U. ARIZONA (US)—Add to the list of threats from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico the potential and real loss of unique regional foods and the hardships that loss creates for the often economically disadvantaged people who depend on them.

In a new report, University of Arizona researchers, working with the Renewing America’s Food Traditions Alliance, or RAFT, say more than 240 kinds of “historically eaten, place-based foods” are at risk for being lost from what has been a cornucopia for generations of Gulf Coast residents.

The majority of food items on that list are there because of the oil spill, says Gary Nabhan, a research social scientist at Arizona.

“Coastal and rural communities around the Gulf of Mexico provide most of the oysters, crayfish, brown shrimp, redfish, grouper, and other marketable seafood eaten in the United States,” Nabhan says.

“While we don’t endorse or condone the consumption of federal or state protected species, contaminated, or depleted stocks, our goals are to avoid both the loss of species and of Gulf Coast communities,” he adds.

Besides seafood, Nabhan says Gulf Coast residents also provide many other unique products to the American food system—from Tabasco sauce to okra and gumbo—that are likely to be indirectly affected if disruption of the seafood industry triggers more out-migration from the region.

The RAFT study, which began four years before the Deepwater Horizon accident, is based on archival research, oral history documentation, and participatory workshops with farmers, fishers, food historians, chefs, and conservation biologists.

It is, says Nabhan, the first assessment of how the million gallons of oil already let loose in the Gulf of Mexico may have long-term impacts on the food biodiversity upon which the regional economy depends.

“If the rarest of these food resources become depleted any further, their harvesters will surely lose their livelihoods, but consumers and chefs should not refrain from purchasing the safe, clean, and sustainably harvested foods that Gulf Coast communities provide,” he says.

“We need to find tangible ways to support these fishermen, oystercatchers, and shrimpers because many are from the marginalized ethnic groups in the United States.”

Those “marginalized peoples” of the Gulf Coast include low-income families from a variety of native and immigrant groups including Cajun, Creole Black, Houma Indian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Latino food producers.

More news from the University of Arizona: http://uanews.org/