When refugees arrive in the United States they can encounter
many new foods, including chips, soda, candy and fast food. For some refugees
this food represents a new life and they eat too much of it.
Mary, who survived a war in Africa, now lives with her son
in the United States.
She has found work in a nursing home and her son is adjusting to his new
One day at work, Mary stopped in the staff break room. She
grabbed a donut left after a meeting and opened a can of soda. As she sat down
at a table, she mentioned to the nursing home cook how tired and hungry she
was. When the cook asked Mary what she had for breakfast Mary responded that she
never eats breakfast and usually buys her lunch from a convenience store on the
way to work. The cook, who studies and prepares healthy food for the people in
the nursing home, took the time to talk with Mary about eating healthy.
Mary was interested in learning that the body needs good
food to stay healthy and work well. Without healthy and nutritious food, the
body doesn’t have enough energy to work the way it should. Mary learned that
eating too many chips, cakes or hamburgers from fast food restaurants will make
her gain too much weight. And, when people weigh too much, their hearts and
bodies have to work harder. Extra body weight can also cause diabetes and other
The cook also gave Mary some simple ideas of how she can
begin to eat healthier and take better care of her body. First, he recommended
that Mary eat breakfast every day because it is the most important meal. Even a
few slices of whole wheat bread and a glass of milk will give her the energy to
start the day.
Mary also learned that water and milk are the best drinks
for everyone. In some refugee camps, the drinking water could make people sick.
But in the United States,
it is generally safe to drink tap water. Low fat (skim and 1%) milk is the best
kind of milk for adults because they make the body strong, but not fat.
Parents and children should not have many chips, sugary
drinks or sweets. While these foods may taste good, they aren’t good for the
A refrigerator can make shopping and cooking easier. Mary
hadn’t realized that she could buy food for several days—even a week—because
her family didn’t do that in her home country. The cook suggested buying fruit
and vegetables weekly to keep on hand. When fresh foods aren’t available during
the winter months, frozen fruits and vegetables are good replacements. Mary can
keep chicken and fish in the freezer, too.
The cook also mentioned that grocery stores sell dried
fruits in large quantities for cooking or snacking.
Mary thought about the cook’s suggestions. The next time she
went to a large grocery store she spent some extra time looking around. She
found large containers of dried bananas and other fruits, rice and flour. In
the freezer section she picked out packages of frozen fish and vegetables.
Mary now eats breakfast every day and is trying to make her
lunch at home. Instead of buying food from a vending machine, she carries a
small amount of dried fruit and nuts for when she needs a snack. She now has
more energy and her body feels better.
The views expressed
here are the author’s and not Mshale’s. The Center for Victims of Torture is a
nonprofit organization whose mission is to heal the wounds of torture on individuals,
their families and communities, and to stop torture worldwide. For information
or referral, call 612-436-4800