A Seat at the Table

As I walk around a city like New York, I can't imagine living in a less diverse place. On any given day, you'll see women in hijabs, hear families speaking French, and be able to have food from just about every cuisine in the world. I believe that diversity of friends, culture, and food makes us better, more interesting humans, and I can't imagine living anywhere else.

The majority of American's thinks our diversity is a strength, but sometimes it feels like the loudest think it's a weakness. Immigrants and refugees are our friends, family, and coworkers, and it's hard to imagine a United States without them. Immigrants and refugees contribute to our local economies, and perhaps most importantly, they also contribute to a rich food culture.

Which is why I was excited when my employer, General Assembly, decided to partner with Refugees Welcome and Eat Offbeat to host a group of asylum seekers at our office for a night of delicious food and great conversation. A new organization, Refugees Welcome is working to bring together people from refugee/asylum and non-refugee background around a table to break bread and break barriers. The organization provides guidance on how to host an event, marketing assets to help promote your event, and discussion guides to get the conversations going. 

The United States is a melting pot of cultures, which means a wide variety of foods from around the world are available for those willing to go outside their comfort zone. We're accustomed to food from Mexico, Japan, or Thai food, but how many of us have had Nepalese, Ethiopian, or Syrian food? Eat Offbeat is trying to change that.

Born from the lack of authentic Lebanese hummus, Eat Offbeat is a small catering company that employs refugees and gives them a platform to cook the food they grew up cooking in their home countries. When I spoke to Lebanese-born founder Manal Kahi, she told me how she was disappointed because she couldn't find hummus she liked, and she really wanted to introduce New Yorkers to authentic hummus. She called her grandmother for her recipe, and her hummus became so popular that friends continually asked her to make it for parties. 

While a homegrown recipe is the foundation for Eat Offbeat, it's how the company is working with refugees that really makes it stand out. Manal knew that New Yorkers would be receptive because there's already a wide variety of food options available in the city, but she wanted to give an opportunity to refugees to cook their native foods. In partnership with The International Rescue Committee, Eat Offbeat employs passionate home cooks who are "interested in cooking and wanted a fresh start in the United States."

Eat Offbeat provided the provided the food for our Refugees Welcome dinner, and in addition to our diversity in guests, we had an interesting and diverse menu. There was things like hummus and shawarma from Syria, and a hybrid Nepalese-Syrian edamame salad that combined the flavors and ingredients of two very different food cultures. 

And shouldn't that what America be after all? Many of us are descendent of non-native Americans, and with our ancestors came recipes and ingredients from all over the world. Describing America as a melting pot can be cliché, but it's the American way. Immigrants brought some of my favorite foods to this country, so why shouldn't we embrace that? Diversity makes us stronger — and less hungry — after all.

Brianna is the Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Hook & Blade Mag. She is based out of New York City where she enjoys exploring the city, trying new foods, and people watching. She works as an Email Marketing Manager at General Assembly, and tries to travel as much as she can.