Monday, January 30, 2017

Rant: Refugees, Immigrants & Our Culinary Debt

(Two years ago, I posted this Rant, during a time when the fate of Syrian refugees was front and center. After the events of this weekend, I feel it is important to bring back this Rant due to its applicability in the current crisis. I've slightly revised it from its original form to be more relevant to the immediate issues.)

The fate of refugees and immigrants are major issues right now, with plenty of heated rhetoric and arguments. President Trump's actions have been condemned by many and the courts have temporarily prevented any action from being taken. Fear is at the heart of much of the discussion and though the threat of terrorism is real, the actual risks from these refugees and immigrants is much much less than the doomsayers proclaim. The basic humanity of these refugees and immigrants needs to factor far greater into these discussions, and compassion needs to be a prominent value.

America owes a huge debt to the refugees and immigrants which have previously come to our country. They bring a diversity to our country which only benefits us all. Our country would not be as great as it is without the diversity that such people bring. And the great benefits they bring outweigh the small risk that is entailed. We cannot become insular, shutting our borders to these people.

Yes, there may be some bad apples in the bunch but there are bad apples everywhere, including people who have lived in this country their entire lives. We have to understand that these bad apples are a tiny exception and far from the rule. Those bad apples do not reflect the general mentality and behavior of the greater majority of refugees and immigrants. We have vetting procedures to help minimize those risks.

Let's consider but one area where America owes a great debts to refugees and immigrants: our culinary scene. There are plenty of others areas that can be discussed but I just want to concentrate on this one area for now.

First, many restaurant kitchens, all across the country, couldn't operate without  the refugees and immigrants who perform some of the most basic, and still very important, duties, from dish washing to prep work. They work behind the scenes, unseen by the restaurant diners who might only may know the main chef. As they work unseen, too many people fail to understand their vital roles and their importance to what ends up on their plate.

I''ve talked to a number of chefs who have been immensely grateful for these workers. Few others have been willing to do such jobs, from dish washing to basic prep work. Without these refugees and immigrants, it would be difficult to find others willing to do these duties. In addition, the chefs uniformly state that they are some of the hardest working people they know. For a significant number of these refugees and immigrants, they work multiple jobs, maybe in a couple different kitchens. These people contribute significantly to the community.

Second, these refugees and immigrants bring to the U.S. their home cuisines, including different ingredients, recipes and techniques, They have created a greater diversity in our culinary scene, opening diners up to so many new and different foods. Consider Boston and its neighboring communities and try to count the numerous country cuisines which are represented, which wouldn't exist except for the influx of refugees and immigrants to our country. Ethiopia, Lebanon, Mexico, El Salvador, Senegal, Afghanistan, Vietnam and so much more.

In addition, other chefs have adopted the ingredients, recipes and techniques of these refugees and immigrants. Their culinary heritage has spread across the country, becoming firmly ingrained in our society. Without their contributions, our culinary world would be boring and plain.We revel in culinary diversity but need to understand and appreciate the myriad contributions of those refugees and immigrants.

Rather than worrying so much about the greatly exaggerated risks of refugees and immigrants, let us devote much more consideration to all the positive contributions they can make to our country. Let us embrace our humanity and compassion, and stand up for these refugees and immigrants.

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