I just got home from a meeting at church about their refugee ministry. It sounded like a good way to get connected at church, and it looks like the way I'm going to be helping out is on the food front. Apparently many refugees have never used a stove, and the food they find at Meijer has little to do with the food they're accustomed to eating. And having been in refugee camps, they probably didn't even have much of their traditional cuisine, but rather Red Cross rations.
I still vividly remember a scene in the Lost Boys where the boys are on a flight for the first time and are confronted with western food for the first time. They took the butter packages and licked them clean--they didn't know any better. Refugees don't know many of the basic skills necessary to function in American society, and high on the list is how to cook using American cooking implements and American products.
Of course, I'm such a food nerd, I want to track down African spices for them, and help enable them to cook dishes that are familiar to them. I would enjoy learning from them as much as I would enjoy teaching them. I'm going to call the Splendid Table again, since I think Lynn Rosetta Kasper would get fired up with giving me ideas about African cuisine. I would imagine that traditional African spices have names that have little do with their English equivalent. I'd want to track them down and think it would be immense fun to see their faces light up when they open the bottle and smell something that reminds them of home.
It sounds like I'm going to be leading four women in a cooking expedition to Meijer, then showing them how to cook things at home. But it has to have certain parameters. Apparently they're on a budget of $400 a month for food for each family, which I think is very doable, if one shops intelligently. Also, they have benefits from the WIC program so I'm going to try and find out what foods they always have on hand. I'm thinking that root vegetables, rice and beans and the like could be constant staples around the house, and then one could supplement this with ground meats, and if chicken is on sale, with that, along with some canned and fresh veggies.
The woman who I spoke with doesn't really know their knife situation, so I suspect I'll be bringing my fancy-dancy knife sharpener along as well to make sure they're in good shape there too. As for now, I'm off to go be a food nerd and look up the foods of Rwanda, Cameroon, and Berundi.