In November, President-elect Joe Biden selected Baton Rouge native Linda Thomas-Greenfield to serve as ambassador to the United Nations. Thomas-Greenfield, who has served as a diplomat for 35 years, signaled that her appointment would represent a turn to allyship—with “a Cajun spin.” Gunboat diplomacy, with its bitter notes of 19th century imperialism, will be replaced by what she calls “gumbo diplomacy.” What exactly does that mean? We set the pot to simmer and took a journey into gumbo-as-metaphor for some guidance (don’t worry, we took turns stirring). Here’s how people are using Louisiana’s official cuisine:11. Louisiana Revised Statutes, Title 49 §170.12.
To describe our coastal ecosystems (“An estuary is an area where fresh and saltwater mix forming a rich gumbo of plant and animal life.”)22. From “Aquatics Study Guide,” a publication by the Aquatics Station for the Louisiana Envirothon (Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality).
To beg for federal money to fight climate change (“Louisiana is the roux for our nation. If we neglect it, the consequences will be far-reaching and irreversible.”)33. National Disaster Resilience Competition Phase II Application, State of Louisiana, Division of Administration, Disaster Recovery Unit.
To sell buzzwordy tech to the oil industry (“Data Gumbo is… creating the massively interconnected blockchain network GumboNet™ for industrial companies including oil & gas”)44. “OOC Oil & Gas Blockchain Consortium Awards Data Gumbo First Contract to Implement a Blockchain Pilot in Water Haulage,” September 2019, Businesswire.
To lament gentrification (“We’re becoming ‘Any City’ with gumbo. Property investors and speculators are interested in turning a profit not the protection of our historical areas.”)66. From a public comment by Carolyn G. of Burgundy Street. submitted to the City Planning Commission’s 2018 Short Term Rental Study.
To sell condos to the “I add tomato” crowd (“The immediate neighborhood around 500 Tchoupitoulas is a dynamic mix of scales and transitions… gumbo of styles”)77. From a May 2014 City Planning Commission report and recommendation (denial).
To make tax increases and austerity easier to swallow (“I recall saying two things our state would never run out of were gumbo and gumption … now is the time for both.”)99. From a February 2016 speech by Gov. John Bel Edwards, transcription available on nola.com.
To give tokenism some of dat full-bodied flavor (“New Orleans is representative of a ‘gumbo’ of ethnicities and cultures, and its City government must be a leader in inclusion.”)1010. From “Spanish Language Version: Doing Business in the City of New Orleans” in an Office of Community and Economic Development report.
To promote political orthodoxy (“I know that these things I am suggesting will not be popular with anarchists or new comers that do not understand the gumbo that is our city.”)1111. From a July 2020 email to Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the City Council by Mary M. entitled “statue vandalism and street renaming.”
To roux-wash Andrew Jackson’s legacy (“Not only did Jackson’s gumbo of citizens fight together, we prayed together.”)1212. From a June 2020 email to Council Member Jay Banks by Elizabeth S. entitled “We Need to Preserve the Statue of Andrew Jackson.”
To establish soft dominance over foreign diplomats (“[Making gumbo] was my way of breaking down barriers, connecting with people and starting to see each other on a human level. A bit of lagniappe is what we say in Louisiana!”)1313. Analysis from WaPo opinion columnist James Hohmann, November 2020.
image courtesy of the public domain