Lending A Hand

When the world views the horrible destruction of Hurricane Katrina and the lesser but still significant destruction of Hurricane Rita, it is understandable that the world might view the United States as out of business.

Yet despite the terrible conditions and real despair caused for many people by these natural disasters, the shocking thing is how little these events actually have interfered with international commerce.

Horrible as the destruction was, most of the United States was untouched. Exports from California, Florida, New York, Illinois, Georgia, Washington were unaffected. Even Texas was affected in only a few percent of its territory.

The terrible situation of so many individuals can mask how well prepared most businesses were. National and international companies moved operations with aplomb. Indeed, organizations such as Federal Express, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot proved so effective in managing logistics that many have seriously commented that large portions of the relief efforts in situations such as this ought to be privatized.

Even smaller companies located in the epicenter of the disaster fared surprisingly well. Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasonings Blends, a significant exporter of spices and seasonings mixes, is based in New Orleans. Its very existence grows out of the city’s culture and food. Magic Seasonings is not a big multinational with plants around the world waiting to shift production at a moment’s notice; it is a company that is almost inconceivably rooted in the heart of this tragedy’s path.

Yet, thanks to planning and a dedicated, energetic staff, it has not merely survived, but prevailed. First, the company evacuated in groups to Arkansas and Baton Rouge, then set up alternative distribution networks, temporary phones, faxes, e-mails, even a camp right on its property so employees, even those who lost homes, could still contribute.

Production was disrupted and sales and shipping temporarily suspended, but they were quickly up and running again. Chef Paul quickly made himself part of the relief effort by spearheading a charitable organization to which the whole world can contribute:

Donations to “Chefs Cook for Katrina,” a charity effort operated by the Community Foundation of Acadiana, will be used exclusively to help Chef Paul and other local chefs who will be cooking for first responders — police, firefighters, volunteers and the military. The fund will provide food, supplies, paper goods, etc., to help in Katrina relief efforts. Donations are tax-deductible. Checks must be made payable to “Community Foundation of Acadiana” and mailed to Community Foundation of Acadiana, Attn: Chefs Cook for Katrina, P.O. Box 3892, Lafayette, LA 70502-3892.

It is a particularly American thing to set up private organizations to help with this kind of relief. Chef Paul didn’t wait for the federal government or the state of Louisiana or the city of New Orleans to solve the problems. He set up an organization to contribute to the solution.

As 19th-century French author and statesman Alexis de Tocqueville said in Democracy in America: “Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations…In democratic countries, knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.”

Contributing money to this fund, or others like it, is a generous and kind gesture to help a city that has always held a special grip on the American imagination. New Orleans is both quintessentially American and a place apart. Its French heritage makes it exotic and different, while its ancient (for America!) pedigree makes it quintessentially ours.

Although I encourage donations and thank the many of our readers who contacted me asking for ways to help, I also think that for a capitalist country such as the United States, the best help our overseas friends can provide is good business.

Do a special Cajun or Creole promotion and highlight this unique flavor profile of America. Promote the products of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, the panhandle of Florida, Houston/Galveston and the east coast of Texas. If you need ideas or help, don’t hesitate to e-mail us. If you do a promotion, send us a photo and description.

Business creates jobs, and jobs are the key to rebuilding devastated areas. If you want to be a contributor to the solution, promote that great New Orleans cuisine.

Through Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasoning Blends, the whole world can taste a little bit of New Orleans, and by promoting this taste and the regional products that go along with it, the whole world can stand with the downtrodden and help build a new future for the people of the region and the city of New Orleans.