Sana on the left
Sana Javeri Kadri is the founder of Diaspora Co., a radically different spice collective dedicated to equity, sustainable agriculture, and decolonization. We’ve been fortunate to try Diaspora’s heirloom, organic, single-origin turmeric powder, and let’s just say it’s going to be very hard to go back to enjoying any other powdered turmeric ever again. Sana lives between Mumbai and Oakland, California.
— Is routine important to you or do you like things to be more open and free?
I crave routine and am most productive when I’m following a routine. However, I’m unable to do deep thinking work or larger creative work in the middle of a hectic routine, so I like to keep at least one day of the week wide open for creative projects and giving myself the time and space I need to create something important.
— What do your mornings look like? If they differ from day to day, describe your ideal morning.
I have been trying really hard to wake up, spend as little time on my phone as possible and then make myself a nourishing drink and most importantly, make myself some breakfast. One of my worst habits is to wake up, get on my phone, start responding to emails and then quickly get changed for work and dive straight into a full workday without taking any time to nourish myself or check in with my body. It means that by 1pm I’m starving, cranky and already tired for the day. The life changing power of breakfast is something I’m still learning…
— Do you have any bedtime rituals that help you sleep well?
My girlfriend and I try not to spend too much time on our phones before bed, or looking at a screen. She recently introduced a 20 mins of reading before bed practice that we’re trying to stick to, it’s my favorite way to wind down and I’m committing to not responding to work emails at 10:45pm, even if it’s 11:15am in Mumbai and my team there is just getting fired up. Work in progress.
— Do you have any kind of mindfulness practice?
My therapist guides me into mindfulness during our sessions every week because I often come in feeling stressed, frantic and a bit fragile. She’s always able to help me get back in touch with my body and begin to feel grounded again. At her urging, I handle all my stressful work calls or emails sitting outside in the sunshine, ideally with my bare feet in the ground. This practice of grounding has been particularly helpful to me in the past few months of managing a stressful season. I also recently downloaded the Headspace app, and just the five minutes everyday of meditation has made a huge difference to me.
— Describe your typical or ideal meal for each of these:
Breakfast – In Oakland – Bread srsly gluten free sourdough, crispy fried egg cooked in ghee topped with smoked paprika, turmeric and salt, sliced avocado or smoky pinto beans or sliced tomatoes or any veggie leftovers I can wrangle from the fridge, maybe a slice of bacon if I’m wanting some extra fat. In Mumbai – a loaded crispy veggie dosa. Either way, I love hot and savory breakfast. The cold and sweet breakfast tradition isn’t common in India so, cereal and granola with milk culture is something I find very odd about the United States.
Lunch – Leftovers express. My girlfriend and I both work long hours, so our saving grace is prepping large meals a couple times a week and then subsisting on leftovers. Gluten-free pasta with canned early girls (I can 80 lb every summer so that we never have to buy store bought tomato sauce) with every vegetable in the fridge/our imperfect produce box and ground beef is a family classic. Rosie is always joking that my stomach doubles when it comes to pasta and shrinks for everything else. She’s not wrong.
Snack – My favorite snack is stovetop popcorn. Growing up in Mumbai we never had a microwave, it was my parent’s most loathed kitchen appliance. So now I’m following that tradition of never owning a microwave. My favorite stovetop popcorn is popped in ghee and then topped with nutritional yeast, turmeric, and salt. It’s perfect.
Dinner – My perfect dinner is khichdi (spiced rice and lentils cooked in ghee and heavy on the ginger, turmeric and cumin), thick full fat yogurt, masala okra, a little bit of pickle (Brooklyn Delhi achaars are divine) and a side of spicy amaranth battered fish.
— Do you do caffeine and in what form? If not, what is your drink of choice in the morning?
I used to do caffeine, in a delicious ghee, turmeric, cardamom and coconut sugar concoction, but over time I’ve stopped being able to handle it. It started to make my stomach hurt and made me anxious. So I now drink either matcha with rice milk and date syrup, or hot chocolate with hemp oil, coconut sugar and adaptogens if I’m needing the extra nourishment. Some days, if I’ve slept enough and rested enough, I do better on just water and breakfast, no extra boost needed.
