Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Refugees taught how to eat American food

By Ian Brimacombe BBC News, Chicago

In a classroom on Chicago's north side, nutritionist Bindi Desai points at a sign of an obese man holding a hamburger with a pained expression on his face.

"This guy is overweight," she says, explaining that this is because he eats too much fast food and drinks cola. "And guess what happens?" she asks. "Inside his body there are lots of problems." At a table, a dozen or so refugees - most of them from Africa - sit and nod. Some smile and chat among themselves. They appear to get the picture. This workshop on how to eat American food responsibly is part of an Illinois state-funded programme to improve the nutrition of refugees who are being re-settled in the land of plenty. "First we are most concerned about whether they will understand how to eat American food," says Shana Willis, with the non-profit refugee resettlement agency Heartland, one of the project co-ordinators. "They did not only not understand how to eat American food, but they went immediately to the junk food and it was then that we realised, this is going to have a much more important impact than we anticipated." Culture shock - One of the major challenges for organisers is to change the way the refugees think about food. Many of the new arrivals suffered from malnutrition and came from places where food was scarce. Some want to make up for a lifetime in which they were denied meat. Others gravitate towards the fizzy orange drink and crisps, believing they are a great source of vitamins. And there is plain culture shock. See: Refugees taught how to eat American food

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