By Erik Paskewich, Social Entrepreneur
Growing up in New Orleans means that you think a lot of strange things are normal. It’s normal to eat pounds of mud-dwelling crustaceans. It’s normal to shut down the city for a few days at the even the possible threat of ice. It’s normal to talk too loud, eat and drink too much, and dance until the sun comes up. New Orleans has a different mindset about how life is supposed to be and no event represents that better than Mardi Gras.
Trying to describe Mardi Gras to someone who has never been is ultimately a futile task. No description can truly convey the feelings I have when I see St. Augustine’s Marching 100 playing on St. Charles Avenue. Nothing can recreate the companionship of seeing the same faces at your spot on the parade route year after year. Nothing can capture the feeling of seeing people of from every background get together to dance in the streets. The entire tradition is uniquely New Orleans. Although you may find other Mardi Gras celebrations in other cities, there is nothing quite like our version. Mardi Gras in New Orleans, in my opinion, is definitively the best party in the world. Believe it or not, the party can still be improved.
The biggest contradiction of Mardi Gras involves the item that everyone at the parade is vying for: the beads. If you’ve gone to enough Mardi Gras parades, you can say that you’ve seen people do outrageous things for a nice strand of beads. High quality beads can bring out the competitive, rambunctious side of normally mild-mannered people. On the other hand, more and more people are dodging the cheaper beads that are thrown in bulk. These cheaply made beads lay on the ground after the parade is over. Most people cannot be bothered to even bend over to pick up the cheaper plastic beads as they lay on the ground. Even fewer people actually think about where the beads came from and where they will go after the last float passes.
Louisiana is paying a price for the cheap beads on the ground. We import these beads from factories in China with poor working conditions. The beads are cheaply made, generic, and toxic. They fill our landfills and leach toxic chemicals into the water table. The beads do not reflect the rich and vibrant culture of Louisiana.
The people of Louisiana are fiercely proud of their home state. New Orleanians can even be described as being “proud of their pride.” This is how local chains such as K&B and Hubig’s Pies became cherished New Orleans traditions. Cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all solutions that seem to work in every other city are rarely embraced by New Orleans. Why, then, do the core products of New Orleans’ most famous tradition not reflect this pride? After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the mentality of Louisiana became one of self-reliance. I see no reason that this should not extend to Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras should reflect the values of New Orleans. New Orleans is unique, inventive, and self-reliant. We can make our own Mardi Gras throws and we can do it better than anyone else. While manufacturing jobs are disappearing across the country, we have the opportunity to bring jobs back into Louisiana by making our own Mardi Gras throws. We can create one-of-a-kind works of art to throw at our parades. Everyone wants a Zulu coconut or a Muses shoe. Most people display these throws on their mantle in their homes as a sort of trophy after Mardi Gras. No one displays a trash bag of cheap beads on their mantle after a parade. Let’s focus on quality over quantity so that every throw is worth putting up on the mantle.
Zombeads, a social enterprise owned by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, makes sustainable, local Mardi Gras throws. In addition to custom throws, Zombeads offers hand-rolled paper beads, handbags made from discarded rice bags, key chains made from recycled window shutters, ceramic doubloons, and burlap voodoo dolls. All profits support the Bucket Brigade’s work in fighting air pollution. For more information click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.