Engaging Philadephia’s Immigrant and Refugee Communities Through Culinary Literacy

By Suzanna U. Wed, November 7, 2018

When we think of food, many of us recall the well-worn kitchen tables at which our families welcome friends and neighbors to share dishes that tell our stories. As a first generation American, I have long been drawn to the ways in which personal narratives can be told through cooking and food. In my family, stories about celebration and survival alike are inextricably tied in with the bittersweet tastes of those times. Who prepares the recipe and how it is prepared gives way to remarks of how the ingredients have changed across the years and borders and why we eat what we eat now.

Here at the Free Library’s Culinary Literacy Center, our work to serve Philadelphia’s many communities extends to a range of approaches that advance literacy through food and cooking around a communal table. For English language learners, our Edible Alphabet program offers immigrants and refugees an opportunity to build conversational English skills through a series of classes that weave together cooking and literacy.


For a broader audience, we’ve worked with chefs to offer public classes with everyone from the venerable restaurateur Cristina Martinez to bring attention to the work of undocumented immigrants in the food service industry to home chefs who emigrated from Indonesia and Laos and use food as a narrative medium to explore culture and community.

This fall, we’ve partnered with Swarthmore College’s Friends, Peace and Sanctuary project to bring you a three-part Syrian cooking series with family-friendly, hands-on opportunities to cook alongside men and women who came to Philadelphia to make a home with families of their own after repeated displacement. On November 15, we’ll be bringing you Becoming US: Food and Culture, in partnership with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, as all-star chefs Ange Kampar, Ari Miller, and Chris Paul examine how transition and settlement can be experienced while maintaining and exploring cultural identities.

Beyond Philadelphia’s yearly participation in national initiatives such as Welcoming Week, we look to our city’s residents to tell their stories of food and cooking as it relates to where we come from – and where we are going.

What foods tell your stories?

We invite you to the table to share – please join us!

Chef Ange Kampar
Chef Ange Kampar
Chef Ari Miller
Chef Ari Miller
Chef Chris Paul
Chef Chris Paul

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