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Refugees can be at the heart of a change in British food culture

  • Written by  Andrea Rasca
  • Published in Opinions
Refugees can be at the heart of a change in British food culture
20 Jun
2019
Andrea Rasca is the founder of Mercato Metropolitano, a vibrant food market in Elephant & Castle, London which hosts a cookery class run by refugees. It is also a wider movement, calling for an improvement to the global food culture

The author Khaled Hosseini says it best: ‘Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us.’

I can never comprehend why ‘refugee’ is considered a dirty word in so many quarters, why many people’s natural reaction is not to welcome with opens arms, but to close borders. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of the amalgamation of cultures that refugees bring to their new asylum? Whether from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East or the Far East, refugees arrive with the desire to build a better life, bringing skills from the countries they have fled from that can help to build better communities.

World Refugee Day calls on the public to show solidarity with refugees who have fled violence, a message I fully endorse at Mercato Metropolitano (MM).

MM is a movement that actively backs the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, principally focusing on changing food culture all over the world and creating inclusive cities and communities, so that everyone is guaranteed access to nutritious and adequate food. We do this at our community market in Southwark, London, set-up to encourage our guests to sit together, talk and try different foods. Here, we have more than 50 trading partners, who serve ‘glocal’– globally-inspired, locally-sourced – food to everybody. And when I say everybody, I mean everybody. We are completely apolitical and welcome thousands of people from all races, religions and backgrounds every single day, as we look to ensure that everybody is fed nutritiously. The right to food is a fundamental human right that millions of Britons are denied, and so through a number of classes, clubs and community initiatives, we provide affordable and healthy produce to London’s food insecure.

There are more than 120,000 refugees in the UK according to latest figures, and tens of thousands more pending asylum cases – making up approximately one in 400 people in the UK – and they are more likely to experience food poverty than most groups. How is this something we can abide? We must show love and support to refugees, who are amongst the most in need within our society.

To think this way is not a political position, it is to be human. I am immensely proud to support refugees by providing a platform for a fantastic organisation, Migrateful, whom we host once a week at MM. Migrateful is a cookery initiative where asylum seekers, refugees and migrants struggling to access employment in the UK due to legal and linguistic barriers, teach their traditional cuisines to the public. Their chefs come from Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Albania, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cuba and Ecuador, each introducing their own culinary cultures to their students, many of whom are other refugees. 

It is extremely beneficial for our movement to offer these classes. MM encourages the use of fresh ingredients, in dishes cooked from scratch – an ethos that many migrant communities particularly embrace. They come from cultures where cooking, often for larger groups of people, is the norm and where the very concept of the junk, processed food our supermarkets sell is abhorrent. Giving them the opportunity to pass on their skills could make an incredible difference in the fight to change food culture in this country.

But as well as benefitting our movement, these classes give refugees a strong role in society, which impacts and educates others. The skills they can bring gives them a route back into work, which socially-minded restaurants and incubators, like MM, can take advantage of. Our trading partners are staffed by chefs from around the world, all with the skills to cook fresh, simple and nutritious food. We showed off our collaboration this week as part of the Refugee Food Festival – which took place in London for the first time – when we hosted a Syrian Supper Club, serving a Syrian-Italian fusion menu to celebrate the culture collaboration that we look to foster at MM.

It is exciting for us to be able to provide both refugee teachers and students with much needed education, resources, facilities, connections and economic opportunities. By welcoming refugees, we are opening the door to shared values and skills – in turn, improving our communities through a wider talent pool and an increased tolerance for different cultures. Refugees are ambitious and skilled people, who deserve the same respect and opportunities as anyone else. On World Refugee Day I hope we can all take in mind Khaled Hosseini’s words, and embrace our brothers and sisters from across the seas.

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