Global Village Foods: Uniting the World with African Flavors
It takes a village. When it comes to building a strong, robust local food system, few things ring truer than this expression—and our friends Melvin and Damaris Hall, the owners and co-founders of Global Village Foods (Windsor, VT), understand the notion wholeheartedly. A village stands for much more than its literal definition—it’s about the many different staples and traditions that bring people together and build communities. Food is one such example of something we can all share and enjoy together. After all, delicious tastes and flavors maintain no physical borders or boundaries, and Global Village Foods is here to remind us of that fact with their excellent line-up of five freshly frozen meals, all of which are available now at River Valley Co-op.
Their recipes combine several types of African cuisine together in a way that is both familiar yet new and fresh at the same time. Their attention to inclusivity has led to innovative culinary creations that do not include any of the nine most common major food allergens—milk, egg, peanut, soy, wheat, tree nut, shellfish, fish and sesame seed—yet are all super approachable and irresistibly delicious. Once you’ve had a taste, you will come to the same conclusion as we did—why isn’t African food more accessible in the United States? Thankfully, the experts at Global Village Foods are working hard with food co-ops like ours to resolve this!
Q: What kinds of foods and fresh ingredients did Damaris' family grow and enjoy eating in Kenya that influence Global Village Foods today?
A: Damaris grew up in Kenya, where food was farm fresh and grown naturally. During her childhood, she and her family cultivated and harvested crops such as corn, lentils, spinach, squash, mangoes, herbs, and more. Dishes like Sukuma Wiki, a sauteed kale dish, and dangu, a hearty mung bean stew, were a staple on the kitchen table. Her mother always emphasized the importance of communal wellness through shared meals.
Damaris Hall, owner and co-founder of Global Village Foods of Windsor, VT.
Q: Damaris and Mel once operated an African restaurant in Vermont. What inspired them to switch focus from restaurant to retail, and how has the business grown and changed since?
A: Damaris and Mel originally started an African restaurant in Vermont called Taste of Africa. Their focus was on bringing flavors together from across Africa to show the depths of flavors from the various regions. The enthusiastic response from farmers' markets and the restaurant fueled the desire to expand so that even more people could enjoy the flavors. We have been in the retail space since 2015 and have successfully built a community of people who love global flavors and local community as much as we do.
Global Village Foods' lineup of five freshly frozen meals are free from gluten and the nine most common major food allergens.
Q: How did you come up with the name "Global Village," and what is its underlying meaning?
A: We came up with the name “Global Village" after thinking through a lot of possibilities and asking our community what most felt like us. Its meaning encapsulates what we hope to do—to bring everyone together to enjoy flavors from around the world, which helps us to realize that we’re a global community and more similar than we are different.
Mel and Damaris Hall pose with their 2021 NEXTY award, a prestigious honor given annually to select businesses in the natural foods industry.
Q: Why does Global Village Foods emphasize ingredients that are allergy-friendly, vegan and gluten-free—and from where are they largely sourced?
A: For us, it’s personal. Founders Mel and Damaris Hall had a child born with severe food allergies to dairy, egg, nuts, and seafood. Their mission has been to make sure that their family and others could eat well and without worry. Part of their commitment to making food well is also to be transparent about where their ingredients are sourced, as well as through the use of sustainable packaging.
The African no-nut stew offers an exceptionally tasty example of Global Village Foods' flavor philosophy.
Q: What is your research and development process like for creating new meals and snacks, and do you have anything exciting in the works right now?
A: Our research and development process for creating new meals and snacks is very much based on what we hear from our customers! We love to try out new recipes and ask people what they enjoy, then develop new items based on their responses. In fact, we're rolling out two brand new snack items over the course of summer 2021, including falafel and a vegan black-bean kofta (which is, traditionally, a spiced Mediterranean meatball). Both of these dishes have been a BIG HIT with our test customers!
To guarantee allergen safety, the different meals are made on separate production days using separate equipment from items containing wheat!
Q: What are some challenges Global Village Foods has encountered as a Black-owned business that others might not be aware of, and what steps can we all take to change systemic inequities?
A: We have been very fortunate to receive strong support and love from our Vermont community. As part of that, we want to give back to other Black-owned and BIPOC businesses operating in Vermont and across New England. It’s important to understand and be mindful of what you consume and how—for instance, can you purchase from Black-owned brands? Can you start conversations around racial equity and unlearning unconscious bias? The biggest thing we can all do together is to ask Black-owned businesses what help they need.
Q: What programs and initiatives does Global Village Foods participate in to help build communities and foster a healthy local food system?
A: We’ve got several exciting programs and initiatives to help build communities and foster a healthy local food system. Our efforts include supporting BIPOC farm & food organizations like Vermont Releaf Collective, providing meals to local food pantries, and donating to support clean water to villages in Kenya. In addition, we partner with local farms and support the "buy local" movement. We believe in local with a global perspective!