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Recipes of Life: a diasporic cookbook celebrating the spiritual sustenance of community

In Recipes of Life: Stories of Migration and Brotherhood, a group of migrant men weave testimonies of displacement and belonging alongside their favourite recipes.

The GIANTS, a peer support group of migrant men, have co-authored a cookbook featuring 38 recipes from all over the globe alongside personal stories of homelessness and isolation. 

The 22 contributors were brought together by Praxis, a Bethnal Green human rights charity providing support to two thousand migrants and refugees every year.  

As well as supplying expert advice to migrants without access to housing, employment and government services, Praxis hosts community-led groups to build confidence for people in crisis. The charity established the GIANTS in 2016 as a weekly peer support group for migrant men seeking brotherhood in London.

The new cookbook is a product of the Friday meet-ups of the GIANTS, who would exchange personal stories about the struggles of migration while sharing a hot meal. The men discovered the therapeutic power of both cooking and conversation, triggering the development of Recipies of Life: Stories of Migration and Brotherhood. 

From the mountains of Chechnya near the river Terek to villages in the Imo and Enugu states of Nigeria, the cookbook contains family recipes from all over the world. In its pages, you’ll find Jamaican jerk chicken with rice and beans and lamb soup with fufu inspired by childhood memories of Sierra Leone. Discover the secret to Caribbean-style steamed seabass, or try it grilled with sweet potato for a Siberian twist. 

Throughout the book, the life-sustaining potential of story-telling, cooking and camaraderie come to light. Masterchef winner and chef Tim Anderson supported the GIANTS by editing the cookbook, which gives readers a step-by-step guide to Jamaican chicken and dumpling soup and Ghanadian-inspired street food. Anderson said:

‘With the GIANTS project, Praxis has created something remarkable in how it mitigates issues that face all migrants, fostering connection within their new home country while celebrating and honouring the ones they left behind.’

Arthur, a member of GIANTS, said: ‘Week after week, a different GIANT would come out of the kitchen with a feast they’d prepared, receiving applause and appreciation. We explained how food is a universal language, connecting people across cultures.

‘We made connections every moment, sharing survival stories, talking about the tough times we faced. We shared stories of strengths, skills, identity, positivity, moving forward, and belonging, as well as the negative impact of hostile immigration policies, homelessness, and isolation.’ 

Those who come to the UK desperately seeking a better life often face destitution on arrival. Nearly three-quarters of migrant renters struggle to find somewhere affordable to rent, with 25% of landlords being unwilling to rent to non-British passport owners.  Around half of the rough sleepers in Tower Hamlets were born outside the UK, highlighting the vulnerability of migrants and refugees to poverty. 

The GIANTS’ cookbook is both an archive of intergenerational struggle as well as a triumph of diasporic community. Stories of childhood strife in Jamaica are delicately woven into anecdotes of foraging in Hackney Marshes, and painful fears of deportation are met with the balm of cross-cultural brotherhood. 

Recipes of Life was funded by Tower Hamlets Public Health Division with support from the Tower Hamlets Community Mental Health team. You can support Praxis by buying a copy here

Tilapia and chips © Recipes of Life: Stories of Migration and Brotherhood
Tilapia and chips © Recipes of Life: Stories of Migration and Brotherhood
Chicken soup © Recipes of Life: Stories of Migration and Brotherhood
Chicken soup © Recipes of Life: Stories of Migration and Brotherhood
Jollof Rice recipe in Recipes of Life: Stories of Migration and Brotherhood by Praxis and the GIANTS
Jollof rice © Recipes of Life: Stories of Migration and Brotherhood

For more recipe ideas, read Lamb and potato curry recipe from the ‘Brick Lane Cookbook’.

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