August 9, 2017

Food Banks: Perceptions of an International Student

Food banks generally provide food to less privileged and disadvantaged individuals in our communities. Food banks were first initiated in the United States of America, however, food banks have grown to become a household name in many communities around the world. The primary purpose of a food bank is to receive and distribute food to reduce or prevent hunger. These fixed ideas were imprinted in my mind after my first exposure to the concept of food banks. Imprinted by whom? Why did I perceive food banks as only a food storage and distribution concept? At the time, there was a dearth in my knowledge about food security and food sovereignty. I only understood food security from the viewpoint of poverty and lack thereof of knowledge which can improve access to nutritious quality meals. After all, why will an individual need to go to a physical location to access free food.
I had moved from Ghana, to this new location which I was excited to integrate into as soon as possible. During my period living in the United States as an international student, I never visited a food bank. However, I would often hear about a call from food banks, for food from community members and students, specifically cans of food and less perishable foods. I would think that this was a well-meaning cause for those who needed food and yet, I was not sold on the idea of eating canned food. I must admit that growing up, I was spoiled by easy access to fresh cooked meals, hot from the pot with no use of a microwave. This was just the norm in my community and my country and it was not because of riches or access to cheap food. I recalled the smell of fresh “light soup” with bay leaves, tomatoes and peppers, and pounded cassava and yams (fufu). I believe I would have almost starved if I had to choose canned food instead of a nice cooked meal. I was still adjusting to life in America and little did I know that on one chilly night in the near future, I would rely on a nice bowl of chicken noodle soup and crackers to help me get over my flu. Since that day, I occasionally purchased some canned soup from the grocery store. Some years down the line, I found that comparable grocery store items could be found in both grocery stores and food banks.

Canned and packed foods

Fast forward into the future, I arrived in Canada a few years later, once again an international student trying to familiarize myself with a North American country. After days of orientations, I learned that a food bank was located somewhere on the university campus. To my surprise, a food bank charge was listed on my student bill. I wondered and said out loud to myself, “why are students paying for the food?” I knew very little about food banks and all I knew were the words “needed” and “free”. A month had gone by and I had still not been to the food bank to see what it was all about. I kept hearing people talk about the food bank but this only surprised me as I expected cans of soup and beans. As an international student, I needed to budget wisely and ensure that I had enough food without breaking the bank. After a few months of spending scarce dollars on food and the thought of shame often accompanied by visits to food banks, I weighed my options. I cared very little about what it meant to visit a food bank. I thought to myself, “why am I spending the salary of one adult person (in Ghana) on just food?” The idea haunted me anytime I went grocery shopping. Also, I never had enough to buy the food products I needed, or access the products I needed. I relied heavily on specific vegetables, fruits and rice, the cheaper ones of course. Even though any choice of food produce was expensive, I was too far away from an “African store” to purchase anything familiar or cheaper. As a matter of fact, food from African stores cost more because of export and storage requirements. As a result, I improvised with the basic and common foods like onions, tomatoes and oranges.


Finally, I decided to visit the food bank to save money and access food. I was dumfounded when I arrived at the food bank provided by the university.  Mind you the food bank was a smaller version of what one could find in any Canadian community food bank. I was met by warm greetings from fellow students. One student was stacking both fresh and non-perishable foods, while the other asked if this was my first time so she could sign me up with a membership card. I was expecting to find only pre-packaged bags of canned food ready to hand off to the needy. This was often the condescending and shaming thoughts I had associated with food banks. To my surprise, I found a lively room busy with students (single or with families) from diverse backgrounds, and storage bins filled with a large variety of food produce. In a walk-in room to my left there were two freezers and one fridge filled to the brim with milk and crates of eggs. The freezers contained, fish, chicken, frozen pancakes, frozen vegetables, hamburgers, and the list continuous. In the main open space, bins had been filled with onions, eggplant, coloured peppers, carrots, bananas, apples, oranges potatoes and other fruits and vegetables. 

