent danger of fading into oblivion. On our map, the beach where we stood and the road we traveled to get to it are barely holding on. The map sounds an alarm too few people have heard. That is its point.
Louisiana’s not the only state being forced to confront the reality of global sea level rise and the problems associated with building on naturally shifting and sinking land. Here’s what Brett Anderson discovered during a road trip along the Sandy-ravaged New Jersey coast.
This story was written by Brett Anderson. It was edited by Mark Lotto, fact-checked by Ben Kalin, and copy-edited by Lawrence Levi. Photographs by William Widmer. Illustrations by Matthew Woodson.
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Arlen Benny Cenac, Jr., Louisiana Entrepreneur, Philanthropist and Nature Lover
The discovery of oil in Terrebonne Parish and the surrounding area in 1929 resulted in a fusion of a wide variety of cultures, peoples and lifestyles. Many recognized the tremendous potential of the oil industry and decided to enter the field. One such pioneer who achieved the peak of success was the lade Ovide Joseph “Jock” Cenac. Thus, Cenac Towing Company was born.
Before dying tragically in an airplane crash in the mountains of Mexico on May 22, 1964, Jock Cenac had built a heritage and had become an inspiration for all to follow. With his hard work ethic, Benny’s father, Arlen Cenac, Sr., would take the leadership of Cenac Towing Company. A notoriously skilled captain, unmatched in his knowledge and ability to handle any boat in the fleet, Arlen Sr. would steer Cenac Towing Company forward through uncertain times.
Having drawn inspiration from both his father and grandfather, Benny Cenac purchased Cenac Towing Company from his family members in 1983 and has been the sole owner of the company since.
At the time of the purchase in 1983, Cenac Towing Company had approximately 22 boats, 50 barges and 200 employees. Through the philanthropic leadership of Benny Cenac, Cenac Towing Company continued to grow. Benny made Cenac Towing Company a model of efficiency and safety practices. The company’s list of clients included many major refineries in the United States.
With a reputation of honesty and integrity, Benny would grow Cenac Towing Company to include 550 employees, with over 60 tug boats and 120 tank barges. On February 1, 2008, Benny sold the marine assets of Cenac Towing Company. On October 1, 2012, Benny again re-entered into the marine towing industry and began a building program of a new fleet of tug boats and tank barges. This new company is Cenac Marine Services, LLC. Benny also owns various entities including retail, manufacturing, services and wholesale companies such as Golden Ranch Farms, Cenac Offshore, and Southern Power and Coatings.
Although Cenac’s reach is evident far beyond the Gulf South area, Benny’s roots are clearly situated in the Bayou Region. Benny currently serves on the Nicholls State University College of Business Advisory Board, Nicholls State University Foundation Board and various industry and trade committees.
In addition, Benny donates hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to many causes on the local, state, national and international levels