Why Somalis Can’t Use MN Food Shelves And The Push To Change That

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Bill Sorem

When it comes to food shelves in Minneapolis, halal food is hard to come by. But a group of Somali women want to change that.

Isuroon, a local nonprofit that works to develop the health and empowerment of Somali women, is asking the city to help develop a new food shelf that provides healthy, ethnic food to the Muslim community living in South Minneapolis. The nonprofit, along with dozens of community members, are asking the city to allocate $150,000 to fund the new food shelf as a start-up.

“As a Somali community, we cannot use some food shelves,” said Isuroon member Waris Mohamud. “[Some] things are expired, things have pork.”

According to a 2010 Ramsey County Public Health report, while there are food shelves in St. Paul and around Minnesota that carry culturally-specific foods, foods specific to the Somali culture, such as halal, are often hard to find. Community members also face other barriers such as a lack of awareness of the food shelves and language issues.

Halal refers to the Islamic guidelines for how food is prepared and what it can contain, such as no alcohol and no pork.

There are more than 300 food shelves in Minnesota, said Kanga Atharye, who facilitates the food shelf at the Brian Coyle Center in Minneapolis. But Atharye said Brian Coyle is the only food shelf in the state that serves halal food, and 80 percent of its customers are of Somali, Oromo or Ethiopian decent.

Insuroon executive director Fartun Weli said it’s inappropriate for the city’s elected officials to expect the Somali community to be properly served by a single food shelf. And while serving halal food is a good first step, it’s also important that the food they have access to be healthy, she said.

Resources Tight For Another Food Shelf

Hennepin County commissioner Peter McLaughlin said he believes one of the biggest hurdles to the proposal is the budget. At around $150,000, it would require taking another look at the county’s food budget on Nov.13, he said, and Insuroon and the Somali community should consider reaching out to other food shelves.

But Weli said that’s an unreasonable request because Insuroon is still a small organization.

“By the time … I try to work with all the food shelves, to change their culture, to make a space for kosher or halal food, I’m going to be eighty,” she said. “Who are we kidding here?”

The food shelf is not just about access to food, Weli said, but rather about the development of a community asset in the city for Somalis and other community members who need food that meets their health and religious needs.

Isuroon began organizing for an ethnic food shelf back in January, said Weli, after a survey they conducted with the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs showed that much of their community had experienced an inability to use a food shelf, which is often their primary way of getting groceries.

Waris Mohamud said that a food shelf is necessary for the community so that they can feed their families, and that it can play a valuable role as a community gathering space.

Weli said that organizing for the food shelf was also an important step to show Somali women that their voice matters and it’s important that they speak up.

McLaughlin agreed to help them present their proposal to the county commissioners on their next budget meeting on Nov. 13.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

12 thoughts on “Why Somalis Can’t Use MN Food Shelves And The Push To Change That

  1. What about someone who has a medical condition Celiac for instance, muslims have 90 % more options to choose from…maybe your (muslim) religion is telling you to fast!

  2. Presto88: Needing to use a food shelf are related, but quite different concepts. It is your assumption that food shelf users don’t have jobs. I doubt that anyone wants to use a food shelf; I’m sure they’d rather buy their own food. I think the people in this article especially would fit into that category if they could afford to buy their own food because their religion says it is unholy to eat it.

    matt: Again, just because someone has a job doesn’t mean they can afford to stay away from a food shelf.

    Gary: Good point!

    TheUPTAKE: I love your work! I really, really do. I also appreciate the spotlight on the issue. I wish that the assumptions behind the article and headline (all Muslims that use food shelves are Somali) are culturally insensitive at best. The halal food requirement is a Muslim requirement, regardless of which country that Muslim (or their family) comes from. Many of these “Somalis” are American citizens, and they are all American residents.

  3. Wow, talk about insensitive! Food shelves cater to medical conditions, many have Kosher selections, so I hardly think it’s much to ask that the city helps fund a halal food shelf or makes halal available at the food shelves in the area.

  4. Many Walmart employees use foodshelves and SNAP because the wages are not sustainable for many of those families.

  5. The Somali American Community provides employers with thousands of employees resulting in income taxes and payroll taxes, Somali entrepreneurs pay taxes and create jobs. Somali homeowners and renters pay property taxes, Somali consumer activity also adds millions to the economy. The Chamber of Commerce published the data. The Somali American community is asking that some of the taxes they paid be allocated to some of their community needs. It is basic respect to accommodate others’ religious dietary needs. Your immigrant ancestor very likely did not arrive with money in their pockets, speaking American English, and self sufficient. They were probably trashed by earlier immigrant groups like you are doing here. No one planted seeds and harvested the next day. Europeans had to learn how to hunt, gather, and farm in the new world. Mine didn’t 100 years ago. County Agents helped my parents learn how to farm. It is basic respect to accommodate others’ religious dietary needs. Perhaps you should think back on how you would have wanted your ancestors to have been treated.

    Michael N Hindin

  6. If they pay so much in taxes they must make good money…thus they wouldn’t need to go to the food shelf. My statement remains the same…get out and go back home if you don’t like it.

  7. Immigrants pay nearly 300 million in taxes yearly in Minnesota. Some of their tax contribution should be allocated to their needs.

  8. Every community including yours has a pretty equal percentage of people in
    poverty including people like Walmart employees who are paid low wages and prevented from working full time hours. Many working poor familys need nutrition help.

  9. Perhaps you should look at your own bible perhaps Mathew to learn how to be kind to your neighbors and strangers.

  10. America belong to all of us not just you. You dont get to tell folks to leave who are legally here. Try looking into your own family immigration stories. Nearly 100 percent arrived impoverished, unfamilisr with survival in Anerica, and not speaking American English.