Frozen Beef

There was a second room with non-perishable breakfast foods, oatmeal and cereal bars. Rice, lentils, cans of soup, tuna, beans, chicken, tomatoes spaghetti, flour and sugar were all available for the taking. I felt as though I was in the wrong place. This was not a food bank, but a mini grocery store that cost almost nothing. Of course, portion sizes had been conveniently provided to ensure that everyone had equal access to the food provided. When I finally recovered from my surprise about the food bank, I noticed a message board with a list of ingredients and recipes provided for interested individuals and families. I wondered to myself “why would someone take the time to make this recipe board and why is it necessary?”  Most importantly, all the ingredients listed could be found in the food bank so the meals were achievable. Contrary to my previous beliefs, my first rational thought about the food bank was that distribution was not the primary goal of this food bank. The administrators set out to provide access to a variety of nutritious meals to all and to ensure that quality food was provided. Two things happened to me that day, first I redefined my conception of food banks and secondly, I wanted to learn more about food banks.  

Lentils and Cereals

I set out to do some research on my own and found that even though Canada is a wealthy country, people are still living in poverty and they still have little access to food. For every 6 individuals supported in Canada by food banks, 1 person has a job. This means that not having a stable source of income is not the only reason for a person to visit a food bank. Food banks provide much more than food related support. Corporate and local food bank partners encourage support from able organizations and individuals, collect and provide safe quality food, raise funds to support the cause, provide household products, general skill training and build capacity for community members to make the most of their access to food, while reducing hunger and improving the quality of lives (examples include starting community gardens and developing cooking skills). Food banks are bringing community members together to share a meal and fight for a common worthy cause. So, there is more to food banks! I have benefited from a visit to the food bank! Now, how can I as an individual contribute to this idea that appears to be bigger than just access to food.  I had so much more to learn on this new journey.

Antonia Abena Ofosu, Graduate Student, ECVOntario, Canada
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June 5, 2017

The Art of Alternative Agriculture

It was nearing the end of fall. We were sad yet excited. It was a quiet and warm day. Planting season was coming to an end. On our way to the Maitlands’, we talked about ways we had personally practised alternative agriculture and food sustainability.

 The Maitlands’ are a sweet couple who have a passion for gardening and alternative agriculture. In the past, they had traveled to a few African countries such as Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria, and experienced delicacies from various cultures around the world. When we arrived, they welcomed us with much warmth, tea and some banana bread. The house had a hospitable feel to it. Gardening hadn’t been much on our agendas coming to Canada. One thing for sure is that we had never imagined coming from Africa was that many households in Canada practiced this art. For us we grew up watching our grandparents, parents and other relatives both garden and farm. When planting season came, they had a certain smile we couldn’t quite put our fingers on.  We saw that in the Maitlands’ that day, proud yet humble home gardeners.

Just before we saw the garden we sat to discuss more about their passion for gardening and alternative agriculture. Both of us were just as curious asked what inspired them to start gardening. Mrs. Maitland explained to us how her father before her had studied Agriculture and it was through him that she was inspired to start gardening herself. The Maitland further explained “We also knew that industrialization was coming, so we still wanted to experience good organic food”. That was something we, like many others rarely thought of when we talked about what inspired one to start farming themselves. Indeed, industrialization has had a great impact on our lives in so many ways, even in our food production and consumption. For instance, a trip to the grocery store means more packaged food, such as chips and pre-packaged salads, whereas the opposite means one could pick fresh produce straight from one’s own garden.

“We have been gardening for over some 25 years now” they further observed. They noted that after having done it for so long it somewhat became therapeutic as well as a hobby. We sat there in awe and amazement at how much we were learning from these proud yet humble home gardeners.

Artists they were, as we dove deeper into conversation the Maitland’s mentioned they also took part in other forms of alternative agriculture such as community gardening and various forms of food preservation methods. As they further illuminated their thoughts about Alternative Agriculture, they introduced us to the idea of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) ( and plot renting. For the Maitlands’ it was at Ignatius ( that they parttook in community gardening outside their home . “It is also a great way for locals and small scale farmers to interact with their community, while having access to fresh local produce,” Mr. Maitland added.  At Ignatius they were able to rent a piece of land where they could work, grow and eat their own food in addition to their private backyard garden. This not only meant they could save more on food but also plan their menus and meals around their own fresh produce from the gardens. We were both intrigued and we loved the idea of directly taking part in growing and harvesting one’s own food.