— Do you have a sweet tooth and do you take any measures to keep it in check?
I had a notorious sweet tooth all the way until my early twenties – I couldn’t be trusted with bars of chocolate and was known to sneak spoonfuls of cake first thing in the morning. However the older I’ve gotten (I’m still technically in the early twenties), sweets just give me a sugar crash and make me feel sluggish. As an avid lover of food, I’d rather eat plenty of things that make me feel fantastic, than the things that make me feel terrible. Both Rosie and I have been surprised and how quickly our respective sweet tooths have disappeared since we started living together, and how easily we’ve been able to cut out sugar from our life once we could verbalize how terrible it made us feel.
— Are there any particular supplements, herbs, or tinctures/tonics that you take regularly and find to be helpful with your energy level and general wellness?
I swear by cannabis tinctures. I’m not big on cannabis in other ways, but I find cannabis to be the only way to really deal with chronic pain. I’ve also started using Super Good Hemp’s Turmeric Full Spectrum Hemp Oil in my morning drinks, and I find that it has similar effects.
— Do you exercise and do you have a particular exercise routine that you repeat weekly?
I used to weight lift and do Crossfit pretty intensely, but had a really awful injury in 2016. Since then, I’ve really had to reframe my definition of exercise. Now, I consider it an extension of my healing process. Intense exercise just isn’t possible for me in the same way, so I stick to swimming as often as I can (usually a couple times a week), doing Nike Training body weight workouts at home, and talking our dog for a long walk every evening.
— Do you find exercise to be pleasurable, torturous or perhaps a little of both? How do you put yourself in the right mindset in order to keep up with it?
I love exercise and do best when I’m outside and moving my body. Rosie and I try to take our pup Lilly out for a hike at least once a week, and we notice how much more present are with each other and our work when we’ve exercised. That being said, I’m also an incredibly competitive person, so reframing exercise to no longer be an intensely competitive thing has been very hard for me. I find it difficult to work up the enthusiasm to go on a leisurely swim, without a team to train with, or a competition to work towards. Switching off my producing strategy is my biggest challenge.
— What is your idea of beauty – external, internal or both?
Both! It took me a long time to love my face, acknowledge that it was beautiful despite not looking like everything I saw on magazines and on billboards. But that acceptance and love for my external beauty definitely came from tending to, and growing confidence in my inner beauty.
— What is your skincare approach – face and body?
I grew up using raw honey as a face cleanser, handmade ayurvedic soaps for my body, and a mom who never used makeup. So that has informed a lot of my skincare today. My skincare guru is 300% Abena, the founder of Hanahana Beauty, I use her shea butter exfoliating body bar and swear by it, and I use Abena’s recipe for a rose water, tea tree oil and jojoba oil soaked cotton pad as a cleanser morning and night, and it has been a complete game changer for getting my glow back. I’ve also been using Curology, which is a custom dermatologist service, that is super affordable and came highly recommended by friends. They prescribed me their night cream, which has really taken care of my breakouts and blackheads. I’m not usually big on using chemicals on my skin but have found Curology to be a minimalist option that really works.
— Are there any foods, herbs or supplements you find to be helpful to your skin/hair/general glow?
Cutting out sugar and gluten entirely is the most obvious one – I break out as soon as I am eating sugar, so it’s first to go. I also use a turmeric, honey, hemp oil and cornmeal face mask every couple weeks that always makes me feel radiant. My dentist has noticed and commented on the huge difference in my teeth that she’s seen since I stopped drinking coffee – they’re whiter than ever before and need much less cleaning, which for me is reason enough to skip the coffee.
— Do you have any beauty tips/tricks you’ve found to be especially useful throughout the years?
Abena’s DIY rose water, jojoba oil and tea tree oil cotton pads! I used to be a ardent fan of Thayer’s Rose Witch Hazel Toner but in my experience with skincare – once you go DIY, it’s impossible to go back :) That being said – I will admit to being a Glossier believer, I didn’t use makeup until I discovered Glossier concealer and highlighter. It’s so easy and lazy but it works so wonderfully.
