Blog post written by Rania Abdullah, IUPUI Dietetic Intern
On September 3rd, 2021, Afghan refugees began arriving at Camp Atterbury, which is just south of Indianapolis. The evacuees are expected to arrive in waves, and Indiana has the potential to host 5,000 Afghans.
Gleaners Food Bank is seeking to understand the Afghan food and culture in order to welcome these new neighbors and better meet their needs. This blog post will take you on a tour of some of the customs, values, and foods that are important to the people of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan country outline and flag inlay. Image from commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_map_of_Afghanistan.svg
Language, Art, and Culture
There are more than 48 languages spoken in Afghanistan, but the most common are Dari (Farsi), and Pashto. Afghans live in tribes, divided into many subcultures, that share the same food, clothes, art, and lifestyle. Afghans are famous for handwoven rugs and ancient oil paintings found in caves. Musical instruments played in Afghanistan include harmonium, santur, tabla (small drums), sitar, and zurna. Afghanistan has many important architectural sites such as Herat, Mazar-l-Sharif, and Ghazni.
Foods and Dietary Practices
Mutton (lamb) is the most popular meat eaten in Afghanistan. Chicken is also common, and it is usually served with long grain rice, and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Favorite produce items include eggplant, spinach, potato, carrot, peas, tomato, cucumber, lettuce, dates, and melons. Fresh mint and coriander are also very common.
Popular Afghan dishes include:
Festivals and Holidays
Islam is the major religion in Afghanistan. Islamic holidays are celebrated according to the lunar calendar:
Ramadan is a very important month for Muslims. Image from ucf.edu.
Blog post content contributed by Joel Hollow, IUPUI Dietetic Intern
Approximately 24,000 individuals from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) live in Indianapolis. Many are refugees who have fled their home country to escape religious or ethnic persecutions. Others have immigrated here in search of a more promising and prosperous future for themselves or their families. A majority of local Burmese households has settled on the south side of the city (Perry Township, Southport, and Greenwood), making this area home one of the largest Burmese refugee populations in the United States.
The country of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Image from worldjusticenews.com
The people of Myanmar celebrate many different rich traditions and events throughout the year. These celebrations often involve special meals or dishes and time spent with loved ones. It is important that Gleaners is familiar with the cultural practices of the diverse community we serve so that we can better understand and meet the needs of our neighbors.
Some of the most popular Burmese holidays and celebrations include:
Chicken Potato Curry and Garlic Oil Noodles from The Rangoon Sisters Cookbook. Images from thehappyfoodie.co.uk/articles/10-burmese-dishes-to-discover-in-the-rangoon-sisters-cookbook
Thingyan water festival. Image from www.myanmartours.net/myanmar-thingyan-festival.html
Festival of Lights celebration. Photo from www.aljazeera.com
I started by working with the Immigrant Welcome Center (IWC) in order to get a better idea of how COVID-19 has been impacting the immigrant population and what Gleaners can do to help. The IWC reported that 38% of the immigrant population surveyed considered themselves to have less food security compared to before the pandemic. With more data from the IWC, I looked into Marion County zip codes with the highest numbers of immigrants reporting a need for food or rental assistance. This was an important step in my initial research that helped us better understand where immigrants are located and what resources are currently available to them. I continued by looking into how many American grocery stores, international grocery stores, convenience stores, food pantries, and food deserts are in these areas.
I also talked to IWC Natural Helpers (immigrants who volunteer to assist other immigrants), read research articles on food insecurity and food pantries pertaining to immigrant populations, and joined the IWC weekly partner calls. Through all of this information-gathering, I learned that there are several barriers that many immigrants face in consistently accessing nutritious foods. These include:
Image from IWC
These barriers fall into three categories:
All three categories of barriers must be addressed in order to create stable and sustainable solutions to food insecurity among immigrants.
What I learned from this experience:
From my background research, I learned that increasing access to foods that are familiar to immigrant households is crucial for improving food security among this population. I explored some ways that Gleaners might be able to partner with international grocery stores to increase the availability of culturally and religiously appropriate foods at pantries. I decided to visit an international grocery store myself to see how the selection of foods might differ from what is typically available at a traditional "American" grocery store. Watch the video below for a 30-second tour of the Saraga International Food Market that I visited on the northwest side of Indianapolis.
There were two key differences that stood out to me from my visit:
Images from Allison Drook and saragaindy.com
Exploring New Foods:
Wanting to look into more about foods from other cultures, I ended up buying some Fufu flour from the international market. This food comes from Nigerian culture and contains some of their staple foods: mashed plantain, potato granules, cassava, saffron and turmeric. I chose to focus on this culture because Nigeria is listed as one of the top countries of origin for immigrants served by the IWC, and I was not familiar with many of the common foods in this cuisine. Watch the video below to see how easy Fu Fu dough is to make!
Click the links below to view the other recipes and handouts that I made during this rotation. These were all designed to help immigrants utilize the foods they might receive from food pantries, as well as to introduce some new cultural dishes to anyone who likes to explore different cuisines!
I am excited to see how Gleaners continues this collaborative and important work! Some next steps for Gleaners and IWC include exploring ways to source more culturally appropriate foods and spices, helping agency pantries be more welcoming and inclusive of immigrant clients, and translating recipes and educational resources in different languages. Stay up-to-date on the progress of this project and other nutrition outreach programs by visiting the NutritionHub website, Facebook page, and Instagram account regularly!
Staff Registered Dietitians at Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, along with guest blog posts by dietetic interns