The Katrina Ritual Meal 

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Not home for the anniversary? A Crescent City doctor suggests a communal reunion dinner.
You may, as a relocated NewOrleanian (or a friend or family member of one or more), be at a loss for how to commemorate the upcoming one-year anniversary of the Katrina tragedy, August 29, 2006. I have faith that each person and family, in time, will find its own way to observe the date. But for those who haven’t discovered it yet, and those who are open to ideas, Justin Lundgren has a suggestion. Yes, leave it to a Crescent City doctor to dream up a tasteful, ritual meal that is simultaneously a time for reflection and a celebration of the spirit of New Orleans.

The way Lundgren sees it, the people of New Orleans might be separated, but that doesn’t mean they can’t share a meal. The Katrina Dinner, a Passover-meets-Voodoo ceremony, is an open-to-variation operation that thrives on group warmth. And food. As proposed traditions go, I’m of the opinion that food is really the only deciding factor when it comes to answering the question, “Will it catch on?” And if it’s Creole, then all the better.

Here’s the rundown: Six rituals are to be performed prior to eating the formal dinner, including a candle blessing, a call-and-response of five questions, selected readings, a ritual food plate, a Katrina gris-gris, and a moment of silence.

(Note: The following is an abbreviated ritual-dinner tour — for complete directions for each ritual, selected readings, recipes for two possible menus, and more, check out Katrinadinner-2006.com.)

Here’s what you’ll need: candles, a small bag (red is customary, but any color will do), a New Orleans offering (smaller than the small bag), copies of the rituals for guests to follow, and a soundtrack of New Orleans music. You’ll also need cane syrup, dill pickles, oysters, small chocolates, grits, corn kernels, and wine for the ritual food plate.

Get started by reciting the candle blessing in unison:
“Let these candles bring the light of peace to this struggling world and to the people of New Orleans, many of whom have spent the last year in exile;
“Let these candles light a fire inside ourselves so that we might act with heart and perseverance in rebuilding our beloved city;
“Let the light of these candles renew our spirit and give us the strength and imagination to improve both ourselves and our city;
“Let the light inspire us to honor Katrina’s dead by refusing to allow this to ever happen again.”

Next, the oldest guest at the ceremony should pose the five questions aloud: “Why are we gathered here tonight?” “Why did this happen to us?” “Should we live somewhere else?” “Will the city ever be the same?” “What can I do?” Lundgren has delegated it to the youngest to respond on his or her own, or using one of the suggested responses listed on his Katrina Dinner website. After the five questions, adults may read aloud from several excerpts by such authors and artists as Louis Armstrong and Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to the website, if the next ritual — the food plate — is performed correctly, all parties should be mildly sloshed by the end of it. The key is “cleansing the palate” with wine after tasting each morsel.

And here’s where it gets a little witchy, women and men, boys and girls. For the Katrina gris-gris, each participant should place their New Orleans offering in the red bag, whilst revealing its meaning to the entirety of the party. Spell included!

“For New Orleans sake,
I invoke the Goddess of Protection,
I invoke my ancestor’s spirits.
Three times around, three times about
The world within, the world without.
In home and possessions, may good spirits abound
Evil and problems will not stay around.”

After the invocation, the bag is to be placed under the dinner table.
Finally, take a moment of silence for those who lost their lives.
Be sure to peruse the Katrina Dinner website for two succulent suggested menus, with either grillades and grits, or Andouille-stuffed, double-cut pork chops for the main course. Click on the different courses and you’ll be linked to authentic Creole recipes for each one. How authentic? All I have to say is, Bam!

More by Ashley Lindstrom

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