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Where Y’Eat: The Gift of Crawfish Culture Endures in a Hard Season

Crawfish is a seasonal obsession in Louisiana.
Ian McNulty
Crawfish is a seasonal obsession in Louisiana.

Football season starts with the first whistle on the gridiron. Carnival season starts with your first bite of king cake.

For me, something more subtle but unmistakable marks the advent of crawfish season in Louisiana — the true start, that is, not simply when you can buy them, at whatever cost, but when the social rituals we weave around mudbugs come to full bloom.

Despite all the factors stacking up against Louisiana's crawfish culture this year, I still saw it play out at a friend’s backyard boil. It happened as the angst over pricing finally took a back seat to renewed rivalries over technique and the gamesmanship that distinguishes the serious aficionado of the boil.

And this, is how we know crawfish season has really begun in Louisiana. Prices are still high, the longevity of supply is in question, but people are plunging back into the pleasures of the boil and the culture we build around it, arguments and all.

Crawfish has been available for months, of course. But the story of this season has been the lasting impact of last year’s severe drought on the areas across Louisiana that produce the vast majority of the American crawfish harvest. It’s been a pinch at the register, and it’s been far worse for people whose livelihoods are fixed to the seasonal surge in spending that crawfish normally brings.

But now, everywhere I go, I see fresh evidence of the ritualized power of crawfish in Louisiana.

Crawfish, after all, is not just a meal. For some it’s a pursuit, a hobby. It takes skill. It requires gear. It has a season, and you look forward to that season all year.

Whatever we get out of this crawfish season, the final tally can still include time spent with family and friends around a hands-on tableau of Louisiana flavor and tradition. Keeping that going, and indulging ourselves and our guests a bit more, will also help the people who bring all of this to us in good seasons and in the one we’re peeling through now.

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