On my first holiday in America, I went to a large supermarket to buy a bag of muesli. And although this was an English-speaking country that I knew well through film and TV, I was bamboozled. Everything came in unfamiliar packaging, with ingredients I’d never heard of. Even items as simple as corn chips were strange, in unlikely colours including black and purple.
Imagine, then, how it must feel to brave an Australian supermarket for the first time after spending the best part of your life in an African refugee camp, where your one meal a day was dried beans cooked over firewood that had taken nearly a whole day to collect. Brisbane-based dietitian Robin Tilse has put a lot of effort into imagining that very experience – and coming up with a practical way to help.
Tilse, who works for Nutrition Australia, first realised there was a problem six years ago, after teachers at her children’s school quietly shared their observations about the diets of the high number of refugee students. “They were concerned about what many of the children were bringing to school for lunch,” she says. “Mostly packaged foods with little nutritional value, such as chips, lollies and biscuits.”
“The irony is,” says Tilse, “they’ve managed to escape war zones and safely get their kids halfway around the world to Australia, only to face the very real risk of running into heart disease, diabetes or other ‘Western’ illnesses. All because they’re making uninformed choices about food.”
“Before I came to Australia, I’d never seen a sandwich,” says Joseline Ntunzusenimanima, a 33-year-old mother of seven from Burundi in East Africa. “There were so many fruits I had either never seen or not been able to buy for many years. I was in shock for the first four days after I arrived, not knowing what to do or where to go because I was just amazed to see plenty of food and peace and safety.”
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