Backyard showing the compost container

Once we were done enjoying our snack, the Maitland couple invited us into their backyard garden. We were impressed with the professionalism of their garden. There in the backyard was a small yet functional greenhouse. Mr. Maitland explained to us that that is where they start their seedlings in the spring. Yet there was more, a compost station. This was the most interesting concept about the garden. They used the residue of crops from the harvest as their compost manure. This was done not only as a sustainable practice but as a cheaper alternative (as oppose to store bought manure) for the next planting farming season. The Maitlands’ grew almost everything we could think of a backyard garden could have and more. They grew tomatoes, onions, all kinds of herbs (such as parsley, cilantro and dill), collard greens, carrots even radicchio. We even got to try some of their cherry tomatoes and other herbs straight from the garden.

Compost preparation - leaves 

“This year we tried something new” Mrs. Maitland explained. They had never grown okra until just now. To the Maitlands’ (as they had explained) trying out and growing new plants was an exciting challenge. One thing was certain; this challenge was tackled with much grace and ambiance, as they had a successful yield of Okra. They also talked about other challenges they had growing other crops like melons and cantaloupes. “These are quite difficult to grow in the backyard” they explained. Another was corn, as it took up much space so they decided not to grow it.

Flowering okra plant @ Maitlands' backyard

When we finished looking at the garden, we headed to their basement. There they showed us the various ways in which they preserved food. They refrigerated their peppers and other vegetables. They dried or canned their tomatoes, fermented their cabbage and cucumbers and stored their carrots in buckets of soil, all year round until planting season was in full wing once again. “The only things we normally buy are our meat and dairy products and fruits, and maybe a few fresh products such as tomatoes” they explained.

The afternoon was coming to an end, as we got ready to leave the Maitlands’ house, they offered some goodies from their backyard garden and storage. Filled with gratitude, we both headed home that day having learnt more than we had expected to learn. We not only learned just how easy and affordable it can be to have access to healthier and fresh food right in our neighbours’ backyards, but also how it can bring one joy and fulfillment.
We will leave you with a quote from Dr. Lionel Tigers (Professor and Anthropologist)
“Our ancestors were eating meat over 2.5 million years ago. We mainly ate meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and nuts. We have to assume our physiology evolved in association with this diet. The balanced diet for our species was what we could acquire then, not what the government and doctors tell us to eat now.”

Senda Chinganzi & Antonia Ofosu, Research Assistants, ECVOntario.
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May 10, 2017

The Pursuit of Happiness: The Story of a Somali Refugee-Path Immigrant

Olaitan Ogunnote, Undergraduate Research Assistant, ECVOntario

I left saturated and quieted by so many emotions. I felt inspired and hopeful. I also felt sad and angry.
Seated across this man, restaurant patrons interrupted our conversations by greeting him and exchanging pleasantries. They greeted with hands in the air and then proceeded to place them on their chests. He seemed well known and well respected. His round, slightly sunken eyes were encased in his glasses, and they told the stories of their experiences, their long, hard journeys, and their resilient spirits. He began, ‘I escaped hopelessness in pursuit of happiness’. Abdi is a youth mentor whose ignited storytelling transported me to the world I would never know.

Our discussion with Abdi was a heavy one, we laughed, and we almost cried. We caught a glimpse into the life of a man that has had a wild dance with life. Shortly after his mother died, Abdi stood by helplessly as his father was murdered right before his eyes. With no parents for support, he and his ten siblings scattered and ran for survival after witnessing their 14-year-old brother get shot in the back. They all dispersed haphazardly, severing their family cord. With regret, Abdi confessed that he left his 8-month old brother in his urgency to escape death. They were uprooted from each other by forces greater than them, and as they all ran in different directions, they scattered around the world in a similar fashion. Abdi’s parents and siblings were taken away from him.

