Farmers, associations are working to make cultural food accessible
GREEN BAY – It might not be the first thing they think of when Somali refugees first arrive in Green Bay, but the lack of access to halal meat can really hurt a family.
Halal meat starts with a live animal, but that’s where its similarities to more common meats end. The animal’s diet must be natural, free of animal by-products, and the slaughter process must adhere to Islamic law, which comes with a litany of sacred rituals that are not part of traditional slaughterhouse techniques. commonly found in the United States.
Said Hassan, executive director of COMSA, a Green Bay-based immigration organization focused on Somali refugees, said many of his customers depend on big-box stores, such as Walmart and Costco, where specialty meats like halal are simply not available. Due to its absence, Hassan said, many people have no choice but to travel to Milwaukee, Chicago or Minneapolis to obtain meat that conforms to their religion.
“The type of food they depend on is very expensive, and that contributes to food insecurity,” Hassan said. “Going the distance (to get halal meat) eats up budgets very quickly.”
Record inflation has done this population a disservice. Hassad said about 20% of immigrants served by COMSA are unemployed due to COVID-19, which significantly reduces travel options.
When a family from another country or another tradition faces food insecurity, they may also not be able to access culturally relevant foods, that is, safe and nutritious foods that respond to the diverse needs of people based on their cultural identity. Wisconsin is home to a multitude of different religions, ethnicities, races, and traditions, but that isn’t necessarily reflected in your average pantry.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and 2020 to 25 Dietary Guidelines to Americans, however, culturally appropriate foods are an important consideration in any pantry, can enhance healthy eating and support positive mental health.
According to the CDC, having culturally appropriate food choices expands opportunities for people to make more familiar and healthier decisions about their cooking.
Camila Martin, pediatric clinical nutritionist at UW Health, said equity has remained a gaping issue in conversations about food insecurity, especially for black and Hispanic populations in Wisconsin. It’s no surprise that health disparities are highest among these populations, and often the solution requires extra work and attention.
“It’s important to have more targeted approaches for certain populations and to really identify the stakeholders. We shouldn’t make assumptions like, ‘Oh, well, black people would really benefit if we did this,'” he said. said Martin. “No, we really need to engage people in these conversations, be intentional about them, be thoughtful about them, do a lot of listening.”
Kara Black, Fresh Produce Buying Coordinator for Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, is responsible for ordering all fresh produce for 35 counties in Eastern Wisconsin. She manages the logistics between growers and the Feeding America East Wisconsin program, focusing not only on getting culturally relevant foods to communities of color, but also working with farmers of color on purchases.
The Tribal Elder Program, for example, focuses on providing foods that indigenous peoples have relied on for centuries, such as certain species of fish, wild rice, ground bison, apples from an orchard in Oneida, and granulated maple sugar.
“Because we know we don’t just nourish the body, we nourish the whole part of a person,” Black said. “Food is culture. Food is medicine. Food is everything.”
Jicama, tomatillos, bok choy: culturally specific foods are ‘a human right’
Tomatillos, plantains, jicama, bok choy, jalapenos, garlic, collard greens, and aquaponic lettuce are some of the foods that several Wisconsin cultures have called for. And it turns out the state has the climate and the farmers to make these things happen.
In western Wisconsin, Black said, Hmong farmers grow collard greens, a vegetable with a rich tradition in the black community, which is shipped to Milwaukee. Asian growers in the Milwaukee area ship tomatillos, garlic, and jalapenos after understanding the needs of Hispanic communities.
Sheboygan farmers are able to grow a “huge influx of bok choy,” Black said, which can better serve Hmong families through Feeding America partnerships.
“If we plan far enough ahead and our farmers are set, we can look at what the partners are within their network and our region and we can dive into those partners,” Black said.
For the next year, Black plans to reach out to Hispanic partners in the Milwaukee area to determine which foods would be most meaningful to obtain.
“All of our growers are so open. They tell us, ‘We’ll grow whatever you want us to grow,'” Black said. “As long as they have the seeds in advance, they can grow food specific to the communities’ needs.”
In all organizations, requests like this are successful. The journey of the jicama root vegetable in northeastern Wisconsin began with families at Casa ALBA Melanie, a Hispanic cultural resource center in Brown County, wondering where they could get the starchy vegetable, which is an integral part of many traditional dishes in Latin America. .
Wello, a community organization in Brown County, has stepped up its efforts. It turns out that the northeast region of Wisconsin can grow jicama. Beth Heller, director of strategic partnerships at Wello, said it’s important to bring culturally appropriate vegetables to farmers’ markets across the county and is in the process of writing big grants to support more endowments that put specific vegetables on plates across the county. .
It’s easy to overlook the importance of a culturally specific diet in the face of food insecurity, but for Heller, “a culturally specific diet is a human right.” She knows, however, that this is not something that everyone can agree on.
“It’s just a measure of respect for other cultures and recognition that eating habits hold people together, eating habits create traditions, and if we deny that, it really destroys the fabric of society,” he said. Heller.
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Natalie Eilbert covers mental health issues for USA TODAY NETWORK-Central Wisconsin. She welcomes story tips and comments. You can reach her at [email protected] or check out her Twitter profile at @natalie_eilbert. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text “Hopeline” to the National Crisis Text Line at 741-741.