The news is dominated by the story of the 25 000 new Syrian neighbours we expect to welcome in Canada over the next few months. Refugees and new immigrants often experience a hunger and food insecurity in their first months in a new country for a number of complex reasons*:
- New immigrants often rely on welfare, disability payments, or minimum wage jobs as their primary source of income, and are thus not able to afford adequate food
- May live in disadvantaged neighborhoods, lack a social support network, are not fluent in English, have limited knowledge of local customs and culture, have minimal savings to fall back on, must rely on public transportation, may not have job opportunities in their field
- Foods available in Canada are often unfamiliar, out of their price range, or of poor quality, especially if obtained at a food bank or charitable meal program
For most, as they acculturate and acclimatize, new Canadians no longer struggle with hunger. Individuals become familiar with the social benefit system, foods available in Canada, and are more likely to secure stable employment and adequate income. Unfortunately, as many adopt Western lifestyles, including physical inactivity and consumption of more processed foods, they experience an increase in obesity and chronic disease, such as diabetes and heart disease.
To address food insecurity for Syrian refugees or other new immigrants:
- Learn about the roots of the conflict, and the culture and familiar foods from their region, taking ideas from The Conflict Kitchen in the United States, or the Conflict Café in England, two restaurants that serve food from countries in conflict
- Support organizations that provide food for the refugees, though volunteering, financial or practical gifts
- Remember that refugees may need specialized foods, such as infant formula or soft foods for older adults
- Our favourite foods and eating practices may be unfamiliar to new neighbours. Asking about what kinds of food they eat can help open the doors to new relationships.