Recipes for pierogies, borscht, aloo gobi, pozole, mücver and many more delicious dishes get their due in this new cookbook written by refugees and immigrants, including some who live in New York City.
Nonprofit Felt Education published the cookbook A World of Yum, which is now available for $30. The book not only makes a great gift, but it also helps students learn English through Felt’s free programming.
As a British immigrant, Caroline McKinnon has always felt welcome in America. But in the turmoil of Donald Trump’s 2016 election, she realized how scared Muslim immigrants were. She attended protests and marches but thought she wasn’t rich enough to make a big difference. That is until she decided to found Felt in 2017 to offer free English language classes to immigrants and refugees.
A call to action to help
“It was a call to action about knowing what we could do,” McKinnon tells us. “And that was to create a safe space for particularly people who were being forced even further into the shadows.”
Since its founding, Felt’s volunteers have helped 1,300 students from countries across the globe.
At first, classes were offered in-person in New York City, but with the pandemic, Felt moved to online courses. That’s helped the organization reach more students both in the U.S. and even in refugee camps in Europe. Now, anybody 16+ is welcome to attend online and learn together.
…to create a safe space for particularly people who were being forced even further into the shadows.
Volunteers structure the classes to fit students’ needs, recognizing that some students may not know their date of birth or how to write their names. Among Felt’s students, some are college bound, while others are preparing for high school equivalency exams. Some want to help their children with homework or improve their English for employment opportunities, explains Noga La’or, an intermediate English and academic director at Felt. One woman wanted to give a speech in English at her son’s wedding—and with Felt’s help, she met her goal.
No matter a student’s need, Felt volunteers are ready to help by providing English language lessons and offering community through trauma-informed classes, as some students have survived horrific circumstances, such as torture and trafficking.
“It’s about community and not even just English,” says Corinne Mitchell, who serves as the registrar and leads student services. “You’re there for the English, but you’re finding that sense of community and that safe space where you can talk and engage and spend some time with people who share a little bit of your same story.”
A World of Yum
The idea for a cookbook came from that sense of community.
As volunteers led classes in East Harlem early on, they’d notice that when students learned a new food-related vocabulary word, someone would invariably bring that food to the next class meeting, McKinnon said. Students bonded over the food (coffee, for example) describing how it’s served in their culture.
Felt realized a cookbook would help bolster that bonding and represent the breadth of students learning together. This year’s cookbook features students living in New York City and beyond.
McKinnon personally tried every recipe in A World of Yum, ensuring each one was easy enough to make. Recipes represent more than a dozen countries including Bolivia, Rwanda, Syria, Taiwan and Yemen.
This is the second cookbook Felt has released. The first book, A Spoonful of Home, which was published four years ago, is also available for purchase. When the first book was released, one featured student carried it with her everywhere finding ways to bring up the book in conversation.
“It gives it a sense that their story and their food is welcome,” McKinnon said. “It’s the fact that somebody wants to know them.”
Their story and their food are welcome.
Proceeds from book sales go back to the organization to help with administrative fees, like Zoom licensing or purchasing tablets for students who need devices. So far, the group has provided 200 tablets to students so they can participate in classes, which is especially important as more than 70% of Felt’s students live in insecure housing.
Unlike more formal ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, the result isn’t about receiving a particular certificate. Instead, the students leave with improved English skills and a group of friends. Volunteers love to see students chatting with one another, praising each other’s English and wishing them good luck on their life events.
“One of the things that is really important to us is to create a sense of community for our students and to create a space where they feel accepted, where they feel respected, and where they feel supported. Many of our students, their lives are not easy and they’re not necessarily treated that well when they go out,” La’or says. “For them to come and have a space where we respect them for who they are, they’re able to create a sense of community with their classmates, I think that’s really powerful and empowering.”
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.