By: David Fikes, Vice President of Communications and Consumer/Community Affairs, Food Marketing Institute
Standing where the levee breached

A little after sunrise on the morning of August 29,2005, the industrial Canal flood wall broke allowing Hurricane Katrina related flood waters to ravage the homes of some 3,400 families in the lower ninth ward of New Orleans. Over a thousand people lost their lives and thousands more lost their homes, their neighborhood and their livelihood.

Almost eleven years later, a small group of food retailers and manufacturers from the Global Sustainability Summit, hosted by the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association, weathered the New Orleans heat and humidity for a guided tour of the restored homes in this historic district. In truth, many of Katrina's scars linger in the ninth ward - strange concrete configurations randomly rising from the ground of some properties - the foundational outlines of structures viciously erased by the flood are tombstone-like reminders of the homes once resting there. But alongside these scarred lots, now stand some of the most energy efficient homes in the U.S.

Make It Right TourThanks to the work of the Make It Right Foundation this neighborhood is being restored with homes designed by some of America's leading architects who were challenged to provide the most economical, sustainable houses possible. Over 100 new houses have been constructed, providing new homes and new hope to Katrina-displaced ninth ward residents. Many more homes are in various stages of development and planning. Walking the streets of the ninth ward you cannot help but be struck by the irony that these models of structural efficiency are emerging out of the weather related devastation.

Moving from the basic human need for shelter to the other basic human need for food, our group journeyed to another part of New Orleans to see how Katrina impacted the Big Easy's oldest full service grocery store. Founded in 1922 by Michael Langenstein and his sons, Langenstein's remains a family owned and operated business, now in itsLangenstein's fifth generation. From store manager Chris Willig, we heard stories of how Langenstein's overcame the obstacles of the lack of power, a devastated labor force and limited supplier access to serve its shell shocked community's needs as evacuated residents returned to homes ruined by Katrina's rage. On an aisle bearing more than its fair share of Louisiana spices and sauces, pickled everything, and gumbo stock, Chris regaled us with tales of the shadows cast over the city by Katrina and the later BP oil spill.

In the midst of those dark times, Langenstein's sought to be a beacon of hope in their neighborhood, revealing the stability that deep roots in a place provide. In doing so they embodied the great truth of food retail - that when you honestly serve a community, the food you provide nourishes more than mere bodies, it restores a neighborhood's sagging spirit.  

Learn more about the Global Sustainability Summit and follow the conversation on social media with #FMIGMASummit