A few months ago our friend (+ Apiece Apart collaborator!) Andrea Gentl sent us a short but urgent email: ‘you’ve GOT to meet Sana Javeri Kadri. Truly amazing.’
And just like that, we were introduced to the inspiring, kind, and hard-working Sana. The founder of Diaspora Turmeric Co.—a turmeric company based in Oakland, CA—Sana works with small, independent Indian spice farms to bring the highest quality turmeric from remote parts of India into kitchens around the world.
If you’re reading this and thinking “oh great, more on that millennial turmeric trend,” this is Sana’s perfectly cued bait and switch moment: Raised in Mumbai, Diaspora Co. is using something as seemingly small as the familiar golden-hued spice as a catalyst for important conversations about sustainability, social change, and cultural awareness.
Starting Diaspora with zero “business experience” (she worked previously as a photographer and writer), Sana crafted her cult favorite company from the ground up, rolling up her sleeves and tackling the dirty work head on — traveling around the world, meeting every person involved in the complex international supply chain, and just figuring it out as she’s gone along.
Beyond her savvy pragmatism, Sana’s bold advocacy for fearlessly owning her power and her voice is raw inspiration — a vocal, proactive advocate for women and queer entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color, she is the example of the modern role model we could all learn something from. Read on for more of our day with Sana…right before she was about to hop on a 19-hour flight to Delhi for more on-the-ground research, she indulged us in a conversation on bridging cultural divides, her (aspirational) daily rituals, and why she’s obsessed with Lizzo (hint: revolutionary self-love!)
“I think little girls are really taught to be likable, at least this little girl was…especially in comparison to all the little boys I saw around me who were allowed to show anger and assert themselves without it affecting their image. Maybe there’s a little bit of firstborn child in there too; in the deep desire to please adults I really strived to be likable, and overly charismatic for most of my life..."
And this past year, I’ve really had to become aware of that, and try to throw it out the window: Employees aren’t always going to like me. People aren’t always going to like me. I’ve had to really sit with the fact that I’m not for everyone. It’s not something to be defensive about … it’s what got me here.
Everyone liking me isn’t what will keep me moving forward, but my belief in myself and my ability to show up and care is what will always propel me forward.”
Side note: Lizzo is such a good example of that. She is a queen, and it’s because she isn’t trying to please anyone but herself; her self love is so revolutionary.
On being a conduit between two food histories — an upbringing in India and a life in Oakland:
I always thought I’d finish college in California and move right back to Mumbai where I was born and raised. This idea of having a positive contribution on the growth and development of India was embedded into me from a very young age and a driving force through my life. So when I came out and realized that the return journey to Mumbai that I’d always imagined might not be the right path for me … that shook me for quite a long time. I felt guilty and silly for being in the United States, squandering my incredibly privileged education here just because the Bay Area gave me the space to come out, be a baby queer, and immerse myself in queer culture in a way that I know Mumbai wouldn’t have allowed; not without much bigger consequences anyway.
Coming out is such a privilege in our world today (I'm so grateful to all the people working toward a future where it isn’t!) and the selfishness of it haunted me for years — four years and a lot of therapy later, I’m just starting to feel settled into my role as a conduit between Oakland and Mumbai. Diaspora Co. has obviously helped with that significantly. It’s allowed me to spend long periods of time working in India, visiting farms all over the country, getting really up close and personal with food justice issues I’d previously only studied from a distance, and still engaging with and being a part of the U.S. food industry that I really came of age in.
On rituals that are a work in progress:
I’ve been working from home for about a year now, and my terrible habit has become waking up and answering emails in bed from 6-7:30am, then going straight from bed (brief interlude to brush teeth and wash face) to my desk in my pajamas and diving headfirst into work. Usually I resurface as a hangry monster for food and nourishment around 11am...
...I’ve been trying to re-wire… it’s hard! I’m trying to wake up, make myself a matcha latte and a little breakfast, do 10 pushups and some of my physical therapy exercises, do five minutes of my Headspace meditation app, and then dive into my work day a little later. The guilt of wasting three waking hours on self-care things is real, but it’s been important to recognize that those hours actually make me more productive into the evening, rather than burning out in a little pajama slump by 4pm.
On food as connective thread:
All through my childhood my family came together for dinner every single night. The dining table is where I learned to construct a good argument, to build my own opinions, and to love food dearly. Living alone and eating meals alone was very odd for me when I first moved to the U.S. Communal, familial living with open doors and buzzing kitchens is the only way I know how to live/thrive.
My partner and I have been trying really hard to cook dinner together at 6:30pm every night, and then sit down and eat together. There are some days that we definitely climb into bed and eat while watching Netflix, but the act of cooking together has been a real game changer for our relationship, and our diets! We get to debrief about our day, do a productive thing together which totally boosts our mood, and also have leftovers for the next day. I still am working on making hosting friends over less intimidating, especially on weeknights. I think having a dishwasher might help with that! Never thought adulthood would mean saving up for a dishwasher.
What have you been cooking lately?
I’ve been making a smashed cucumber salad on repeat. My friend Jenny is the founder of Fly By Jing, and she has this amazing Sichuan chili oil that I could honestly just eat with a spoon, and it’s extra incredible on smashed cukes.
Sana’s Smashed Cucumber Salad:
Smash three Japanese/Chinese cucumbers with the flat side of your knife and then cut into bite-sized pieces (the smashing allows them to absorb more sauce), toss in a teaspoon of salt and press the water out of them for about 30 minutes. (I put ‘em in a colander with a bag of ice on top in the sink.) Next, pat dry, toss in minced garlic, a splash of rice vinegar, and as much chili oil as you can handle. Eat immediately!
What questions have you been asking yourself lately?
I've been thinking a lot about originality and ownership lately. I had this idea of a direct trade, brand new kind of spice company, and while that idea was 100% my own, there are obviously people around the world who have had similar ideas before and after me.
I’m working really hard to get rid of this tempting notion of individual exceptionalism: this feeling that this is my idea, and therefore only I have ownership over the execution of it. The more spice companies the better, the more people supporting indigenous farming practices the better, and ultimately no one can really steal your vision for the future. This idea of the possibility of theft, or of being robbed of opportunities, while true in a systemic way, isn’t really true on a mental, deep-in-your-bones way.
I guess I'm really wrestling with how to deal with competition with grace, elegance, and while maintaining as much of my mental health and sanity as possible…