Thursday, December 3, 2015

Flavors from Home--the Blog Binge Continues

This book really helped me to understand the plight of the refugee.

Flavors from Home—September

Flavors from Home by Aimee Zaring ( University Press of Kentucky, 2015) is much more than a collection of recipes from refugees who have resettled in Kentucky. Each chapter tells personal stories of how those who have been driven from their homelands by violence or persecution have struggled to adapt to a new culture. Each chapter also offers a glimpse into how the kitchen  comforts  and connects families and individuals removed from their lands of origin.  Featuring more than 40 recipes from around the globe, Zaring sets the table for a dialogue about the role food plays in helping refugees maintain a sense of identity, reconnect with their pasts, and retain their customs.

Zaring met many of her interview subjects through her work with organizations like Catholic Charities and Kentucky Refugee Ministries where she taught English for Speakers of Other Languages. Often her classes would culminate in a multicultural potluck, a dinner where all students prepare a comfort food from their native lands.  The sharing and sense of community engendered by these gatherings suggested a project of larger scope to Zaring, whose writing has appeared in The Louisville Courier-Journal, Arts Across Kentucky, and Edible Louisville, as well as many literary journals.

Fascinating stories of courage, perseverance and self-reinvention begin each chapter as refugees from Rwanda, Burma, Bhutan, Viet Nam, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Hungary, Azerbaijan, Somalia, Cuba, Bosnia, Irag and Iran share their stories of how they came to the United States.  In a few instances, the newly resettled declined to share the specific reasons for their coming, since to do so would dredge up painful memories or clash with their religious beliefs.  But, every chapter concludes with at least two complete recipes for preparing typical comfort food from the refugee's country of origin.

Besides presenting mouth-watering recipes and hair-raising stories of years spent in camps without even the most basic necessities for everyday life, Zaring explains the stark realities of being a refugee in Kentucky. For one thing, each refugee must pay back the price of their airline ticket to the government within a year or so of being resettled.  This is no easy feat for those who must find jobs that do not require an immediate command of English.  I have learned that in my area, Northern Kentucky, as of 2014, there was no main office offering support to refugees, like the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program(RAPP) of Louisville. This organization helps refugees like Amina Osman from Somalia to earn her passage money by selling produce from her garden to local farmers' markets and commercial kitchens.  They also assist refugees with classes in how to maximize their crop yields in urban community gardens.  I did learn that certain Northern Kentucky companies like Levi Strauss and  Club Chef of Covington are diligent in hiring refugees. Also, Kentucky Refugees Ministry located in Lexington, holds regular office hours weekly  in a Presbyterian Church in Crescent Springs.

While researching to see of there had been any change in Northern Kentucky's status for aiding refugees, who are brought here by the U.S. Government, I was excited to read an article in The Northern Kentucky Tribune that an organization called RefugeeConnect helps arrivals with English instruction and in connecting to other agencies in Kentucky.  Also, the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, under the leadership of Naashom Marx, vice president of business growth and international trade, sees the potential talent the refugees bring to our business community. "…they're good working people. They were good at the jobs in their country," says Marx in the article.

I especially admire Aimee Zaring's respectful flair for portraying each refugee as they invite her to both cook with them and enjoy the meal afterwards.  The book also includes black and white and color photos that reinforce the author's descriptions of her subjects and their best-loved dishes. The photos lend a family album feel to the work that I came to expect and enjoy with each chapter.

Besides offering a delightful smorgasbord of international recipes, Flavors from Home reminds the reader that many people who come to the United States are escaping war, genocide, and persecution.  They may leave behind any status, material goods, and family that helped define them.  By sharing their experiences and recipes in her book, Zaring affords the refugees a larger table for extending their hospitality to the reader.  I love that she includes a Bible verse emblazoned on the tee shirt of Pastor Thomas Kap, who has resettled in Northern Kentucky to escape religious persecution in Burma.

It's from Isaiah 54:2:

"Enlarge the place of your tent
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes."

You can find a link to Flavors from Home, with its multilingual ways to wish you "Bon appetite" at

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