In times of uncertainty or trouble, many people turn to comfort foods. These dishes can be favourites from childhood that bring back a sense of comfort and wonder, or meals from cultural or religious holidays. But when someone doesn’t even have a secure roof over their head, access to comfort foods is almost impossible.
Yet a soul-stirring meal that offers more than just nutritional values or stomach-filling fuel could offer great benefits.
“When you think about sharing a meal, you’re sharing part of your culture, part of your story, part of your home and [with] people who are already separated from home, family and their community, one of the last remnants they have left [that keeps] that connection to their country and their identity is food,” he says. “The ability to have access to culturally appropriate food is essential when it comes to a sense of self-esteem.”
Less than a third of Australians were born overseas, but in 2016 they made up nearly half of the homeless population (53,606 people), according to data from SBS and Vinnies. This research also shows that most people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds experiencing homelessness are relatively young: they range from 12 to 34 years old.
The Refugee Council of Australia states that asylum seekers and refugees are at high risk of homelessness because they often don’t speak English, have a limited legal right to work and are unlikely to have a safety net.
One study even found that young refugees were six to 10 times more likely to become homeless than young people born in Australia.
They are also at higher risk of not being able to access food, in part because of their traditional diets. The Australian Institute of Family Studies revealed that a lack of nutritious alternatives and a lack of nutritional education about locally available foods are largely responsible for this.
Jenny Smith, CEO of Council to Homeless Persons, says that mainstream food banks often try their best to provide those comforting meals, but due to their limited resources, it can be “really difficult”.
“The ability to have access to culturally appropriate food is essential when it comes to a sense of self-esteem.”
“Food banks and charities often rely on donations of whatever a supermarket or restaurant has too much of or is leftover, so they are not usually well placed to provide culturally appropriate foods that would make life so much richer and enjoyable.”
However, there are a handful of food banks, charities and soup vans that specialise in culturally appropriate food parcels and meals, including Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, StarHealth, The White Coats, Nourish, Whittlesea Food Collective and the multiple Sikh communities across Australia that create traditional meals.
Jim Mullen, CEO of food-rescue organisation SecondBite, says that regardless of someone's cultural background, a plate of memories has a positive effect that goes "beyond that value of the food itself".
“The sense of well-being generated by sitting down to a meal … delivers a warm recollection of your people and your past," he says. "It’s hugely important."
Mullen adds, “it has huge value in terms of community and connectivity. For Indigenous people and some of the migrant communities that have settled here, that has been a gap for them.”
Kate Colvin, policy manager for Council for Homeless Persons, says one of the biggest stresses that homeless people face is not being able to eat what they’re used to, or “getting that simple pleasure from eating something they enjoy”.
“One of the challenges that people face is that it’s much harder to have food choices; you have to make do with what’s available or the cheapest.”
Filthy Rich & Homeless premieres over three consecutive nights – June 9, 10 and 11 – on SBS at 8:30pm. The show will be available at SBS On Demand after the broadcast, including in subtitled Simplified Chinese and Arabic.
Join the conversation #FilthyRichHomeless
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