West Michigan pantries try to provide food for refugees

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) -- Perhaps you've seen food from another country and thought, 'I could never eat that.'

Well, there are refugees from all over the world living in West Michigan who find American food a little strange, and this can be a problem for food pantries trying to help.

Popular foods at some pantries like mac and cheese, bread, cereal and canned veggies are foreign to a lot of refugees.

"The concept of a canned vegetable for the Chin Burmese population is almost unheard of," explains Michael Merren at John Knox Pantry.

The Kentwood pantry serves a large population of Serbian, Bosnian, Croats, Burmese and Chinese, and it can be a challenge to feed groups with different tastes.

"In a lot of the Asian cultures, bread is not a staple -- and bread is one of the most plentiful things we have at the pantry," explains Merren.

We met up with Jemi, who's from Thailand and has been in the U.S. for three years. She sometimes finds foods that fit her tastes, but passes over some things simply because she has no idea how to prepare it.

And another problem with American food is that to foreign taste buds, it contains a lot of sugar and preservatives, according to Merren.

"They much prefer things...that seem foreign to many of us, like whole black beans, which can be cooked and used in different ways," explains Merren.

Providing food that refugee populations understand can make the transition to American culture a little easier. Merren says if you understand the food culture of one of the refugee populations, you could help by providing food that they like and understand.


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