The source of 25 to 30 percent of America’s seafood, the Mississippi River Delta’s cornucopian world is now uncertain. And yet, even if shrimp, oysters, and finfish are unaffected by the BP Oil Spill—a big if—one can already reflect on the passing of the culture once built upon gathering them. For almost three centuries, levees made life possible along the riverbanks and in the wetlands beyond. Those same levees also ensured the wetlands would eventually melt away into the Gulf. Cutting off the silt left behind during annual river inundations subjected the fragile land to erosion. Sulfur, natural gas, and oil production companies dug twenty thousand miles of canals to gain more direct routes to their fields and to pump out their mineral wealth. This caused salt-water intrusion that killed off plant life and caused more erosion. The world that sustained my Plaquemines ancestors was less subject to collapse following disasters not only because the ecosystem before the wetlands’ ongoing loss was then more vibrant, complex, and robust; but also because their lives, especially their culinary lives, were more vibrant, complex, and robust. Life was hard, but when it came to putting food on the table, life followed the seasons.

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