Written by Angel Gomez, IUPUI Dietetic Intern
At Gleaners, we are dedicated to leading the fight against hunger and serving our most vulnerable neighbors in need.
As different populations across the world face racial, religious, or gender persecution they are often forced to flee to protect themselves or their families. The recent wave of Chin Burmese refugees coming into the United States and Indiana brings many families that may face food insecurity as they adjust to life in an entirely new location and culture.
There are eight main ethnic groups inhabiting the country of Burma (also known as Myanmar), with 130 distinctive subgroups. The largest ethnic group, the Burmese, comprises 68% of the population. Other ethnic groups include the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Mon, Rakhine, Shan, and Wa. It’s important to note that people born in Burma don’t necessarily identify as Burmese; rather, they identify with their own unique ethnic groups. Buddhism is the predominant religion in Burma, although about 4% of the population is Christian, 4% is Muslim, and 1% is Animist. Of the over 100 languages spoken in Burma, Burmese is the most common language. Other languages include Karen, Shan, Chin, Mon, Karemmi, and Kachin.
Burma’s culture offers a delicious variety of food and drinks such as laphet thoke (fermented tea leaf salad), curry dishes, nangyi thoke (noodle salad mixed with chicken curry), mohinga (rice noodle and fish soup), and shan-style tofu/noodles. The foundation of Burma’s cuisine is cultivated from the food they receive from the earth. Rice, millet, sorghum, and corn are staples in Burma. Rice is often accompanied by a raw salad of leaves, fruits and vegetables, a soup, and a curry (from fish, meat, prawns, or eggs).
Common ingredients in Burmese dishes, specifically for the Chin population, include:
- Grains - jasmine rice and noodles
- Proteins - lentils, yellow dahl beans, dried fish, chicken, beef, and eggs
- Vegetables - potatoes, cabbage, mustard greens, hominy corn, and bamboo shoots
- Fruits - bananas, apples, oranges, and watermelon
- Seasonings - garlic, onion, ginger, fish paste, green chilies, turmeric, and chili powder
- Beverages - coffee and tea
Burmese individuals traditionally eat 2 meals a day: one in the morning and one in the evening before dark. Meals are typically eaten on a low table with members of the household sitting on mats. Food may be eaten with utensils but is often eaten with their fingers. After a meal, it is common to eat fresh fruit.
Moving to America
A study released by Burmese American Community Institute (BACI) shows that 173,150 Burmese refugees have been admitted to the United States since 2000. Of the 25,000 Burmese individuals currently living in Indiana, around 19,440 are residing in Indianapolis.
The Chin have varying levels of education, with those from rural areas typically having the least amount. Most Chin are familiar with the Roman alphabet, which is helpful in learning English. The college-going rate among students eligible for a college education has significantly increased among the Chin population in the U.S. Researchers at BACI found this increased from 43% in 2012 to 92% in 2018 among Burmese-Americans.
"Our school has a free and reduced lunch rate of almost 90%, as well as a large population of refugee students. Having this program which we can offer new families as we learn that they lack food at home puts many of them more at ease as they adjust to the new environment. It is a huge comfort to them knowing that their children will have food at home during the weekends." - Clinton Young Elementary
Image courtesy of: Jenna Watson/IndyStar
Slices of life from Southport's Chin community
Food pantries, hunger-relief programs, and government assistance programs can be vital resources for low-income refugee families from Burma and other countries who are working to become economically stable. For example, SNAP outreach available at various Gleaners programs and agencies is designed to help reduce barriers to SNAP enrollment by addressing common misconceptions and assisting individuals from all backgrounds with the application process. In addition, Gleaners’ Youth Programs, which includes over 50 school-based pantries and more than 240 BackSacks sites across 21 counties, help ensure that hunger is not a barrier for refugees and other youth in achieving a quality education.
6 things to know about Myanmar culture - Myanmar Diaries. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2018, from https://www.myanmar-diaries.com/myanmar-culture/
Adams, Linda. Grocery Staples List for Burmese Refugees; South Side Indianapolis
, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service Marion County, 2017.
Burma (Myanmar) Chin Cultural Profile | World Relief Moline. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2018, from https://worldreliefmoline.org/burma-myanmar-chin-cultural-profile
College Enrollment Rate Continues to Rise for Myanmar-Americans in USA – Burmese American Community Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2018, from https://thebaci.org/college-enrollment-rate-continues-to-rise-for-myanmar-americans-in-usa/
Culture of Burma - history, people, clothing, traditions, women, beliefs, food, customs, family. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2018, from https://www.everyculture.com/Bo-Co/Burma.html
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