When parts of the city were flooded in August 2016, Sins mobilized the city’s chefs and volunteers to prepare 100,000 meals over the course of 19 days. “I feel like every day I have a new idea or project I get involved in. But sadly, disasters are becoming more and more frequent and we have to respond,” Sins tells Food Tank.
Working together with Second Harvest Food Bank for emergency situations in Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and—more recently—The Bahamas, Sins identified points for improvement in food relief efforts. “There is a massive need to focus on food safety to make sure that the food that goes out…is prepared in a manner that we don’t put first responders, evacuees, and people rebuilding at risk,” Sins tells Food Tank. Chefs can assist in addressing such issues given the knowledge, technique, and leadership skills that come with the position. “We know how to manage a brigade system, we’re good at telling people what to do, and we have that food safety training,” Sins explains to Food Tank.
But Sins believes that New Orleans and other cities prone to disaster need to be better prepared to handle food challenges. “You never know when [an emergency] is going to happen,” Sins tells Food Tank, “but you do know who your community leaders are.” Sins suggests that leaders prepare disaster plans and educate citizens on designated relief centers, kitchen locations, and food safety standards. Knowledge exchanges between the New Orleans food community and others could accelerate the learning process. “There are communities out there who have not faced disaster and may not be as prepared,” says Sins, “and we have the knowledge to help teach those communities how to react when [emergencies] happen.”
Building resilience also forms part of Sins’ day-to-day work at Langlois—a traveling, interactive dining experience teaching people about Louisiana’s foodways. “We’re in a transition in our food culture here in Louisiana,” says Sins. “Different groups move into our community, bring us food and flavor, and become a part of who we are as a culture.”
“People ask us for authentic New Orleans cuisine; they want gumbo. Yes, but let’s talk about all the people who shaped the foodways that make gumbo,” explains Sins. “It’s French, Spanish, German, Native American, and West African—all the flavors come together.”
According to Sins, Louisiana’s cultural heritage, food trajectories, and diverse people build a sense of pride and ownership in New Orleanians. In turn, the New Orleanian pride can grow into investments to and from the communities. “When you’re proud of your community, you only buy locally grown [food] or [food] from the shop that’s been there for generations,” Sins says to Food Tank. Strengthening the Louisiana food culture can, therefore, make communities more adaptable and sustainable over the long run, says Sins.
Raising awareness on Louisiana’s foodways and assisting disaster relief efforts are just one part of Sins’ portfolio. “Everybody eats, so that’s your common ground to get things started,” Sins tells Food Tank. Based on that premise, Sins’ future projects include growing the radio show “New Orleans by Mouth,” engaging in culinary travel, and developing a disaster preparedness guide using the lessons learned in South Louisiana. “Every day I have a new adventure or idea,” Sins tells Food Tank. “If it’s fun, has a soulful purpose, and I feel like I can teach someone something, then I tend to just jump in with those feet.”
Photo courtesy of Chef Amy Sins