— Do you practice any consistent routines in order to avoid stress?
Taking our pup out for a long walk by the water is a really grounding activity for me. I have no idea how I managed my stress before she moved in with us.
— If stress cannot be avoided, what are your ways of dealing with it?
Honestly I’m a spokesperson for not really managing my stress well. My partner often comes home to a fuming, off the hook Sana and it takes significant chatting, massaging and cuddling to work me out of the state that I can get into if I’m very stressed. I’m an extrovert and a people’s person so being around people that I love is my best coping mechanism. That being said – I have to be careful not to emotionally dump onto my loved ones, just because they’re willing to be there for me. I’ve definitely been guilty of that in the past.
— What measures do you take when you sense a cold/general feeling of being under the weather coming on?
The first one is to make sure I get a really good night’s sleep, and make sure I’m not drinking alcohol, eating dairy or any processed food. Usually, managing my sleep and diet is the easiest way to kick a cold before it hits. If the cold can’t be stopped, I usually start by accepting that my body’s way of asking for rest is by getting sick, and it’s important to just honor that and completely rest. Then – turmeric, ginger, honey tea all day long.
— Do you strive to maintain a healthy work/life balance or do those things overlap for you? What is your approach?
I’ve been trying really hard to take weekends off, and any weekend that I succeed at that- the balance feels so much better. Honestly, as a young business owner, the hustle is so glamorized and romanticized. You’re told that now is your time to grind, and to get further in your career. Whilst this is true, I’d also argue that now is the time to establish healthy boundaries and habits in your life so you learn how to maximize your productivity and your potential. Any day that I work a 16 hour day (which is too often), I know that I am not focusing on the bigger picture, and am actually sacrificing my long term goals as a business owner. Remembering that, and focusing on working more effectively, rather than working more, has been a huge step towards achieving healthier work life balance.
— Describe the actions you take or mindset you try to tap into in order to stay on track with your self-care practice and being nice to yourself?
Therapy. Every week, no matter what. That perspective and process is something I’m deeply committed to. Therapy rarely feels easy, but it is always in service of myself and my larger goals, so it’s the easiest way to feel on track.
— What do you consider to be the single most important change you’ve made to your routine or lifestyle in terms of wellness?
Eating based on how it makes me feel, not how it sounds or tastes. As soon as I focused on how it made me feel, my taste buds changed, I lost weight, my skin issues cleared and I became a very healthy person, with remarkable ease. I know how obnoxious that sounds, I’m sorry.
— How do you deal with periods characterized by a lack of inspiration or procrastination?
I fly home to India. I know this is incredibly privileged, and a bit excessive, but shuffling back and forth between two continents constantly gives me a broader perspective, and somehow – the psychology of taking an international flight is an incredibly cathartic and productive experience for me. I almost always come back from my trips to India with fresh eyes, new vision and a bigger picture. That’s true for all travel, in my opinion.
— A book/movie/class that influenced your view of self-nourishment or self-care.
The fundamental line of Crossfit – “eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar.” has influenced my self nourishment beyond any book or movie. I may not be a competitive Crossfit athlete any more but eating to nourish my body is so much more fulfilling than eating to nourish my cravings.
— What was your path to starting Diaspora Co.?
You can read a lot more about that here, but long story short – I’ve been working in the food industry since I moved to the United States in 2012 and I quickly noticed that whilst the farm to table movement felt at its zenith in the Bay Area, it only applied to certain things. Spices and imported foods were somehow excluded from those quality standards. The idea for a new kind of import export company formed in November 2016, and in February 2017 I quit my job and embarked on seven months of research visiting farms, research institutions and markets across India. Diaspora Co. was formally launched as a direct trade sustainable food company with our first offering of turmeric in August 2017. It’s been a total rollercoaster since then.
— Can you tell us about the kind of turmeric you sell and how it differs from most turmeric one can buy at a store today?
