Telling Stories through Food

A few months ago, I stumbled upon a Buzzfeed post that was more than merely your simple “10 Best Things that You Don’t Really Need” or “27 Charts that Don’t Really Tell You Anything” posts. It was a post of substance. The piece, “3 Refugees Living in the UK Cook Their Favourite Meals From Home” by IsabelleOC, follows three refugees who have now resettled in the UK as they cook the dishes that make them remember their home.

As the world is pondering what to do with the over 4, 815, 360 Syrian refugees, this article seeks to fight the common idea that these refugees are outsiders, different, and simply want to take advantage of other countries. The reality is that almost 5 million people are fleeing intense conflict in search of peace and a better life. This is a matter of life or death for these people who are escaping a conflict that does not have an apparent end in sight. The question should not be IF we should allow refugees to resettle in places of peace, but rather WHERE, WHEN, and HOW we should allow these people to find the refugee that they are so desperately seeking.

Refugees, especially refugees from the Middle East, face significant stigma in societies of receiving countries. Simply take a look at some of the response on Twitter against Syrian refugees:

Even more alarming (or perhaps expected?), the Republican frontrunner Donald Trump just last month said this comment regarding unaccompanied Syrian minors, “I can look at their faces and say, ‘Look, you can’t come here.”  This deeply embedded discrimination against refugees is dehumanizing and only further causing oppression on an already highly oppressed people group.

So how can we fight for the dignity of the refugees? This is where the Buzzfeed article comes in. By showing that the refugees are not outsiders looking to “destroy our country,” but rather showing their humanity through the intimacy of their home life in their new country. To me, this article is even better because it is focusing in on food, one of the most normal, but intimate moments of our daily habits. As IsabelleOC follows each character, we learn their stories of how they came to the UK, but also why the specific dish that they are making is significant to their story. Val, a refugee from Cambodia tells of dreaming of Loc-Lac, a dish of good meat marinated overnight served with a lime-chili sauce, while hiding from the Khmer Rouge in the jungles. Nisad tells how while in detention in Bosnia, he would dream of Maslenica, a pie where flaky layers of filo dough embrace ghee, every time one of the guards nicknamed Maslenica would walk by. Sophie stirs a pot of semolina that brings her back to her childhood in Rwanda before the civil war. For each refugee, food represents a story of happiness at one point in their motherland, but it also contrasts the conflict that deprived them of such happiness. When they are able to cook these dishes, it is a small glimpse of their memories of their homeland. A memory of their homeland was not riddled in conflict and forcing them to look for refuge. Ever so intimately, these people share their stories through food and it sheds light on the humanity of the refugee experience.

All Photos Christopher Bethell for Buzzfeed 

At the same time, this article only tells the refugees’ stories of fleeing conflict, but does not tell of the struggles they faced when entering the UK, their new home. By no means is resettlement an easy process, as many refugees will face intense discrimination once they make it to their new home. Without going deeper into the resettlement experience, it seems that all of the problems of refugees subside when entering their country of refuge. If this article were to go deeper, light could be shed on the ways that receiving countries absolutely need more welcoming policies and even moreso need welcoming citizens. Imagine if receiving countries were to welcome refugees with the solace and dignity that they deserve, but how are we to make a change, if we do not know the ways that we fall short? And if we are not to make a change, how will this refugee crisis ever be resolved?

Will we make the change to welcome those in need?

Find out more about the food crisis with the Syrian Refugees and help them through donating to the UN World Food Program.

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