20.4 C
Byron Shire
April 23, 2021

Byron resident tries ‘eating like a Syrian refugee’

Latest News

Tweed Council to write to government for more housing support

With a shortage of affordable housing in most areas of the Far North Coast, it is not surprising that Tweed is also feeling the pinch and Council has declared a housing emergency in the area owing to a lack of availability and affordability.

Other News

Coalition ‘hellbent’

Mat Morris, Bangalow The NSW coalition seems to be hellbent on outdoing their federal counterparts when it comes to the denigration...

Pottsville policing forum asks the hard questions

Members of the Pottsville and Tweed Coast community say that in response to an increase in criminal activity in the area and their request for increased police presence, they were hosting a police presentation at Pottsville.

Local youth among those hardest hit by housing affordability crisis

A 20 per cent spike in rents is driving an increase in youth homelessness across the North Coast, the organisers of a national campaign to end homelessness say.

Koala Wars

James Wright, Byron Bay On reading Dailan’s ‘Koala Wars’ I felt compelled introduce the readers to interesting debate about the health and...

Tony Barry, Ben Chifley and FD’s Four Freedoms

Local actor-vist, Tony Barry, has taken on a lot since he moved to the Northern Rivers, and though cancer took one of his legs, Tony still manages to put in the hard yards for social, environmental and human rights causes.

Understand climate?

Peter Olson, Goonengerry Have you noticed it getting a bit chilly at night recently? Do you think we will have a...

Melissa Allen shares her insights after a week on a refugee diet

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be on rations? Melissa Allen from South Golden Beach has not only wondered but has just finished a week on a diet of rations that is designed to reflect, as closely as possible, the weekly rations of a Syrian refugee in Jordan.

During Refugee Week (June 17–24), Melissa ate rations as part of the Act for Peace Ration Challenge that has been set up to raise money for food, medicine and education for refugees.

Melissa’s starter pack for her week of eating like a refugee. Photo supplied.

With a starter pack of rice: 420g, lentils: 170g, dried chick peas: 85g, tinned sardines: 125g, tinned kidney beans: 400g, vegetable oil: 300ml and two vouchers that allow you to buy 1.5kg extra rice and 400g flour, Melissa began her seven-day challenge to eat like a refugee while the rest of the family followed their normal diet. Having raised $324 Melissa was able to add an extra 200ml of milk and 50g of sugar to use over her seven days.

‘I had a direct experience of working with refugees when I did a six-month volunteer program working in a centre for refugees in Bolzano, Italy, back in 2002,’ said Melissa.

While there Melissa had spent a night in the living quarters of the refugees who live in the same building with 80 other families.

‘I also had the experience of sleeping rough next to a river with the other volunteers. We carried our cardboard box beds through the wealthy part of the town, past the bars we would have otherwise been in, in our pyjamas, without anything but a box and a blanket,’ recalls Melissa.

‘The six months in Italy closely connected me to the refugee experience – each day was a seminal part of my life.’

On day two of the challenge Melissa and her seven-year-old son went to the farmers market for their weekly shop.

‘Every Tuesday we do the same thing together. We finish the shopping and then we sit and have a chai together before leaving for school. It is “our thing.”

‘As we were arriving at the markets I realised I only had 200ml of milk to use. This meant I couldn’t get a chai but technically I could have a hot milk though that meant using up a lot of my milk ration,’ explains Melissa.

‘This sparked a dialogue with my son: “Because I’m a refugee this week I can’t have chai! And if I have milk now then I go without it for the rest of the week”.

‘My son was sad that our ritual wasn’t going to work out. We talked about how differently refugees relate to their food. “If you or I run out of milk, we just duck to the shop to get more. But refugees on rations can’t do that.”

‘The value of a celebration or special occasion and the use of ingredients on those occasions shows up more starkly when we come from a place of lack. I had to work out how much maintaining this ritual with my son really meant.

‘I got hot milk and my son had his chai. The ritual we share is precious. I tell you, I really enjoyed each individual sip of that warm milk, knowing it was a big portion of my rations that week.’

Rice brain

Melissa Allen spent a week eating like a Syrian refugee in Jordan. Photo supplied.

By day six Melissa had realised that her fridge was redundant on a ration diet and that she had had no fresh food all week.

‘I was really looking forward to green foods and fruit and a simple cup of tea instead of water,’ said Melissa.

On the ration diet Melissa had to re-think her priorities and work out what she had the energy to do.

‘While I have been able to manage working through this week, at times I’ve had a “rice brain” fog. I’ve adjusted by leaving myself a note when I feel like I’m not 100 per cent. This is only one week. I try to expand that out. Imagine not knowing the end point. Ration packs week after week and month after month.’

‘I am reminded of my time working with refugees in Italy. Handing out their government funded food – two repetitive food options each day on rotation for six months. No wonder when I made the kids toffee they thought I was a fucking magician. The kids enjoyed the sugar rush. The most energy they may have felt in bloody weeks.’

By the final day of the challenge Melissa had plain rice and flatbread – made simply with flour and water – for breakfast, lunch and dinner because that was all she had left.

‘The stodgy food I have eaten all week, the rice and flour and no fresh food, has left me feeling very bloated and you could say backed up,’ commented Melissa as she looked forward to going ‘back’ to her normal diet.

‘It’s no wonder there are major digestive issues in refugee communities. This ration diet allows the body to survive but certainly not thrive,’ she says.

‘This week I have learned that I like eating sardines and may continue to eat them. I also learned to make flatbread and that I do in fact like falafel.

‘I learned the value of each ingredient and the importance of not messing up in the cooking or you have even fewer rations to eat. I learned how particularly refugees need to mete out their supplies to make sure there is enough.

‘I learned how much our bodies need good nutrition to keep our brains firing well and how noticeably the absence of good nutrition can affect energy and brain power. I learned just how fuckin’ abundant our developed world is.’

Find out more about supporting refugees and the ration challenge online at www.actforpeace.rationchallenge.org.au.

Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


  1. Well done, Melissa. However, with respect, what was the point of you “living” on rations, presumably provided
    with the diet of Syrians in mind, in Jordan (potentially with the Jordanian diet in mind?).

    Probably you would suffered a variation of the same problems you had experienced with the “Syrian/Jordanian” diet, if you had opted to live on a diet similar to that of, say, by way of example, a non-refugee, nomadic horse herder in Outer Mongolia.

  2. Have a look at the rationing that England had to put up with during the second world war. And even when the war had ended, rationing went on for years. I was born during the war, and it was several years later that I ate my first banana. Well, I was only given half a one as it had to be shared with my brother.

  3. Thanks for going to this effort Melissa. I recently had a couple of days where I was eating a lot of bread for various reasons and even that was kind of awful after only one day. Your experience has made me think more about the lives of the refugees.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Simon Richardson steps down as Byron Shire Mayor

In an eventful day for Byron Shire Council, pot-stirrer Fast Buck$ was ejected from the council chambers yesterday and later Cr Simon Richardson announced that he will be stepping down as mayor from the end of next week.

Pay parking for Lennox Head?

Yesterday's Ballina Shire Council meeting saw councillors raise the spectre of paid parking at Lennox Head, and possibly elsewhere in the shire.

They will not be forgotten…

In the wake of the pandemic restrictions, ANZAC Day will be commemorated in a COVID safe fashion and some areas will ask residents to...

East Ballina Lions desperately needs new members

East Ballina Lions Club has given over thirty years of service to numerous community programs and initiatives, but if it doesn't get more members soon, it will have to close.