Sarah Fouts and the Project Neutral Grounds team will collaborate with street-food vendors in New Orleans on a multipronged initiative dedicated to the complex history of food culture. The project entails public events featuring facilitated conversations among historians and vendors (not to mention opportunities to sample the latter’s wares, from tacos to Soul Food); a zine illustrating historic and contemporary stories about street food; and a digital and physical archive hosted by the Southern Food and Beverage Museum highlighting photos and oral histories. Through food, this project will intersect with histories of the city’s blending of cultures, of migration, and of how culture is re-formed in the wake of disasters like Katrina.
Project Neutral Grounds is a holistic project, creating something to attend, something to provoke discussion, and something tangible participants can take with them. Ultimately, the goals are to bolster the ongoing work of organizations like Project Hustle, which unites Black and Brown street vendors toward more cooperative work and cultural spaces with shared resources, to give street-food vendors a platform to showcase their experiences in the city, and to disseminate to a broad public these histories that have shaped New Orleans over the last two decades and longer.
The judges were compelled by the project team’s commitment to working collaboratively alongside community partners every step of the way. They also found the plan to give street-food vendors pamphlets to distribute to their customers to be an engaging and innovative way to introduce this history to audiences who may not seek out the humanities in more traditional forums. And as the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches in 2025, the judges were heartened by the roadmap this project lays out to empower New Orleans residents to discuss complicated histories through a shared love of good food.