“The Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival is not a ‘food festival’ in the way those events are often construed today, full of TV chefs and pop-up restaurants and brands and small bites and flavor innovations and swag.”
Traveling down to the Gulf in Louisiana is like watching intricate sand patterns dissolve in the tide, land slowly giving way to water. Water is everywhere: along the side of the road, under the overpass, hanging in the sky.
Three of us were together in a car hurtling by this watery landscape. Emily Roehl, an artist and oil scholar, had long wanted to visit one of Louisiana’s premiere oil events for a research project. Julie Conquest, an artist and photographer, was game to shoot photographs. And Jeannette Vaught came on the project to gather audio interviews and oral histories with support from nonprofit organizations Foodways Texas and the Southern Foodways Alliance. We all drove from Austin to Morgan City over Labor Day Weekend 2017 in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which had devastated southeastern Texas just days before, to document the 82nd Annual Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. The forecast for coastal Louisiana was iffy, and we anxiously checked the festival website for news of cancellation. We’d joined the panicking people at gas stations in Austin the night before we left, and we’d lengthened our drive considerably by going north from Austin to Shreveport and then dropping down to St. Mary Parish—a good ten hours. Interstate 49 from Shreveport to Lafayette floated uncertainly above floodwaters and looked more like a causeway than a broad, 245-mile interstate highway. We arrived at our hotel in Patterson in the hazy late afternoon, and piled back into the car for the drive to Morgan City shortly after. The festival was on, and we were giddy enough from making the trip after all that worry and all that water to propel us into Friday night.