As an eight-year-old, Abdi had more access to guns than pencils and sand was his paper. Following his flight from his town in Somalia, Abdi walked alone for about 350 km with no water, no shelter, and no food. He eventually found some adults in the distance who he followed until he reached Kenya. He recounted being too fragile to continue and having an adult carry him. It was an ordeal, to say the least. Fortunately, Abdi encountered his Uncle in Kenya who from there became a parent and a saviour to him. Together, they surmounted the overwhelming odds that stood against them and found their way to Canada.

Abdi recalled immigrating to Canada as a young child who did not speak English. He remembered his teachers being kind and compassionate to him. His voice vibrated with gratitude as he talked about the opportunity to receive healthcare and education. Going through what he went through at a tender age, anger and bitterness grew deep roots in him. To overcome the psychological and emotional turmoil Abdi experienced, he became bookish. School became his escape, and he was determined to succeed, graduate, and make it to university. Abdi did and graduated with a degree in Anthropology and History. He mentioned that the learning process morphed into a healing process for him as he began to learn about people and cultures and historical events. The education he received began to assemble the shuffled pieces of puzzling questions he had regarding why his native country, Somalia, unfolded in the damaging way that it did.

The screen glared with the images of a happy family. Abdi proudly showed me a picture of his wife and his four children on a family vacation at Niagara Falls. He proclaimed, “I’m living the dream”. I asked him to clarify on that. What did he mean by he is living the dream? He replied, “I’m a father, a husband, and a youth mentor”. “I come home to my kids, and they love me, I’m the world to them. I’m living the dream”. Abdi described Canada as the greatest country as it gives individuals reason to do well and be whatever they want to become. His patriotism is unparalleled as his identity as a Canadian is unshaken. In his words, he is just as Canadian as anyone who was born in Canada, and he would take a bullet for Canada.

Despite all the amazing things Abdi had to say about Canada, he was clear in highlighting that Canada as a nation still has flaws. Even though he reckoned that Canadian values are some of the greatest with respect to kindness, humility, co-existence, mutual respect, and tolerance are promoted, he is also aware that income inequality, poverty, and homelessness are still huge problems in Canada. “We need to advocate for our indigenes”, he remarked. [1]Only in the 1960’s were the First Nations people allowed to vote without giving up their Indian status. [2]Not a single statutory holiday for the natives. [3]Not one single currency note with natives on it. [4]And, the residential schools were just abolished in the 1970’s. All these he relayed with passion in his voice.

Abdi brought it closer to home and discussed his community and the issues they encounter. The schools in their neighbourhoods are under-funded and under-resourced. The police are distanced, and the community is a hostile environment where the language of, ‘priority neighbourhoods’ is a euphemism for ‘ghetto neighbourhoods’. Working as a youth mentor, Abdi is aware that the young people’s parents work two to three jobs to [5]provide for them. Having to [6]care for them in addition to that is a difficult task. He soberly recalled an incident where he witnessed a 12-year-old being beaten by three police officers. “Young people don’t want to have anything to do with the police. When you’re such a resilient community, you don’t talk about it. Even when they talk about it, there are no actions. The community has been over-conferenced, over-sessioned, and over-trained”, he noted.

The immigrant experience is a unique one. Abdi has since reconnected with all his siblings. He has a brother in England, Norway, Finland, and a sister in Germany. Some of his siblings are in Canada as well. Recently, they had a reunion, and he relived the experience with joy on his face. With laughter breaking out, Abdi commented that the problem now is that all their children speak different languages. He prides himself in that all his siblings attended university despite the traumatic impact of their shared childhood experience. Abdi suggested that counselling should be provided for the incoming Syrian [7]refugee path immigrants. Although preserving their culture is vital to many immigrants, he also stated that immigrants want to learn and have that sense of belonging. They adopt quickly and observe cultural behaviours over here in Canada such as holding the door for people or that it is acceptable for two men to hug. Abdi laughingly declared that “I never knew dudes hugged”. Immigrants are hard-working and resilient people, he added.

