Comment: ‘Gwyneth Paltrow did not invent turmeric’

Mumbai-based founder of Diaspora Co. Sana Javeri Kadri on decolonising your pantry.

‘Can you remember when you had your first turmeric latte? Mine was in San Francisco in the summer of 2016. I remember not because I have a weirdly good memory or liked the flavour, but because I felt a huge disconnect between what I was tasting in that cup and what I grew up with in India.

Throughout my childhood in Mumbai, I didn’t feel any pride around the idea of ‘made in India’. It was normal for us urban 1990s kids to glorify anything and everything that came from the US. The way we, the consuming public, have been pushed into thinking that local food systems and organic ingredients are elitist continues all around the world to this day and is the work of big agriculture and industrial food. It’s totally upside down.

I thought the trend for turmeric lattes would quickly fade, but it didn’t. (Nor, really, has the number of people who believe Gwyneth Paltrow invented turmeric.) And to some extent, that trendy cup of turmeric and milk put me on the path to starting my own company, Diaspora Co, which aims to vastly improve the quality of spices exported from India and also put real money, equity, and power into the hands of small Indian farmers growing organically.

In fact, when it comes to unpacking so many injustices in the food world, we should look at some of the less sexy aspects of it – things like supply chains and sourcing standards. I divide my time between Oakland and Mumbai, but it’s only when sitting out with my farmers in India that I get a proper insight into the levels of corruption and bureaucracy within a broken system they are subject to on a daily basis. The more hands in a supply chain, the murkier the journey from farm to pantry and the less money goes directly to farmers and their indigenous cultures. Sourcing quality ingredients in an ethical way has the power to combat these systems, but it’s often an afterthought for most food companies. And these days, virtue signalling with hero sourcing of one ingredient while the rest are as terribly sourced as they always were is rampant.

‘It has made me feel more hopeful about the future of food.’

But I’m hopeful. Since founding Diaspora Co nearly four years ago, things have improved. We’ve seen demand for our spices grow x3-x4 year on year. And since the pandemic and the current iteration of the Black Lives Matter movement, things have gone up further. Over the past few months, we’ve been seeing x8 growth as well as a first-time mainstream interest in what the work of decolonising your pantry can look like.

It has made me feel more hopeful about the future of food. BIPOC are increasingly holding people to account – myself included. For example: the reckoning at Bon Appétit magazine. People and companies are finally being held to account. The editor-in-chief has stepped down. They are rethinking their coverage and staff. They asked me to write a food guide to Mumbai a few months ago, and by the end (the piece fell through due to Covid) I felt like they wanted me to say things like this or that is ‘the Brooklyn of Mumbai’. Us BIPOC community want our stories told so badly we get pushed into corners we don’t want to be in and often have no idea how we got there.

Everyday, there are more and more DTC food brands out there with shiny, cool websites. I feel it’s important we focus on what’s beyond the label and the Instagram feed, and collectively start thinking more deeply about where our ingredients come from, and how people are compensated. To me, the future of food is equitable sourcing at every level of our supply chains as the very baseline, not the seasonal marketing ploy.’

Read more from Sana at sanajaverikadri.com

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