Refugee Kitchens: Growing Faraway Seeds Into Local Plates
Food is a universal language. Go to Italy, and you won’t have to speak a word of Italian to meet eyes with the chef and acknowledge a good bowl of pasta. Food is also a universal human need; for rich, poor, or in between, refugee kitchens feed without discrimination.
When refugees resettle in the United States, they bring with them a deep food heritage rich in culture and tradition, where their new community is better for their knowledge.
In 2022, the United States will welcome up to 125,000 refugees. From 2010 to 2020 most refugees were fleeing their countries due to political upheaval and came predominantly from Myanmar, Iraq, and Bhutan. In 2021, this changed almost completely with refugees hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine.
These families are asylum seekers fleeing war and upheaval or those who have had their human rights violated. At the end of each day, we are all the same, driven to ensure the safety and happiness of our families through a prosperous livelihood.
While they often arrive with only the clothes on their back, refugees’ food knowledge travels within them. Given the opportunity to use this specialty knowledge can allow refugee families to build a life while enriching their local communities with authentic cuisine, traditions, and stories at the same time. Food creates a common language to make connections with a new community. It is the ultimate uniter, where breaking bread is a universal language.
Perhaps the biggest impact of supporting refugee chefs is letting them shed the term “refugee” as they transition to contributing community members. Refugee kitchens and work programs give every human a seat at the table where they can dream a livelihood into reality without judgment.
Below we highlight five refugee kitchens that are elevating refugee voices through food.
Five Refugee Kitchens Worth Supporting
1. United We Eat
Where: Missoula, Montana
Offers: Takeaway Every Thursday, Catering, Classes, Supper Club
United We Eat celebrates its newest international neighbors with a rotating list of guest chefs from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Syria, all of who tell their stories through bespoke weekly menus.
The menu goes out via email on Thursday mornings and takeaway meals sell out in minutes. A sign above each chef encourages customers to greet them in their local language, a small but significant bridge-building sentiment.
United We Eat also hosts cooking classes, supper clubs, and cookie sales to supplement refugee incomes.
2. Sanctuary Kitchen
Where: New Haven, Connecticut
Offers: Pre Orders, Pick, Delivery, Classes, Supper Club
Sanctuary Kitchen was formed in 2017 to celebrate acceptance and elevate the personal stories of refugees that have resettled in Connecticut. Their kitchen offers weekly menus, plant-based meal plans, and Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi catering menus.
Sanctuary kitchen also hosts cooking classes and culinary events featuring Mexican, Dominican Republic, and Sudanese cuisine. In addition, support for the Sanctuary Kitchen helps to provide crucial training and support an income for displaced families who can go on to be part of building their communities through entrepreneurship.
3. Eat Offbeat
Where: Greater New York
Hours: Deliveries, Catering, Subscription, Refugee-Made Provisions Shipped Nationwide
Eat Offbeat combines the naturally emotional connection of food to home with a desire to bring authentic dishes from all over the world through refugee chefs. Eight chefs from Syria, Myanmar, Iraq, Afghanistan, Senegal, and Venezuela prepare bespoke menus shipped in meal boxes all over the greater New York area via a commercial kitchen in Queens.
The kitchen creates jobs for talented refugees, creates connections for customers between the story of the food and the international refugee chefs who prepare it and changes the narrative around refugee lives in the United States.
In addition, they ship specialty provisions all over the nation which include; Senegalese spiced nuts, Iraqi walnut tahini dates, Syrian sesame cookies, and Venezuelan jams.
4. Project Feast
Where: Kent, Washington
Offers: Ubuntu Street Cafe, Delivery, Catering
Project Feast is more than a kitchen passing authentic culinary traditions from refugee chefs to customers. In addition, it is also a place that provides a future in the form of language courses and culinary apprenticeships. These skills create a pathway to food entrepreneurism for people displaced from their home countries.
The Cooking Ubuntu Cafe Project elevates the international voices of over ⅓ of the local community sharing common bonds that connect humanity. A visit to the cafe supports pathways for refugees to graduate from a program and go on to food careers or to build their own businesses.
Where: Winston-Salem/Greenboro, North Carolina
Delicious, founded by Egyptian native Shereen Gomaa, is an inspiring non-profit built to help female refugees find their path. This North Carolina kitchen features a celebrated catering service. They specialize in authentic Egyptian and Middle Eastern cuisine prepared by refugee women combining skillets with skill-making opportunities
Additionally, team members at Delicious can make their own hours. This allows them the freedom to care for their other obligations. In addition, when they aren’t catering to their loyal community following, they pass on the help to other community groups by donating food.