I’m biased, but I’m also overly honest so I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that we sell the world’s best turmeric. Historically, there hasn’t ever been a quality standard for how to define the highest quality, beyond arguments and branding largely based in exoticism and the colonizer/savior mindset.
It is the freshest, as in it was harvested in 2018 and is milled every 3 months, versus powders that can be up to five years old and still on a grocery store shelf, stale as ever. It is the most potent variety of turmeric out there, with a tested 4.7% curcumin content. It is a fragrant and exceptional heirloom rhizome variety that compares to other turmeric powders out there as an heirloom summer tomato would to a grocery store store tomato grown for storage not flavor. Finally, it is organically farmed in a spice agriculture landscape where pesticide overuse and residue is notorious.
— Can you tell us about your decision to pay your turmeric producer really well and about owning the fact that your product costs more because of this?
I think part of our work is that what the industry considers “paying our producer really well”, we consider basic human dignity of paying a living wage and for the price of sustainability, flavor and honest work. If we didn’t pay our partner farmers the prices that we do, they wouldn’t have the power or the incentive to produce at the standard that they do. To me, this big word decolonizing really just means how are you going to empower the people around you who have historically been stripped of their power? Paying our farmers well is actually the easiest embodiment of our decolonizing mission.
As for owning our higher prices – we simply couldn’t exist without charging what we do. And ultimately, we’re dedicating to riding the fine line between being affordable to the home cook and being a leader of sustainability and supply chains and therefore being regarded as a luxury product. I have to believe that we can do both. Turmeric latte blends or turmeric centered businesses that don’t want to pay our prices or wholesale from us because they’d like to continue to exploit their sources and maintain their ridiculously high margins, I’m in this for the long game and their reckoning will come. It always does. Apologies if I sound cold and jaded, business is vicious and I’ve had to steel parts of myself to tolerate it all.
— What are some of your favorite ways to use Diaspora Co. turmeric?
Honestly, turmeric was so woven into the fabric of my childhood that it was invisible to me. We cooked with it, made beauty treatments with it, and we used it to mark life and death. So even now, my favorite way to use turmeric is still in simple Indian vegetable dishes – lightly cooked okra tossed in cumin, turmeric and salt is the definition of comfort for me, or a coconut milk turmeric chicken broth with squash and long beans. Comforting, vegetable heavy home cooking is how I innately know how to use turmeric. Lattes just aren’t for me.
— We love your photos! How did you become a photographer?
When I was 14 and going through a really tough phase at school (bullying, puberty, the patriarchy et all), my parents taught me how to use their DSLR. I’ve used photography as the lens through which I make sense of and connect with the world ever since. When my academic pursuits turned to food and agriculture in college, my lens turned to it too. In so many ways, I recognize that I was never particularly talented or the best or the brightest, I was always just a really solid worker, and entirely self motivated, and that meant that once I started photographing, I just never stopped, and now here we are.
Fun and Inspiration
— What is something you are particularly excited about at the moment?
I’ve found that balancing my role as a business owner with my role as a photographer is what gives me the most joy professionally. So I have a couple exciting photo shoots planned for the coming months that will be a welcome respite to the chaos of holiday e-commerce. That, and I haven’t seen my girlfriend and pup in almost a month since I’ve been in India and I miss them terribly, so very excited to come home to my two favorite living beings.
— What do you do to unwind or treat yourself?
We’re so lucky to live in Oakland, where eating out is an incredible experience, especially at a time where women chefs are absolutely excelling in their field. So eating delicious meals by our favorite local women chefs is my favorite treat – Cosecha Cafe (Mexican), Nyum Bai (Cambodian), Champa Garden (Laotian) and 20th Century Cafe (Eastern European) to name a few.
— A book to feed the soul:
I just finished reading Yvon Chounard’s Let My People Go Surfing and it’s been so deeply inspiring to me.
— Is there anyone you would like to hear from next in this interview series?
Akwaeke Emezi, they are my favorite writer, a member of this third culture/diaspora/immigrant excellence interweb community and has navigated their self care so beautifully and visibly through the years. I’d love to learn more from them.
Photos by Sana Javeri Kadri, Sophie Peoples, Assad Keval // This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links