|A bulk order of Louisiana crawfish. Photo: nola.agent, Flickr
Louisiana crawfish advocates have finally discovered -- after years of unsuccessfully appealing to economic interests -- that the quickest way to consumers' hearts is actually via their (unsettled) stomachs.
The state legislature this year enacted a law requiring restaurant owners to disclose whether their crawfish is Louisiana-raised. Bill sponsor Fred H. Mills, Jr. -- a pharmacist whose district includes Breaux Bridge, better known to Cajun gourmands as the "Crawfish Capital of the World" -- credits the law's passage to a major tactical shift.
"Everyone was upset that Chinese seafood was being disguised as Louisiana seafood, but the law just never could get any legs to it," Mills says. "The difference this time was we didn't talk about commerce. We talked about public safety."
The campaign against imported crawfish, after the jump.
And Mills didn't just talk. He took to the floor of the Louisiana House with vivid illustrations depicting Chinese crawfish ponds clogged with human waste. "We did get pretty graphic," Mills admits. "You wouldn't believe where this crawfish comes from. It's coming from open sewers. If someone eats that stuff and gets sick or dies, it could cripple our industry."
The Louisiana Department of Agriculture helped take Mills' case straight to the state's eaters with a new promotional campaign, called "Ask Before You Eat," which debuted this summer. Eight bulletin boards scattered across the state put consumers in a watchdog role, prompting them to request Louisiana crawfish when shopping or dining out. Carrie Castille, deputy assistant to the Agriculture Department's commissioner, swears more folks are asking purveyors to reveal their sources.
"It's become a food safety concern," Castille says. "People are a lot more aware of where their food comes from."
Unfortunately for local workers, demand for Louisiana crawfish already outstrips supply. Castille says overseas competition and a depleted labor pool have forced the closure of many crawfish processing houses over the past decade, meaning a staggering number of presumably delicious crawfish are habitually left in the field.
According to Mills, it's not just locals who should be concerned about their crawfish. If he has his druthers, the "Ask Before You Eat" program will soon inspire eaters from Connecticut to California to bug their servers for crawfish that was Louisiana-grown. While keeping Louisianans safe is a top priority, further strengthening the state's $385 million edible industry is an awfully nice lagniappe.