Posted by: trudecdgecs | July 22, 2009

Cooking classes for refugee men in the UK

Health  workers in Manchester, UK were concerned that many refugee men were losing weight upon their resettlement – some as much as 14 kilograms! 

Investigation revealed that these men often ate only one meal a day due to several factors: they were used to food being cooked by women and didn’t know how to cook; they were used to communal eating and eating alone reminded them of their losses; they were unable to recognize food in supermarkets, such as shrink-wrapped meat; they didn’t recognize or know how to cook English vegetables.

Researcher and nurse Cath Maffia and the Wellbeing Project at Refugee Action therefore decided to provide cooking courses for refugee and assylum-seeker men. Participants came from several countries in the Middle East and Africa. The first course began with a shopping trip to the supermarket, and later classes focused on cooking three dishes each. Dishes and ingredients were based on requests from participants. At the end of each class, the men ate a meal together, strengthening their social support networks and building friendships.

The second course was designed in consultation with participants from the first course. It included men from the host community and culminated in a lunch to which local community members were invited.  Thus, as an added benefit of the course, relations between the refugee community and host community were strengthened.

Courses successfully improved the nutrition of the men by teaching them how to prepare cheap but flavorful meals and how to navigate between their home eating patterns and their new conditions in the UK.  In addition to this, the cooking classes facilitated friendships and empowered the men. Participants enjoyed the control they felt when choosing meals and the activity of cooking and eating food. Many of the men took pleasure and pride in preparing food for their families and friends, sharing their newfound skills with others. One participant is now pursuing a career in catering.

For more information, the full 5-page project  summary (PDF) can be found here.

Cath Maffia’s personal website is here.

Related: A recent Washington Post article describes cooking lessons for Latino immigrants to the US, teaching them how to use canned food to prepare cheap but healthy meals with familiar flavors. The immigrants were previously unfamiliar with using canned food.

Images from Wikimedia Commons.

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