Food. I love it. Cooking it, reading about it, watching shows about it, learning about it, growing it, and, most importantly, eating it. I. Love. Food. I am not alone! Food is a massive part of our culture in Scotland, be that trad food like haggis, cranachan, or deep fried, locally grown, smoked, pickled or pasteurised. We have a history of absorbing the food of different nations and cultures into our own cuisine - the Tikka Masala, deep fried pizza, the kebab, and making them our own. But it’s not just the technicolour of flavours, colours and textures that make food so appealing, rather it is the emotional nostalgia that food often holds for us.
Take, for example, the Six by Nico menu “The Chippie”. Not only does this menu have emotional significance for Nico himself as it is in tribute to his parents’ chip shop, but it also holds an emotive significance for us as diners. As we identify familiar flavours in different guises, this takes us back to blustery sea fronts, with battered fish and chunky chips drowned in salt and vinegar and wrapped in newspaper. Just around the corner in the window of Mother India, one of my favourite places to eat in our city, I am always captured by the quote by Lin Yutang in their window “What is patriotism, but the love of the food one ate as a child?” For me, growing up in a seaside village in Northern Ireland, our staple meals were not exotic, rather we grew up eating local produce and local recipes. We were sometimes treated to the occasional catch of the day lobsters by kind neighbours, or potatoes grown in the fields around our house, or freshly caught and battered fish and scampi from the village down the road.
For the women I work with, this quote has even more significance. Food is more than nostalgia, it is a connection to their native countries. Fleeing persecution, war, violence, or having been victims of trafficking or modern slavery, these women have been forced to leave their homelands, sometimes in very sudden and traumatic ways. They leave behind everything they have ever known and find themselves in Glasgow in search of safety, freedom and hope. This trauma is then exacerbated by culture shock - being in a new country and city where everything is different and where the ability to have autonomy is limited. Where access to familiar ingredients can be prohibitively expensive, or elusive, especially when you are living on £5 per day. I have worked with women who have been given tinned food from food banks, but who have no idea what to do with the food contained within.
We often talk about comfort food, and images of hearty soup, shepherd’s pie, or some kind of stew might come to mind. For new Glaswegians, comfort food is familiar food - food from home. A connection to your roots, your family; your mother’s recipe, or that of your grandmother. Cooking this food, sharing this food and eating this food is a connection to that which has had to be left behind, connecting the past and the present. In this way, we cannot underestimate the impact and importance that food has in the asylum seeker and refugee community, one that I believe should be highlighted and celebrated.
At Rise, we want to celebrate the knowledge and repertoire of the women we work with and to share that with the people of Glasgow. By offering opportunities for native Glaswegians to experience the food and cultural heritage of our participants, we want to encourage conversation and engagement around refugee issues and lived experience of the asylum process, as well as being able to sample delicious food. We hope that you will journey with us as we welcome women to join our training program, and take the opportunity to celebrate their food story as you sample the dishes that are so close to their hearts.