November 14, 2013

Exploring The Factors That Challenge Refugee Immigrants’ Transition Into Canada

Kakuma is a town in the Northwestern part of Kenya that hosts the Kakuma Refugee Camp. The camp has been in existence since 1992 and currently hosts over 101,000 refugees who have fled wars in neighboring countries such as Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia (UNHCR, 2013). There are few cases of Ugandans, Burundians and Congolese at the camp, but their numbers are not as high. Most refugees eventually migrate to other countries (mostly developed countries), and face several challenges as they try and adjust into their new environment. I want to share some of these challenges with you in the sections below.

I had the chance of interacting with individuals who immigrated to Canada on refugee status, some formerly at Kakuma Camp while others were generally from different East African countries. All these individuals shared one thing in common- they were brought up consuming fresh organic fruits, vegetables, animal products and meat linked to their culture. They shared with me their experiences on the accessibility of culturally appropriate foods in Canada and how these experiences have influenced their lifestyle.

A number of these immigrants originally came from communities that prepare foods with lots of different spices and a variety of organic vegetables which are hard to obtain, especially in a small city like Guelph; therefore commuting to a bigger city such as Toronto is often the easier way to obtain these commodities. The commute is one that takes up time that would have been invested in studies or work (for those employed) and this compromises each person’s priorities. None of the individuals I talked to found it necessary to lose out on making ‘an extra buck’ at their workplace or forgo school for the purpose of obtaining ethnic foods.

Remittance is another factor that influences these individual’s decisions to travel to the Greater Toronto Area or other culturally diverse cities to purchase cultural foods products. There is generally a sense of obligation for refugee immigrants to send money back to their family members besides fending for their own livelihoods here in Canada; this affects their mobility to these big cities where they can access ethnic foods from their culture.

Many refugee immigrants initially receive funding from the government to help them settle down, but after some time the benefits decline and they have to search for alternative sources of income. Often times, they lack adequate income and this influences the types of foods they purchase and the grocery stores from which they buy these foods. Since most refugee immigrants closely manage their wallet sizes, they end up settling for basic foods sold in supermarkets such as rice, pasta, beans and eggs thus leading to acculturation, with an affinity for relatively unhealthy processed foods with longer shelf lives.

Through the course of my discussion with some of these individuals, they expressed their health concerns with the foods available in Canada. They are aware of how cheap and readily available fast foods are but their greater concern lies within the consequences of consuming such foods and how it would affect their personal health and wellness. As they try to avoid developing chronic diseases and obesity by reducing consumption of unhealthy foods, they also put themselves at risk of nutrition deficiency because the vegetable portion of their diet is often missing. Their reasons for not buying vegetables are linked to the prices of these items and the lack of knowledge on what some of the vegetables in the stores are, therefore opting to stick to food items with which they were familiar.

Nostalgic memories of how different dishes are prepared in their original home came up during our discussions, and this brought about cravings for these cultural foods. I learned that most of these individuals attend potlucks hosted by an individual from an East African community at least once every four months. The attendees, who recognize the rarity of these vegetables and condiments, are usually assigned the task of preparing certain types of food in order to diversify the dishes on the table during the event. The potluck has been a useful way of helping every person overcome their homesickness as well as helping them preserve their cultural heritage in their new country and environment.



United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2013). 2013 UNHCR country operations profile – Kenya. Retrieved from

Angela Nyawira Kabii - URA
ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph
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August 21, 2013

Chinese Food Preferences in the GTA

A review of ‘Immigration and Chinese Food Preferences in the Greater Toronto Area’ by Adekunle, Filson and Sethuratnam (2013), Forthcoming in International Journal of Consumer Studies

             In 2009 field research was conducted in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) by the ethno-cultural vegetable (ECV) project team to better understand the connection between ethnicity and food consumption.  Since then the information collected has been used to write three research papers on each of the three largest ethnic groups in the GTA that compose 46% of the GTA’s overall population (2011) (Statistics Canada, 2013).  The first was on Afro-Caribbeans, ethnic food, and acculturation (Adekunle, Filson, Sethuratnam, Cidro, 2011).  The second was on South Asians, ethnic vegetables, and economic development (Adekunle, Filson, Sethuratnam, 2012).  A third is soon to be published on Chinese, with a focus on history of Chinese in Canada and factors that underlie decisions to purchase ECV, including the importance of language to Chinese Canadians.  Even though the research was conducted in the GTA, the information is applicable to many parts of Canada.  This makes the latest article particularly important for understanding consumption patterns of ethnic groups in Canada because Chinese Canadians are the largest non-European ethnic group (Statistics Canada, 2003).

