Latino immigrants in New York suffering culture shock with local food

New York, Mar 8 (EFE).- The thousands of Latino immigrants who have arrived in New York City since last summer are facing an endless series of challenges, one of which is getting used to the local food, and not a few of them staying in shelters are clandestinely cooking the dishes that they miss from their homelands.

Although they are grateful for the help they’re receiving from local authorities, some of them are complaining rather loudly about the “tasteless, cold, fatty, undercooked” or even “damaged” food they are being given in the Big Apple.

The prohibition on cooking in the shelters and hotels, a rule put in place for safety reasons in the places the city is paying for the immigrants to stay, have aggravated a problem that the new arrivals have to face three times a day.

Many go to the churches or non-governmental organizations to get items they can cook in the shelters, accepting the risk of being discovered, and sometimes they are even asking to use the kitchens of friends or relatives to make the dishes they want to eat.

“Many people are cooking in secret, trying to keep (hotel) security from finding out. Sometimes, I cook for myself and my son in a little (electric) pot,” one Ecuadorian lady who arrived three months ago told EFE, keeping her pot hidden in case of snap searches.

“The food, for me, was a really big culture shock,” said the woman, who is staying at the ROW Hotel, on 8th Ave. between 45th and 46th Streets in Manhattan, which was requisitioned by local authorities to be converted into a shelter just a short distance from Times Square.

Recently, the sensationalist New York Post daily – not exactly a friend of the immigrants – published a photo taken by a hotel employee in which can be seen a huge bag of trash filled with plastic meal trays provided to the immigrants, most of which were unopened.

“There are good days and bad days, but in general, we don’t like it … (because) they don’t season (the food) like we do in our country,” said the woman, who added that she had lost several kilograms over the past several months.

Other immigrants have complained that the meals are “very flavored or all mixed together, the sweet with the salty,” and that “sometimes we separate (the food) and eat” because there’s no other alternative.

For breakfast and lunch, they receive bread, crackers, juices, fruits, water, salads and in the evening meats, chicken, pasta and rice. It seems, they say, like the food you get on airplane flights.

Lutheran priest and activist Fabian Arias, with St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan, comes at least three times a week bringing clothing and food like canned soup, cereals and milk, which he brings to the immigrants’ hotels so that they can have meal alternatives.

He said that he gets complaints “all the time” over the food and says that the city is being “careless” because “they’ve been giving them food that’s in bad shape or past the expiration dates.”

The priest also distributes donated food like onions, potatoes, fruits and vegetables in a delivery that he makes to the borough of Queens, where immigrants like “Maria” from Peru (not her real name) are living. Maria arrived six months ago and a friend of hers lets her cook in her home several times a week because the food in the shelter where she’s living in The Bronx “doesn’t taste like anything.”

Maria prepares meals for several days when she uses her friend’s kitchen, and she keeps the food in the refrigerator she has in her bedroom at the shelter and heats it in a microwave to feed her children and husband.

Angie is from Colombia and also goes to the church and elsewhere to prepare food for herself and her nine-month-old daughter.

“I have an electric stove (at the shelter), and everybody cooks there but we can’t let them find that stuff” because they confiscate it, she said.

She knows that the smell of cooking could be detected by the shelter personnel but “you also smell marijuana and that doesn’t bother them, so why is the smell of cooking going to bother them?”

She said that she cooks “because I don’t like the trash food (with) no flavor, no salt, nothing. If they’d have a person who cooked with love, you wouldn’t see the food being dumped in the trash.”

Some of the immigrants say that things have begun to change: Ligia and Ericson, who have also lived in hotels where the food they were given ended up in the trash, said that over the past two weeks spicy food has been arriving that they’re willing to eat.

“The people were surprised with a nice little rice dish, spaghetti, beans,” Ericson said, adding that the food has improved “a lot.”

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