Abdi concluded that Canada is the best country ever despite all the issues he pointed out. He said his loyalty is 110% and that the best thing Canada provides is a voice to speak up. “I’m lucky to be here”, he asserted. “Even though you go through unpleasant experiences, you see it, you scratch your head, and you question; you have to move on. It is important to develop a mechanism that protects your emotions, your spirituality, and your state of mind. Life is a learning process, and at the end of the day we are all children of God”, he ended.

Olaitan Ayomide Ogunnote, Undergraduate Research Assistant, ECVOntario.

[1] “On 31 March 1960, portions of Section 14(2) of the Canada Elections Act were repealed in order to grant the federal vote to status Indians. First Nations people could now vote without losing their Indian status.”-
[2] National Aboriginal Day is a statutory holiday that is observed on June 21st only in the Northwest Territories-
[3] “Haida symbols are featured on the 2004 $20 note” -
[4] “The last residential school closed in 1996”-
[5] ‘Provide’ in this context means catering for physical needs such as food, clothing, and shelter.
[6] ‘Care’ in this context implies being actively present to guide the young ones away from evil and towards good.
[7] “Refugee path immigrants (RPIs) are people who entered their new country through refugee routes” (Adekunle et al. 2015)
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April 13, 2017

Growing Organically: A Story of Finding Food Sovereignty

We can strive for and attain food sovereignty in our own neighborhoods. The short video below enlightens us on food sovereignty, and growing foods that are ecologically sound using inexpensive yet sustainable methods.

An ECVOntario Production  - 2017.
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February 19, 2017

Somali cuisines in Nairobi

Please enjoy this video . It presents a glimpse into the taste and preferences of Somalis living in Nairobi, Kenya. They have a lot in common with the Somalis in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

ECVOntario, University of Guelph.
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January 30, 2017

Little Mogadishu in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)

I stood in the washroom with my two scarves, a burgundy scarf with gold thread weaved into it and a leopard print scarf. I contemplated how I wanted to wrap my scarves. I tried the first method, and it was too loose. I tried it the second time, and it was too tight. The third time was a charm- I tied it the third time and it was just right. The scarves gave me a different look, my facial features became more profound, and I spent the day with my hair covered.

It was a chilly, grey day and the aroma of the spice-saturated foods greeted us. Stepping closer, the fragrant pull to the restaurant grew in strength. As our steps quickened, I took a quick notice of the Khanda, the Sikh symbol, placed on a building next to the restaurant. We entered the restaurant, Salaama Hut, and the atmosphere was warm, and we got enveloped with an even more heightened smell of the food. It was quiet, and there were small clusters of people dispersed around in the restaurant. At the back of the room, there was a woman with beautiful, curly, ebony black hair that shone uncovered, a rare and uncommon sight in this environment. She sat opposite her friend who wrapped herself in a soft burgundy shawl. We took our seat in the corner beside a make believe fire place. The ambience was very mellow and understated. With shades of browns and burgundies colouring the walls. The space was dimly lit and took on the personality of someone who just woke up- a slow, measured pace.

Conversations bounced around in the room, and the whooshing of the tea maker made its announcement now and then. Still garbed in our winter attire, we couldn't wait to warm our cold hands and bodies with a fresh cup of Somali tea. We approached the counter to order our tea, and like most point of sale stations, there was a box for donations. The charity box was labelled with the name: Khalid bin al-Walid mosque. The cashier greeted the Somali customers with ‘As-Salaam-Alaikum’, meaning ‘Peace be unto you’ in Arabic, and responded to customers both in the Somali language (subah wanaagsan or iska waran?) and in English depending on their preference. She greeted us in English. We made our order and headed back to our seats with our cup of tea that warmed our hands and tingled our nostrils with the smell of ginger spiciness. We also ordered a pastry called Mahamri. I hadn't eaten anything all morning, so I was starving. I had the first bite of Mahamri, and I gobbled up it up within minutes. It was a mildly sweet, somewhat crunchy, bread like ‘doughnuty’ pastry. Very delicious. It reminded me somewhat of the Ghanaian Bofrot, or the Nigerian Puff-Puff and the waitress pointed out that in Kenya, the pastry was referred to as Mandanzi. I’ve eaten both the Bofrot and the Puff-puff, and although it shared a similarity in taste, crunchiness, and being deep fried, the Mahamri was different as it was filled with air and left you wanting more. After my first serving, I went and ordered two more pieces.

