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Where Y'Eat: New Orleans Food Seasons, from the Dentist’s Chair

Cabbages will be flying as St. Patrick's Day parades roll in New Orleans. Just watch your face!
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Cabbages will be flying as St. Patrick's Day parades roll in New Orleans. Just watch your face!

It’s March in New Orleans, parades are again on the calendar and feasts are on the itinerary. Have fun, but for heaven’s sake, beware of flying produce and at all times, watch out for your teeth.

I’m talking about a different type of seasonal awareness for our food, and one that was brought home to me in a natural but still unlikely place – the dentist chair.

Maybe it should be no surprise that the endless conversation about food in this city carries over to the people who keep our chompers in good working order. Actually, food comes up quite often at my dentist’s office, though lectures about sugar and cavities aren’t part of these discussions anymore.

My dentist knows I write about restaurants for a living, so while he has me in the chair, with sharp picks and mini mirrors poking around, he pumps me for restaurant tips, and shares reports about his own dining experiences around town. I’m confident that my dental care is in good hands, but he and I are more likely to discuss margaritas than mouthwash.  

So, there between the floss and the gargle, the food talk continues with its themes of food seasons, cultural traditions and, from the dental perspective, just a little backbeat of danger in the midst of celebration.

It turns out that for all the pleasures Louisiana food brings, it can also inflict havoc on an otherwise healthy mouth, and local dentists can read the seasons by the types of complaints and injuries their patients bring their way. 

The leading culprit is shellfish, in all its local abundance and with all the zeal with which we tear into it. When oyster season revs up, so does a fresh crop of damaged teeth from their little hidden pearls. And later, when crabs are running fat, more little corners of their hard shells are bound to secret themselves into bisques or casseroles, waiting there to chip a tooth on an overeager bite.

The sportsman’s culture of Louisiana plays a part. When duck season starts, and freshly felled birds start making their way into roasting pans and gumbos, dental injuries from shot stuck in the meat escalate too.

Which brings us to March, a month with its own special perils in New Orleans. The St. Patrick’s Day parade floats unleash such a barrage of produce, you might consider wearing a mouth guard to the parade route. And even the devotional altars of St. Joseph’s Day get in on the act. Those traditional Italian cookies -- let’s remember that they’re best when dipped, and softened, in coffee or a little Marsala wine. When they’re rock hard, the can have the effect of rocks. A few calls about broken teeth are as inevitably a part of mid-March as strands of Italian-flag beads and kiss-me-I’m-Irish buttons.

None of this should discourage your appetite, but we could all do well to slow down and really appreciate our food seasons and our food culture – if only to make sure your next chair is at the dinner table, and not at the dentist.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.

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