Monday, December 11, 2017

Oakland's Sana Javeri Kadri Seeks to Decolonize Turmeric with Spice Company Diaspora Co.

By Janelle Bitker
Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 9:12 AM

click to enlarge A tin of Diaspora Co.'s golden turmeric. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SANA JAVERI KADRI
  • Photo courtesy of Sana Javeri Kadri
  • A tin of Diaspora Co.'s golden turmeric.

In February, Sana Javeri Kadri quit her cushy marketing job at San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Grocers and bought a one-way ticket to her native Mumbai, India.

At the time, Javeri Kadri was wondering where her ideal place might be within the world of food as a queer woman of color. And she was having a lot of conversations about turmeric. In 2016, turmeric dramatically rose in popularity in the United States, largely thanks to the health food movement. Turmeric-flavored “golden lattes” began to grace every hippie cafe menu in the region. It bugged Javeri Kadri — especially the widespread lack of context. “Turmeric was worthy of the attention if it came from Gwyneth Paltrow, not if it came from Indian immigrants,” she said.

Certainly, the frustration also stems from Kadri’s upbringing in Mumbai, where American fruit roll-ups reigned supreme on the playground.

“There was a huge glorification of American fast food. What I saw growing up in India was a total loss of Indian regional cuisine and understanding Indian food history,” she said. “Most urban Indians are developing diabetes and are more likely to know how to cook pasta than Indian food.”

In response, Javeri Kadri dedicated herself to turmeric. She conducted informational interviews with direct-trade spice companies and showed up at the Indian Institute of Spices Research, learning about various strains of turmeric, visiting a dozen spice farms, and developing a partnership with a young Indian farmer growing some of the best turmeric around. In August, the Oakland resident formally launched her online spice company, Diaspora Co.

Diaspora’s current turmeric is a pragati heirloom strain with 4.7 percent curcumin content — that’s the stuff known for health benefits — grown in southeastern India. I taste-tested Diaspora's turmeric against Oaktown Spice Company's turmeric in three different recipes, but really, you could just smell the difference. It was more intense and earthy, and had a bolder golden hue.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the Indian farmer is being adequately compensated. With most other spice companies, “the producer makes very little money, there are a ton of middle men, the trader makes a lot of money, and the consumer is getting a final product completely removed from the original product,” said Javeri Kadri, who added that the average Indian spice farmer earns 35 cents on a kilo of turmeric. On Amazon, you can buy the same
amount for $35.

You can order some of Diaspora Co.’s turmeric online until Dec. 17. In February, Javeri Kadri will return to India for the next turmeric harvest. And one day, she might not only return with turmeric. Her dream? “Having a pantry one day that’s all Diaspora spices.”


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