The powerful way food unites, celebrates and welcomes newcomers

Project: Good Food Stories

Food unites us. Sharing food, culture, and stories allow us to connect with others from different backgrounds. This incredible ability of food to unite can be seen in the Newcomer Nutrition Program offered at the United Church in Meadowood.

Over the past six weeks, this group of newcomers has been learning about preparing nutritious meals that incorporate cultural foods and western foods. This was the final class for this group, and while most were sad to see the end of the program, there was also just cause for celebration! To celebrate the time shared together, everyone, including volunteers of the church who sat in the classes, brought in a prepared dish for a potluck party.

Laughing and learning through mistakes

Laughing and learning from mistakes

But before we could get into the celebrations, Amalia and Afroza, the two program facilitators led a quick cooking class, as they have been doing for the past few weeks. This week? A common favourite in Manitoba – chicken fingers with honey dill sauce and fries. The energy in the kitchen was electric, everyone was eager to be involved in the preparation of these dishes, from reading out the recipe to measuring out and chopping ingredients. And when the dry breading accidentally got mixed with the egg dip (for the chicken fingers), Amalia was quick to say, “That’s not a problem at all. We’ll just make a modified recipe!” It was refreshing to see how fun cooking with others, and even making mistakes along the way, could be.

Potlucks showcase the amazing way food unites us

Potlucks showcase the amazing way food unites us

A long table sat in the church activity hall decorated with dishes from all over the globe. Crab sushi, saheena with tamarind sauce (an East-Indian dish), authentic pad thai, hot and sour prawn soup, steamed buns, and fresh salad rolls to name a few. Most of these dishes are nutritious, but sourcing ingredients for cultural dishes, or finding the time to prepare a traditional meal can be difficult in a western lifestyle. “Asian foods can take around two hours for me to prepare. I had to make my dish last night,” said Tony, a chef at a local Thai restaurant, “Canadian foods are prepared so quickly!”

Just one of the healthy cultural dishes at the potluck, fresh salad rolls with peanut sauce

Just one of the healthy cultural dishes at the potluck, fresh salad rolls with peanut sauce

While Amalia urges this group to “not forget your roots”, knowing how to read nutrition labels in Canada and learning to modify traditional dishes to be healthier can be very helpful for newcomers to Canada. The impact of these classes can be magnified if the participants have children at home, as many shared that they have tried out the class recipes at home. “Last class I learned how to make smoothies,” said Sandra, a program participant. “When I got home, I started to try it! I bought a large package of frozen berries… my daughter thought it was so delicious.”

Over the course of the potluck meal, I witnessed new friends share cultural foods, swap gifts, and retell stories of experiences with food in their new country. It was obvious to me that these past six weeks have been about more than just food. In meeting and gathering to learn about nutrition and food in Canada, this group has demonstrated how food unites us all, despite differences and backgrounds.

The newest graduates of the Newcomer Nutrition Program

The newest graduates of the Newcomer Nutrition Program

At the end of the meal, Misha shared how much she valued the time spent together, bonding over food.  “Knowing how to make food is important, but even more important is meeting all of you, talking and sharing food.”

By: Danielle Moore, Communications Intern, Food Matters Manitoba

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