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Food security remains one of the ongoing challenges of people fleeing their homelands because of ethnic or religious persecution, or war. Hunger is a constant and pressing issue.

When people are forced to leave their own country for another, what happens to their traditional culinary habits? How do habitants of refugee camps obtain food? What ingredients are available? Where and how do they prepare their meals?  More often, they rely on humanitarian aid for their daily needs. Familiar dishes and culinary customs nourish, provide solace, and a taste of a faraway home.

The Zaatari Refugee camp opened in 2012 and now houses 80,000 residents. The Calais Jungle housed almost 10,000 people before its demolition in 2016. Migrants continue to camp in Calais and surrounding areas.

At our Kitchen Table, we will have informed voices to discuss and explore these issues based on their hands on and personal experiences: Karen E Fisher, Professor at the University of Washington, field ethnographer at UNHCR Zaatari Camp in Jordan, and author of the soon to be published Zaatari: Culinary Traditions of the World’s Largest Syrian Refugee Camp; Mohamed Shwamra, project coordinator, facilitator, and resident in Zaatari Camp; and Janie Mac co-founder Refugee Community Kitchen


The conversation will be moderated by Cameron Stauch

Dr. Karen E Fisher

Karen Fisher is a Professor at the Information School, University of Washington, Seattle, and Adjunct Professor at Abo Akademie University (FI) and Siegen University (DE). An embedded field researcher with UNHCR Jordan, Karen has been learning from and working with the people of Zaatari Camp in northern Jordan since 2015. Karen helped establish the world’s first refugee-run, camp-wide library system. She uses ethnography and participatory design methods to understand refugees’ culture, expertise, and skills. Her studies in Zaatari camp include how young people use mobiles and the internet, which led to a project Empowering Syrian Girls through Culturally Sensitive Mobile Technology and Social Media using the Holy Quran and Syrian culture to co-design Internet safety tools in support of female entrepreneurship. Her current work, Zaatari Camp Creations, focuses on co-designing innovative, niche market products that draw upon Syrian and Arab heritage in support refugee livelihoods.

Mohammed Shwamra

Mohammed Shwamra is the Project Manager and Translator for the forthcoming book with Karen, “Zaatari: Culinary Traditions of the World’s Largest Syrian Refugee Camp” (Goose Lane Editions, 2024). A graduate of Al Bayt University in Jordan, Mohammed is from Syria and has lived in Zaatari Camp since 2013. Mohammed is also the Innovation and Business Manager for Zaatari Camp Creations (refugee-led enterprise) and is the Business Manager for the Givaudan Foundation-Made in Zaatari enterprise that creates handmade soap and candles made from locally sourced olive oil and beeswax.

With a focus on conflict resolution, peace, and refugee rights, Mohammed collaborates with the Technical University of Applied Sciences Wurzburg-Schweinfurt (DE) and other universities in the EU and Australia. His mother, Umm Mohamed, is Zaatari Camp’s best cook.

Janie Mac

Janie Mac is one of the co-founders of the Refugee Community Kitchen and current head of the RCK UK operations. In 2015, RCK sprung into action to serve meals to displaced people in northern France, in Calais and Dunkirk. The following year, in 2016 their UK operation started to feed homeless people in London and Edinburgh. In 2016, RCK received a European Diversity award as the Community Project of the Year. RCK was winner of Observer Food Monthly’s 2019 Outstanding Achievement Award.

Zoom Event Details

24th October 2023
5:00 pm BST
Free – £15

Reading list

Zaatari Culinary Traditions of the World’s Largest Syrian Refugee Camp

Karen E Fisher

Refugee Community Kitchen


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