Mmm … assimilation

Over lunch today, I read a very disturbing page-one Chicago Tribune story, “Refugees need diet tips in land of plenty.”

I was alarmed to read, amid the butter dripping from my corn on the cob:

Newcomers battle diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol, the hallmarks of American overeating. The health problems are stinging because they had to overcome anemia, vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition back home. …

Those who work with Chicago’s refugees point to a complicated dynamic: Newcomers want to make up for a lifetime in which they were denied meat, soda and food that wasn’t rationed. Because refugees are poor and unfamiliar with American foods, they often are unable to maintain healthy diets.

And as I shoveled up my baked beans, this left me perturbed:

When Omar was a youngster, Coca-Cola was a rare treat, reserved for weddings and birthdays. During years in a Kenyan refugee camp, food was equally scarce. His family received rations of bread, wheat flour, corn, beans and porridge. They had no meat, milk or juice.

So when Omar, 33, arrived in the Chicago area, he made up for it. He drank three or four sodas a day. He ate fast food several times a week, usually with new friends and co-workers. Not surprisingly, he gained a lot of weight, and his stomach still doesn’t feel quite right.

As I licked the last of the pork-ribs’ barbecue sauce from my fingers, my stomach was starting to ache a little too. My upset was only worsened by this tidbit:

Through a translator, matriarch Awalia Kasim said she still enjoys eating her traditional foods such as chicken, rice and cabbage. But ask her 8-year-old daughter, Maryan, what she likes and she responds in nearly flawless English: “tacos, pizza, ice cream,” foods that she first experienced in school.

But I felt a lot better after some whole milk and a disturbingly delicious banana cream cupcake. Now who says immigrants have trouble assimilating? Welcome to the land of of Coca-Cola!