This Queer, Immigrant-Owned Spice Company Says the Spice Trade Needs an Update. Here’s Why
Kitchen spices are not immediately thought of when it comes to colonization.
The spice trade was a major factor in drawing colonizers to different parts of the world. Whoever controlled the herbs, roots, and seeds was in charge of an economic stronghold.
India was a prime target for conquest.
Although the spice trade in India existed long before the 15th century, explorer Vasca de Gama’s arrival in what is now the coastal Indian state of Kerala in 1498 marked the beginning of the European race to dominate the industry.
The European powers of the time often took control of spices from the farmers who grew them.
Spices are still a major economic force.
According to data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), the spice industry had a total trade value of 3.61 billion U.S. dollars in 2020 alone, with the U.S. ranking as the top importer of spices worldwide.
The repercussions of a colonized spice trade are still being felt today.
Luckily, DiasporaCo. is doing something about it. They ethically source high quality spices, pay farmers fair trade wages, and honor the cultures where these diverse seasonings are sourced.
You will get spices from Diaspora Co. that may be unlike anything you have ever tried. Read on to find out why.
The founder of Diaspora Co. was born in Mumbai.
After studying food justice in college, Javeri Kadri was working in marketing at a thoughtfully-sources San Francisco grocery store called Bi-Rite.
She had an idea in the year 2016
The turmeric trend
“Turmeric was suddenly everywhere, but the bland stuff being sold in the U.S. was nothing like the turmeric I’d grown up with in India,” says Javeri Kadri. “I started researching the spice trade and discovered that most of the turmeric [in the U.S.] was a blend, with no sense of place or respect for the people that grew it.”
Javeri Kadri went back to India to learn everything she could about the spice trade after she felt a sense of place and respect for the originators of spices.
She was shocked to find that there has been no change in 400 years.
The final spices on your shelf were usually an old, dusty shadow of what they used to be, as farmers made no money, spices changed hands upwards of 10 times before reaching the consumer, and the final spices were usually not worth much.
So in 2017 at 23, Javeri Kadri founded DiasporaCo. Starting with just one spice—Pragati Turmeric—the company now offers 30 single-origin spices from 150 farms across India and Sri Lanka.
Building an equitable spice trade
The goal is to be a leader in building a more equitable spice trade. Javeri Kadri believes that her experience as a queer immigrant of color makes her a good candidate to do that.
She says that her background and personal connection to the country where she got her spices gives her a unique perspective.
I started researching the spice trade and discovered that most of the turmeric was a blend, with no sense of place or respect for the people that grew it.
Javeri Kadri is more than just an office job.
She does two months-long trips to India and Sri Lanka every year to find the best farmers to grow the most delicious spices. We work with farms that specialize in regenerating farming practices.
Regenerative agriculture involves farming and grazing that contributes to biodiversity by restoring the soil, removing carbon, and improving the water cycle.
She says that each spice takes several months to source, and that it takes multiple tastings to find it.
Part of that rigorous testing involves the Indian Institute of Spices Research, which focuses on resource management, crop production and improvement, and protective technologies for safe spices.
A commitment to excellence and authenticity
The result? Spices that are connected to the farmers who bring them to you are very fresh and fragrant.
“Take our Aranya Black Pepper, for instance,” says Javeri Kadri. “It’s so much more fragrant and floral than most of the black pepper you’ll find on grocery store shelves. It really makes such a difference in everyday cooking.”
How do you ensure equal exchange in the spices you buy?
“Javeri Kadri says it’s all about education. You should read up on the companies that sell spices.”
She says to ask yourself three questions when shopping for spices.
- Is the company transparent about how they source?
- Is their supply chain clearly laid out?
- How much do they pay their farmers?
Javeri Kadri says that if the answer is no, then you are probably not buying from a company that is hoping to build equity within the spice industry.
Invest in high quality spices
If you can afford it, you should spend a little more.
She says to sprinkle the spices you use all the time.
Generic spices may be cheaper than fair-trade ones, but you may be surprised.
Javeri Kadri says that in a system where fair trade is a 15 percent premium, we pay what we believe to be a living wage.
She sees this as an investment in the future.
“We’re proud to pay our farm partners an average of 6 times above the commodity price,” Javeri Kadri adds. It supports “the kind of leadership and land stewardship that will build climate resilience and more delicious food systems.”
We’re proud to pay our farm partners an average of 6 times above the commodity price. [This supports] leadership and land stewardship that will build climate resilience and more delicious food systems.
Javeri Kadri says that one of the reasons he started Diaspora Co. was to bring back a sense of pride and place into the spice trade of his home country.
The community of the South Asian spice trade is a platform for the stories of freedom, struggle, and diaspora through food.
Javeri Kadri believes that it is a community about connecting deeply to culture, heritage and source.
Crystal Hoshaw is a mother, writer, and longtime yoga practitioner. She has taught in private studios, gyms, and one-on-one settings in Los Angeles, Thailand, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She shares mindful strategies for self-care through online courses at SimpleWildFree.com. Follow her on Instagram.