             The following is a summary of the key points in the third paper mentioned above, entitled ‘Immigration and Chinese Food Preferences in the Greater Toronto Area’ (Adekunle, Filson, Sethuratnam, 2013):
             Chinese Canadians have a unique and long history in Canada. Some of the first Chinese immigrants to Canada came in the mid-1800s during the gold rush.  After helping build railways in western Canada and working as general labourers, eventually they created their own services, such as restaurants and laundries.  Chinese immigration increased in the 1960s when immigration policy in Canada shifted to the less discriminatory points system. Now there are increasing numbers of Chinese supermarkets, ethnic stores, media stations, and shopping centers as Chinese Canadians have moved into a wide variety of professions and vocations.
             The history of Chinese in Canada also extends to diets.  Chinese Canadian dishes have been influenced by Western culture, containing vegetables such as green peppers and relatively few ethnic vegetables. Post-points system Chinese immigrants have a more diversified diet and vegetables consumption. There are now movements away from the old traditional Chinese Canadian cuisines to more specific Cantonese, Sichuan and Mongolian foods among the most common eight Chinese cuisines.
            Vegetables are an important part of Chinese diets.  Unfortunately some of the desired vegetables are not always available. Highly demanded Chinese ECV include bok choy, Chinese broccoli, eggplant, Chinese greens and napa cabbage.  Chinese Canadians spent nearly 4 times the amount of their food budget on vegetables than the average Canadian. There is a willingness to pay a higher price for a desired product or for certain desired qualities, such as high quality, cultural reasons, freshness and health implications. The Chinese in the GTA were found to consume vegetables for health, nutrition, tradition, and preference.  Perceptions of health benefits included nutrients, fewer medical expenses, high fibre content, and prevention of chronic disease. 
            The overall estimated Chinese demand each month in the GTA for Chinese vegetables is $21 million. There is a large potential for Ontario farmers and local economies to benefit from local ECV production through increased employment opportunities, higher incomes, increased availability of nutritious foods, and environmental sustainability.  Though most ECV are still imported, increasing amounts of ECV are capable of being grown in Ontario. Bok choy, for example, the highest demanded Chinese ECV, is able to be grown in Canada and has the potential to be a profitable market. However, less than 3% of the Holland Marsh is presently dedicated to growing Chinese vegetables. There needs to be a better understanding of the market and value chain to take hold of these opportunities. 
            There are many factors that affect consumption patterns, including ethnicity, personal characteristics (for example: language, income, and media exposure) and new Canadians’ degree of acculturation.  Acculturation is a process that immigrants undergo to adopt the culture of the host group (Satia-Abouta, Patterson, Neuhouser, & Elder, 2002).  Acculturation is a reality many immigrants face. Out of the measures used to determine acculturation, Chinese were found to have relatively few friends outside their ethnic group, prefer their own ethnic foods, and respect the values of their ethnic group. These acculturation factors may influence their preference for Chinese vegetables. Households with higher incomes and fewer years spent in Canada are more likely to purchase ethnic vegetables.
            When faced with the decision to purchase a particular ECV or not, Chinese consumers’ consider quality, traceable production, versatility when cooking, and language. Traceability is particularly interesting when discussing local production of ECV, because it means that consumers are interested in where their food comes from and there is demand for local ECV. Another unique aspect of Chinese consumption decisions is how well they respond to their own language and culture. For example, Chinese Canadians generally respond positively to brands and images from China. It is therefore important for retailers to properly label ECV in Mandarin/Cantonese.
            The main area of growth in Canada is immigration.  As more people immigrate to Canada the demand for ECV increases. There is a large market for ECV and there is ability to grow some varieties of ethnic vegetables in Canada. There are opportunities for Canadian farmers that have yet to be realized within the ECV sector. Understanding the connection between ethnicity and consumption patterns may help create policies that will encourage local growth of ECV.  Local production of ECV offers healthier, fresher, higher quality, more sustainable food, all of which helps to improve the local, rural economy.


