If you stand in the middle of the Marigny on Lundi Gras day, you’ll find yourself surrounded by dancing feet, an abundance of alcohol—and dried kidney beans. The newly formed Red Beans Parade, made up of 300 official members and thousands of locals, most of whom have glued red beans and rice all over their clothes, heads to the historic Treme neighborhood. Jagged sidewalks brim over with supporters, and a handful of brass bands dripping in funk make their way down pothole-filled streets. Welcome to the walking parade celebrating bean culture and bringing Lundi Gras back to New Orleans’ communities.
It all started 11 years ago, with a handful of folks who just really liked beans. In 2008, Devin De Wulf, the parade’s founder, convinced ten of his friends to join him in gluing kidney beans and rice on their clothes and marching in Treme the day before Fat Tuesday. The Treme Brass Band joined what would later be known as the inaugural march of the Krewe of Red Beans. Over the years they embraced anyone who wanted to cover themselves in beans and take to the streets. As the krewe grew, Devon saw an opportunity to push his new bean family to be a vehicle for good, focusing on developing community both within the group and throughout the city.
I was born and raised in this city, and during Mardi Gras I was surrounded by creativity, love, and family. It’s a city whose staple dishes can’t serve fewer than ten, and prefer to serve more than 50. They flourish in the sea of hungry people: spicy jambalaya overflows from flimsy white plastic bowls; thick chicken and andouille gumbo sprawls on beds of white rice; newspapers normally splattered with political nonsense are more aptly covered in crawfish. If you’re lucky, you’ll wind up with a bowl of velvety red beans and rice topped with yellow mustard and Crystal hot sauce. The dish is embedded in the city’s identity. You can find it in basically every cafeteria, restaurant, and grandmother’s house on a Monday. It’s as well-known a symbol as the fleur-de-lis and represents this southern town’s culinary community better than anything else.
Local legend claims the dish became tied to Mondays as a way to turn the mundane into the delicious. Before the invention of the washer/dryer, Mondays were for labor-intensive laundry duties, and needed a meal requiring little attention. The beans soak overnight, then softly simmer throughout the day with seasonings and whatever leftover meat hangs off the bones from Sunday’s meal. It’s easy, delicious, and calls for widely available ingredients. New Orleans communities—and a rich foundation of culture—are built on this staple. Even Louis Armstrong used to sign his letters “red beans and ricely yours.” So now, and rightfully so, the dish officially has its own parade on Lundi Gras to celebrate one of the culinary pillars of New Orleans.
In recent years, the Red Beans Krewe has paired up with Eat Nola Noir, a group celebrating Black-owned culinary institutions, to host supper clubs at a variety of local restaurants. The krewe hosts charity events, including a bean cookoff called Bean Madness, and every Monday for months leading up to Lundi Gras, they get together over drinks, laughter, and beans to decorate their intricate suits. Most importantly, and in the most ‘New Orleans’ way, it’s a parade that’s bringing Lundi Gras back to the city’s communities.
Most of the more widely known Mardi Gras parades have krewes of over 700 members and make their way riding on floats from uptown towards the quarter, almost always on the same route. The Red Bean Parade’s mission, as De Wulf says, is to, “create this sort of intimate, magical neighborhood walking parade” by capping its members at 150 per bean krewe, and designing parade routes that pass local businesses. Which means, of course, that there are multiple krewes. As of this writing, the members are separated into two groups, the OG Krewe of Red Beans, and the 2018-born Dead Beans Krewe, whose members dress to celebrate folkloric traditions that deal with death—while still, as always, decorating their fits with plenty of beans. The two groups march from opposite sides of town to meet in Treme.
That’s De Wulf’s dream: having Lundi Gras be “a bunch of different bean parades that are all happening at the same time … in separate parts of the city but then they come together at the end.”
Imagine a day in New Orleans where every neighborhood has their own krewe, each one celebrating the dense culture of legumes from different areas of the world. Each one would take to the streets, supporting local businesses on their way to Treme, and once they arrived everyone would mingle, dance, and be merry. In a city that’s shaped like a bowl, it makes a lot of sense.