This holiday season, the Prapaisilp family is determined to add flavor to the tables of the area's food insecure through a different kind of food drive. The veteran grocers and restaurateurs have partnered with the International Institute of St. Louis and the St. Louis Area Foodbank to encourage customers to think a little differently about the kinds of goods they donate.
Now through December 24, both Global Foods Market and United Provisions will serve as a collection point for spices that will be donated to the two organizations that serve those experiencing food insecurity. As Prapaisilp explains, his family's international markets are particularly well-poised to spearhead such an effort because of their vast selection of spices and diverse selection of products.
"With Global Foods and United Provisions, we have more than salt, pepper and oregano," Prapaisilp says. "We carry a lot of Afghan and South Asian spices like cumin and cardamom and flavors. It's a good opportunity for people to not just donate but to learn a little. Everyone needs salt and pepper, but we have a wide variety."
As Prapaisilp explains, he was inspired to host the drive after reading an article discussing the importance of including spices when donating to food pantries — something typically left out of such hunger relief efforts. However, as the article notes, these vital ingredients are not simply about adding a little extra flavor; they are important for food insecure people to feel connected to their culinary traditions.
"People get the most bang for their buck buying cans of green beans, and yes, you need the nutrition," Prapaisilp says. "However, there is a human side that also needs to be nourished. People don't often think about seasonings; they think about the basics of having a full belly, but the ability to use spices to show cultural heritage and identity is also important."
With a number of Afghan refugees arriving in St. Louis and the broad awareness of their plight, Prapaisilp sees this moment as an opportunity to expand people's ideas about food donations. As he explains, spices are the ways by which cultures make a particular dish their own, and provide a familiarity in new and unfamiliar circumstances.
"I was recently reading about how Afghan refugees are being put up in hotel rooms with no stoves," Prapaisilp says. "They were grateful to have shelter and food, but what they were getting was new to them, and they were only able to cook it in a microwave. The International Institute bought out our collection of frozen Indian meals, which are similar to Afghan cuisine, and it was nice to see that, even in a not-ideal situation, they were able to not just get food to eat, but to feel nourished."
To participate in the spice drive, shoppers at Global Foods and United Provisions are encouraged to add newly purchased, unopened spice jars in labeled donation receptacles near the entrances and exits to each store. The stores will then match each spice donation with one additional spice based on the needs of each organization. For Prapaisilp, whose proud Thai heritage has been the foundation of his work as a restaurateur and grocer, it's a small way to help that will hopefully have a large impact on the quality of life for the area's food insecure.
"Everyone has a different spin on their cuisine or a secret family recipe," Prapaisilp says. "Whether you are making a turkey dinner or something else, we all need spices. Because of our platform, it's good to step in."
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