07/10/2010 06:20 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Sign of the Times in Generation Gulf

2010-07-10-P1100792.JPGSince I wrote "No Gulf Seafood? Sign at Taste of Chicago in Bad Taste," talk radio stations in New Orleans and Chicago have spent a few days discussing the "Our Lobster & Shrimp Are Not From the Gulf Coast" sign.

NBC Chicago's response: "New Orleans hates the Taste of Chicago," is not at all what I was going for, so here's a followup. No one would suggest that diners blindly assume that Gulf Coast seafood is safe but if a restaurant decides not to serve it, an italicized mention on the menu would be easier to digest than a banner. Although right now nothing is easy to digest. A way of life is in danger and we're all a little thin skinned. And scabby if we've been anywhere near the Corexit dumps.

For almost three months we've lived with knowing that millions of gallons of volatile organic compounds are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico after the BP's Deepwater Horizon Rig failed and killed 11 men. As of today, it isn't even capped. Rashes, dizziness and breathing problems are being reported by residents of Parishes closest to the oil leak. Benzene levels are off the charts. Severe depression is also on the rise among the newly unemployed from waitstaff at seafood restaurants to tour boat guides.

So yes, we're thin skinned, but it's important to note that benefits for the Coast have been hosted in Chicago for months. The Mississippi River has inextricably linked Chicago to New Orleans even before the Louisiana Purchase. Post-Katrina I've reported from both New Orleans and the Midwest and know both audiences but did not know their reactions to the sign would be so divergent. A commenter on my post wrote that "Since the engineers have reversed the flow of the Chicago River, all of their sewage come down the river to us. Maybe we should send some oil boom to them." And hundreds of Huffington Post commenters have suggested that since the Gulf Coast voted in politicians funded by big oil, it deserves whatever it gets.

But writing off a region because of its politics becomes more difficult if you think about the children breathing in the fumes and drinking the water. For anyone whose heart goes out watching innocent creatures suffering through a manmade disaster through fault of their own, include those kids. They are about to inherit a shoreline with tarballs washing in for years to come, and species that may go extinct within their lifetimes. I've heard from newly unemployed parents concerned about how to afford basic necessities, and that worry is going to carry over to their kids.

This debate between two regions started with a fish sign. The sign above, "We Love Our Children Please Drive Carefully," was taken on Grand Isle where you now cannot go within 65 feet of the Area of Containment formerly known as the beach without prior approval. The children of the Gulf Cost will remember that they were left unprotected from the greatest man-made environmental disaster in American history. And if we can't manage it ourselves, as they reach voting age they may be the generation to move us away from the stranglehold fossil fuels have on this country and its elected officials.

If we start with empathy and work from there, I hold out hope that the same nation that passed both civil rights and child labor laws can again pull together for the children of Generation Gulf.