I followed up with the tea, and it tasted spicy and sweet. My tongue felt awakened, and my throat warmed up in unison. Towards the end of the cup, I could feel the pulp from the ginger. Being Nigerian and coming from a culture where tea isn’t as ingrained, I learnt a lot about from my conversations with my team and the chef at the restaurant. We talked about how ‘Chai’ means tea in Arabic, Amharic, Swahili, Russian (Chay- same pronunciation), Hindi (Chaay- same pronunciation) and Somali. To me, ‘Chai tea’ was a variety of tea, a flavour. Meanwhile, it was just tea. All tea is chai in those languages. Another interesting discovery I made was that it mattered how the tea was made. I love tea, but because it doesn’t have a cultural meaning to me, I just pour some water into a mug, put in my tea bag, and place the cup in the microwave for one or two minutes depending on how rushed I am. However, I learnt that the tea making process is somewhat intricate and important in the Somali culture. The water is first boiled, then the ginger is added, then the spices and peppers are added, then the tea leaves are added lastly. Essentially, tea is just a base of black tea with different spices added to it.

After our tea time, we ordered our breakfasts. We got served the Anjero and the Chapati. The Anjero was a spongy flat bread with the moon like texture- covered in holes of various sizes. It was coloured with several shades of creams and browns forming spiral lines across the bread. The bread cheerfully soaked up the deep brown sauce served alongside. We ordered the liver sauce (Beer in Somali) and the kidney sauce (Kilyo in Somali). Both sauces left a curry coloured oily tracing as they dripped down our plates and they were mixed with onions and tomatoes. Beholding the heap of food before us, we were told by the chef that back in Somalia, pregnant women ate an abundance of kidney for its iron content and other nutritional benefits. I took a bite of the kidney, and it wasn't chewy- the spicing was well balanced, and the kidneys had a goat like after taste. I tore a piece from the Anjero, and it tasted like pancakes, except it was less fluffy. I also ventured into the Chapati, and it tasted like Nigerian meat pie crust. Although the Chapati is famously identified with the Indian culture, the Somali’s enjoy this flatbread in their daily meals because of the old trade through the Indian Ocean which the Somali horn juts into. Together, these foods formed a rich harmony.

As I chewed on the food, my eyes wandered across the room and landed on the pictures on the walls. Looking up, I noticed pictures that hanged haphazardly in the upper corners across the entire stretch of the wall. One photo, in particular, caught my attention. It was an image of a woman writing Arabic on a wooden slate- they are verses from the Quran, the chef explained. Our tummies ached from over eating, but our tongues begged to keep eating. Soon enough, we noticed the quiet atmosphere; we were among the few left around. It was 1 pm, and most of the restaurant patrons had left for the afternoon prayer. The chef gave us a bag of Somali cookies as a departing gift, and we shared our gratitude. We left with more than the taste of the mouth-watering Somali foods. We left with a taste of the Somali hospitality. Little Mogadishu in the GTA- Salaama Hut.

Olaitan Ayomide Ogunnote, URA, ECVOntario, University of Guelph
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January 15, 2017

My Cultural Food and Settlement Experience

As we encounter each other, we see our diversity- of background, race, ethnicity, belief -and how we handle that diversity will have much to say about whether we still in the end to rise successfully to the great challenges we face today” (Dan Smith, The States of the World Atlas).

Clearly, immigration is a very significant event in one’s life. Each person is the summation of his/her experiences. Looking back at my experience, after I moved to Canada, the importance of finding one’s personally preferred food, stands out. I migrated to Canada in 2012, nervous about how I would launch my career and integrate to an unfamiliar terrain. I did not know I would need to look for food that I love as part of my new experience in Canada. It did not cross my mind that the term” Ethno-Cultural” food even existed. Since the fall 2012 our family has been living in Guelph. We have spent a significant amount of time looking for Jordanian food as we settle down.