Adekunle, B., Filson, G., Sethuratnam, S. (2013). Immigration and Chinese food preferences in the Greater Toronto Area, International Journal of Consumer Studies. ISSN 1470-6423            (forthcoming)

 Adekunle, B., Filson, G., Sethuratnam, S. (2012).  Culturally appropriate vegetables and economic development. A contextual analysis. Appetite, 59(1), 148-154. Retrieved from   

 Adekunle, B., Filson, G., Sethuratnam, S., & Cidro, D. (2011). Acculturation and consumption:   Examining the consumption behavior of people of Afro-Caribbean descent in Canada. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 2(1), 297-313.  Retrieved from

 Satia-Abouta, J., Patterson, R.E., Neuhouser, M.L., & Elder, J. (2002). Dietary acculturation:       Applications to nutrition research and dietetics. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(8), 1105-1118. Retrieved from article/pii/S0002822302902476

Statistics Canada. (2003). Ethnic Diversity in Canada: portrait of a multicultural society. Ottawa, ON. Retrieved from x2003001-eng.pdf

Statistics Canada. (2013). Visible minority population and top three visible minority groups,           selected census metropolitan areas, Canada, 2011. Retrieved from http://

Morgan Sage
URA - ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph
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July 18, 2013

The Potential of ECV in CSAs

            “Local food” is now a common term as the Local Food Movement is becoming increasingly popular.  Right in the grocery store consumers can search for the green and white Foodland Ontario symbol.  Options also include buying directly from the farmers at the farm gate or by attending bustling farmers markets.  Gardens are a do-it-yourself kind of local that can be done even in the city.  Another way to buy local that is gaining more interest is the Community Shared Agriculture (CSA). 


            If you have never heard of CSAs, you are probably having a similar reaction as I did a few months ago: staring at the screen with a look of confusion as you rack your brain for a combination of words that would make sense with the abbreviation.  “What are CSAs exactly?” you may ask eventually. Typically CSAs are small and group owned farms with labour intensive processes.  At the beginning of the season consumers pay a set fee, providing the farmer with a budget for inputs. As the season progresses the consumer is provided with a weekly seasonal basket of fresh local food that is either delivered or picked up.  Depending on the farm, baskets can contain vegetables, fruit, meats, eggs, baked goods, honey, maple syrup, and flowers. The farmer and the consumer share the risks (eg. weather) and benefits (eg. harvest) of farming.  There are many benefits that CSAs can offer such as reduced energy and environmental costs from international imports (Fieldhouse, 1996), education and training for consumers and volunteers, high quality food, consumer input and feedback to farmers, increased rural and community development, increased freshness, and increased demand for local goods and services.  Some downfalls of CSAs may include organization difficulties, labour intensive processes, and timing challenges.  


            One of the benefits of CSAs that I found particularly interesting was food security (Fieldhouse,1996).  Over the course of the summer I have been learning a lot about food security and what it means.  It involves not only having access to enough affordable food, but food that is culturally appropriate and acceptable to the individual who consumes it (Government of Canada, 1998, p.9).  A study performed in Toronto found that immigrants desire fresh food they recognize from their country of origin (Koc, & Welsh, 2001). The problem is that ethnic vegetables that are available are often imported and of low quality (Adekunle, Filson, Sethuratnam, 2012).  If a key value of CSAs is food security it appears that they need to produce increasing amounts of ethnic food. I was surprised to find CSAs that are doing just that.  Ontario growers may not be able to grow all types of ethnic produce due to the cooler climate, but already CSAs near Guelph are growing ethnic vegetables alongside more Western produce.  For example:


The Ignatius Farm CSA just outside of Guelph offers Asian greens and eggplant, and more ( 


Whole Circle Farm CSA near Acton, ON offers ethnic options such as bok choi, napa cabbage, chard, eggplant, khlrabi, hot peppers, and more (


Re-Root Farm near Harriston grows arugula, Asian greens, celeriac, cilantro, daikon, eggplant, kohlrabi, and more (


Drumlin Farm CSA south east of Guelph grows a variety of herbs commonly used in ethnic dishes, collards, edamame, eggplant, pak choy, jalapeno peppers, cayenne peppers, chile peppers, sweet potatoes, tat soi, and more (


            Even though most of the CSA baskets still contain mostly produce from Western origins, CSAs are making headway.  A unique aspect of CSAs is the communication that can occur between consumers and the farmer.  The people who buy shares are able to have a say in what is planted and how it will be distributed (Fieldhouse, 1996).  The process may be slow, but ethnic buyers may encourage farmers to continue to experiment with ethnic vegetables in small quantities that can fit within their budget.  The CSAs give farmers the opportunity to experiment with ethnic vegetables that can grow in Canada and under what conditions, while sharing the risk with the consumers that are demanding the ethnic produce. 


