Social Inclusion and Ethnic FoodsAugust 6, 2021
Social Inclusion is multifaceted and ethnic food is an important ingredient for immigrants and refugees especially in creating a sense of belonging in their new country. We recognize that it takes a village to create social inclusion.
In the article Acculturation and nutritional health of immigrants in Canada speaks of the “healthy Immigrant Effect referring to the fact that immigrants tend to be healthier than the Canadian-born population when they first arrive in the country due to the selection effect of immigrants. Indeed, to immigrate, candidates for immigration undergo medical screening and people who have health problems generally do not immigrate. However, immigrants tend to experience a rapid deterioration in their general health status after settlement in Canada due to lifestyle changes including patterns of physical activity and dietary habits.
Among the many factors that contribute to the loss of the Healthy Immigrant Effect is nutrition transition. This transition is thought to be mediated by dietary acculturation, which is the process by which immigrants adopt the dietary practices of the host country. Further, immigration related cultural changes have been found to be independently associated with high blood pressure.
The impact of acculturation can be more significant than changes in diet or physical activity and may increase the risk of obesity across generations. Although there is much evidence supporting the existence of the loss of the Healthy Immigrant Effect in Canada, little is known about immigrant nutritional health and immigration related dietary changes.”
The lack of availability of and ability to afford the diet from their home country impacts our elders, newcomers, and refugees disproportionately. A significant proportion of immigrants and seniors are nostalgic for the foods of their home country. It has been reported that adults who migrate later in life feel alienated if the foods they are accustomed to is not available to them. For many adults who migrate, familiar foods are an important ingredient in adjusting to a new culture.
Recently a story was shared with me of a senior in a retirement home and was very unhappy being there and started losing weight because of the food that was served. When her church member started bringing her enough Indian food every weekend to last for the week, she started eating more and her mood improved.
One organization that has made significant strides for social inclusion utilizing ethnic foods is Equal Chance who launched a culturally relevant food program because pandemic reinforced the challenges many people were facing particularly refugees, newcomers, low-income people, seniors, people living with disabilities, LGBTQ+, people with underlying medical conditions, and families who do not have a home kitchen while they await housing. The executive director Gwen has had difficult times, she has channelled that into helping the marginalized to feel a sense of belonging, “things humble us and gives us a new perspective and enable us to support others.”
This cultural relevant food security program is offered in 17 languages six days a week by utilizing a diverse pool of volunteers to provide and deliver ethnic traditional food to her clientele. How they open when they receive the food from their home countries, and we speak to them in their language. “As the saying goes if you speak to me to in your language I will listen with my mind, speak in my language and I will listen with my heart, and we are taking that approach with our food and other programming at Equal Chance,” Gwen.
The diverse group of volunteers allow Equal Chance to appropriately serve many cultures, because they understand how hard it is to navigate in this new society especially for new immigrants and refugees. “We speak to them in their own language, give them food from their home country, this increases their sense of belonging. Food brings people together, starts conversation, as a result they were able to share challenges they are facing with us and provide referrals from mental health to employment resources.” Gwen’s mantra is “It takes a village so Equal Chance collaborates and referring clients to different organizations for assistance.”