Cultural food and Ethnic Grocery stores 

 Like many other immigrants, I’m from a culture that values our own foods because of the uniqueness of the food. But it was a challenge finding my own food in Canada. The face of immigration to Canada has changed to the point where now a significant part of it is Asian, especially including South Asian, Filipino, Chinese, Korean, West Asian in addition to Arabic (Condon, 2013). Remarkably, these visible minorities are changing grocery sales in Canada to a great extent, as these ethnic shoppers bring with them the traditions and cultures of their homelands. That’s why instead of shopping at mainstream Canadian grocery stores, they try to find out local stores operated by their own ethnic groups.

These stores sell their familiar brands and scarce items not carried by most Canadian stores. In these ethnic stores I was able to find items such as Freekeh, which is roasted green wheat. In Arabic Freekeh means “what is rubbed”, referring to the rubbing technique necessary to process it. Freekeh is low in fat and high in protein and fiber. Bulgur, another favourite,  is a cracked wheat which is a rich source of nutrients and vitamins. It is low in fat, and high in fiber. Olive oil, my essential ingredient, is a fat obtained from the Olive (the fruit of Olea Europaea; family Oleaceae), a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin. It is recognized as one of the healthiest edible oils since it contains very little saturated fat. And Semolina, made from durum wheat, keeps you full for a longer period of time and prevents you from overeating. It is used in making pasta, and couscous. Finally, Spice Cardamom is regarded as the Queen of spices and is found in the form of a small pod with black seeds inside. The black seeds are added to deserts and tea.

Middle Eastern Key Ingredients 

 The culinary art of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine took shape centuries ago as different cultures flowed through the Middle East, and left traces of their foods. Historically, wheat based cuisines such as Freekeh and Bulgur are our staple foods. Even though Freekeh and Bulgur are prepared differently they are still produced in an ancient way in our small villages. Bulgur production starts once farmers boil the wheat in huge pots (sometimes for days) until they are thoroughly cooked. Then they remove the cooked wheat and spread it out on their flat rooftops to dry in the sun. Afterwards, the hardened kernels are cracked into coarse pieces and sieved into different sizes. Freekeh production starts early in the spring, when the leaves of wheat turn yellow and the seeds are still soft and milky. The wheat stalks are harvested, dried in the sun, and carefully set on fire to burn the straw and chaff. The seeds do not burn due to their high moisture content. Once cooled, the wheat undergoes a rubbing process that cracks the seed and separates the chaff.

Jordanian and Somali food 

 Building on my personal experiences, and being a researcher for ECV Ontario has helped me find answers to questions which were revolving in my mind. Moreover, interviewing Somali women in Toronto and learning about their food preferences helped me and I now appreciate the value of cultural food in enhancing settlement and integration of refugees and immigrants in the Canadian context. In addition, I learned that we have so much in common. Even though some of my food seems to be similar to Somali food my first impression was that Somalis eat my own food. Similarities, include using certain spices in cooking such as Cardamom, cloves and sage, having liver for breakfast, and using Semolina as an ingredient in preparing certain types of food such as Hareesa sweet is also similar to what Jordanians like to eat.

We also share similar preparation and consumption of Sambusa which is a triangular snack stuffed with meat, and usually eaten during the (Iftar) month of Ramadan. Moreover, the desire to consume halal meat is shared between us, and we also transfer this knowledge to our kids. Furthermore, I was lucky enough to join the Somali community in Toronto for the Eid Al-Adha celebration, where I discovered that we have the same way of celebrating and eating kidney meat on that day. Based on my personal and learning experiences using the Canadian context, I am truly convinced that our cultural food makes a huge impact in enhancing immigrants’ and refugees’ settlement in their new countries. Therefore, I advise anyone who is planning to migrate or who has recently immigrated to explore the possibilities of keeping their own cuisines and learning from other cultures.


Condon, G. (2013, April, 1). “Yes, you should pay attention to ethnic grocers”. Retrieved from

Smith, D. (2017), The States of the World Atlas. Retrieved from

Rana Telfah, Graduate Research Assistant, ECVOntario, UoG, Guelph.
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