              Not only do CSAs have the potential to encourage food security and growth of ethnic vegetables in Ontario, CSAs can also increase the public’s knowledge of ethno-cultural vegetables and ethnic foods in general.  Before becoming an Undergraduate Research Assistant this summer, I was working in a small town grocery store as a cashier.  Every so often my boss would tell me to take a good look at the newly arrived vegetables so I knew what they were when the rare customer bought them.  Those new arrivals would include vegetables like chayote squash, okra, taro root, daikon, and many other vegetables I’d never heard of prior to this summer.  Even vegetables such as cassava, egg plant and bok choy that the store carried majority of the time (in small quantities) were seldom purchased.  An overwhelming majority of people skip right by these vegetables if they don’t know what they are.  Most people can’t be bothered to figure out how to cook such vegetables.  In CSAs consumers are often exposed to new produce.  When CSAs grow ethnic vegetables there is potential to create public awareness of ethnic foods.  Often CSAs will provide nutritional information and recipes to consumers. The CSA consumers are introduced to produce they wouldn’t necessarily try when shopping in a grocery store, as a result their knowledge increases.  Even though CSAs are small scale, they have potential to increase food security, to experiment growing ethnic vegetables in Ontario, and increase public awareness of ethno-cultural vegetables.


Check out the following websites to find a CSA near you:

            Guelph Region:

            All of Ontario:




Adekunle, B., Filson, F., Sethuratnam, S. (2012).  Culturally appropriate vegetables and    economic development. A contextual analysis. Appetite, 59(1), 148-154. Retrieved from   


Government of Canada. (1998). Canada’s action plan for food security. Ottawa, ON. Retrieved   from


Koc, M., & Welsh, J. (2001). Food, foodways and immigrant experience.  Department of Canadian Heritage at the Canadian Ethnic Studies Association Conference. Retrieved             from ethnocultural/publications/aliments_e.pdf


Fieldhouse, P. (1996). Community shared agriculture. Agriculture and Human Values, 13(3),        43-47. Retrieved from



Morgan Sage, Undergraduate Research Assistant (URA)


SEDRD, University of Guelph
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January 30, 2013

Pigweed consumption: it’s richer than you think!

Pigweed or Amaranthus dubius is an indigenous vegetable in Asia, Europe and Africa. It is a rare species in North America but it is possible to spot a few plantations, like I did last summer within the downtown area of Guelph. With climate modifications becoming an increasing concern in developing countries, farmers in several Kenyan communities are growing Amaranthus to deal with food and nutritional insecurity due to its drought resistant nature. Amaranthus is a fast growing plant species requiring very little to no maintenance. Most people may recognize it as a type of weed i.e. one does not need to obtain it from the local market. This makes it a suitable commodity for low-income households. Its nutritional benefits outweigh those in spinach and this has made Amaranthus a preferred vegetable substitute in several Kenyan communities. Commonly known as ‘terere’ among the Kenyan Ameru and Kikuyu tribes, Amaranthus is served cooked and is an accompaniment of ‘ugali’ during lunch or dinner. Included below is a simple ‘terere’ recipe as prepared by my family in Kenya.


1 tbsp salt
Warm water
1 bunch ‘terere’/pigweed
3 tbsp Cooking oil
1 onion chopped
3 pieces of garlic cloves
2 tomatoes diced
½ a bunch of coriander


Ø  Prior to cooking, remove the terere leaves from the stem then wash them in a bowl with warm water and salt until all the soil is out.

Ø  In a small saucepan, add the cooking oil followed by the chopped up onions.

Ø  Cook for a few minutes then add the crushed garlic, stir until golden brown.

Ø  Add the tomatoes and chopped up coriander and let them cook for a while.

Ø  (Optional) Add a pinch of salt and/or pepper to taste.

Ø  Add the terere leaves, stirring the mixture and allow cooking for 5-8 minutes.

Ø  Serve hot with ugali and beef stew/ bean stew.

Additional Recipes:

Terere lasagna courtesy of ‘mpishi poa’-

Maundu, P., Kimiywe J., Mbumi, M., Smith, I. F., Johns, T., and Eyzaguirre, P. B. Nutrition and indigenous vegetables in urban and peri-urban agriculture in Kenya. Biodiversity International.

Written by: Angela Kabii, ECVOntario, University of Guelph
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