Learning to navigate a new food system

 In Building Community, Food Skills & Nutrition, Good Food Stories

Every Monday for the past two months, Food Matters Manitoba has been running its Newcomer Nutrition Program with a group of Arabic newcomer families. The program was taught in Arabic. It is designed to help make the transition to a different culture and food system a litArabic Newcomer Nutritiontle easier to navigate.

Before we go any further let’s get one thing straight, these newcomers do not attend our programming to learn how to cook!

They are often (and this group was no exception) amazing cooks! We heard stories and saw pictures of delicious homemade Arabic breads and pickles, cheeses, meat dishes, and desserts. The Newcomer Nutrition program is structured so that the participants learn and discuss a topic and cook an easy meal to share and enjoy while going over the topics of that night.

Newcomer Nutrition is aimed at helping newcomers navigate an unfamiliar food system while prioritizing traditional diets. For this group of Arabic newcomers that meant learning how to recognize certain English words on food labels, ingredients to look out for, where to find halal foods, and making recipes that use ingredients that are common in most grocery stores.

One of the most important outcomes of running the Newcomer Nutrition program is providing tools to understand Grocery Store Tourfood and nutrition labels in Canada.  Some of the Arabic newcomers in this session were in the midst of taking English classes. This creates a barrier when trying to interpret the nutritional content of certain foods. Food labeling and packaging is something that can deceive us in our own languages. In this session, we tried to make this process easier by offering translations and discussing the benefits of nutrients and the different ways they can help including sugar, different fats, sodium, and fibre.

At the end of every Newcomer Nutrition program, the participants are invited to bring a dish for a group potluck. I was lucky enough to be able to take part in this potluck and the sharing of these traditional foods. The potluck felt reminiscent of a show and tell, where all are open to sharing something so close and important to them. It was an invitation to engage in and appreciate each other’s cultures. It is always exciting to see the pride on people’s faces at the opportunity to share the things they have spent hours and lifetimes making, the joy of being able to share something that tastes of home.

Watch a video on CTV Morning Live featuring the last class of the Arabic Newcomer Nutrition program here.

This summer Food Matters Manitoba will be hosting two more Newcomer Nutrition sessions. We hope to hold another Arabic Newcomer Nutrition session in the fall in partnership with Norwest Community Food Centre and are open to future partnerships.

If this is program is something that appeals to you email our Newcomer Nutrition Program Coordinator, Tressa at tressa@foodmattersmanitoba.ca

Written by: Rebecca Black, Visual Communications Coordinator
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