â€œâ€¦two years after the storm many of the schools still do not have phones. That was the first of many unsettling discoveries.â€
-WWOZ producer David Weinberg
Welcome to the NPR Station Showcase with PRX. Iâ€™m your host and curator Aaron Henkin. Each week, this podcast gives a little extra attention to some of the outstanding work thatâ€™s being created locally by producers at the hundreds of different public radio stations around the country, and this week weâ€™re tuning in to WWOZ in New Orleans. These days, WWOZ broadcasts a regular feature called â€œStreet Talkâ€ â€“ itâ€™s a radio series that reports on issues crucial to the cultural rebuilding of the Crescent City. Producer David Weinberg is one of the folks who put those stories on the air, and he recently found himself reporting on the disintegration of New Orleansâ€™ culinary heritage. Hereâ€™s a brief Q & A with David about his story and what he learned while he was putting it togetherâ€¦
Stories about preserving old family recipes usually have a sort of quaint holiday vibe to them, but you’ve brought us a story that links the dissolution of home-cooking with some serious potential health problems… what got you pursuing this story, and were you surprised at what you learned along the way?
I attended the screening of a short documentary about food in New Orleans and after the film Sue Laudeman, curator of education at the historic New Orleans collection, got up and spoke about “A Dollop of History in every Bite” and I thought it sounded like a good idea for a radio story. I did find the results of their research startling, especially after visiting the public schools. That was an eye-opening experience. I had to get in touch with teachers here, and two years after the storm many of the schools still do not have phones. That was the first of many unsettling discoveries.
The whole idea that schools and grant programs are needing to intervene in order preserve culinary heritage for future generations… it seems pretty startling, like family bonds must be dissolving really rapidly. Do you think an outside effort like this is going to have much of an effect in the long run? Or are young people eventually just destined to eat pre-packaged foods from here on out?
I do believe that, here in New Orleans, the efforts will make a difference in the long run. But New Orleans will be the exception because there is a very concerted effort by the community to bring back culture bearers and preserve the historic traditions of the city. The storm brought about a new appreciation for the culture. In addition, it would take major changes in the very structure of our society to get parents to cook meals at home every night. But, what we can do as a society is find ways to make pre-packaged foods healthier. Unfortunately in that scenario we will still lose our culinary traditions, but we will at least provide healthy food to our children.
Tell us a bit about your radio background… how you got into the field, and what brought you to New Orleans and WWOZ…
I heard a Scott Carrier story shortly after I had been thrown out of college so I quit my job and spent the next four years of my life hitchhiking all over the world with a microphone clipped to my shirt. I left Alaska a little over a year ago and landed in Seattle with hundreds of hours of tape. I started learning how to use editing software and worked as a busboy until I had enough money to build a small recording studio out of my van. I left Seattle and drove around the country doing a story about couchsurfing.com, a website where people offer their couch as a place to crash for travelers. I ended up here in New Orleans and I walked into WWOZ and asked them if they had any work and since then I have been producing six-minute stories for their â€˜street talkâ€™ series.
The program that outfits school kids with tape recorders so that they can interview their elders about family recipes… that’s a pretty brilliant project. Did you learn any particularly good recipes along the way as you were putting this radio story together?
I learned some really great variations on a lot of the classic dishes like gumbo and Jambalya. Each cook down here seems to have a slightly different recipe for everything. But my favorite is bread pudding with whiskey sauce.
David Weinberg is a producer at WWOZ in New Orleans, Louisana. You can hear more of Davidâ€™s stories from the WWOZ â€œStreet Talkâ€ series online at The Public Radio Exchange. Thatâ€™s where producers from around the world share their work. Log on, write your own reviews, and have a say in what ends up on the radio at www.prx.org.