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043: Diaspora Co and Black Pepper - The OG Louis Vuitton (Day 11 Part 2)

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

Her childhood fascination with American consumerism (think imported snickers bars, individually wrapped Kraft cheese singles, Italian seasoning mix of the ‘80s and ‘90s) in Mumbai, was completely at odds with her adolescent experience of farmers markets and fair-trade protests in the United States. This dichotomy, along with trying to understand how little had changed in the millenia old spice-trade networks, led Sana Jhaveri to found Diaspora Co., a direct-trade spice company, dedicated to building “a more equitable and delicious spice trade”.

Javeri showed us how black pepper and cloves were the original Louis Vuitton merchandise. The rare and ridiculously expensive spices (for that time) were often used to showcase status and wealth among the European elite, akin to the truffle oil and caviar of our times.

Ragini of “Third Culture Cooks” in her podcasts, posts and lectures often refers to spices as the “quiet heroes of history”. On Day 11, of the Food and Politics workshop, Javeri demonstrated that at times spices became bombastic, loud, globe trotters. As Ethan of Burlap and Barrel reminded us, cloves had managed to travel from the Maluka islands in Indonesia, to the home of a middle class merchant in Syria nearly 4000 years ago! Swans studded with cloves were a favourite centre table piece for aristocratic Europeans reliant on the growing and lucrative colonial spice trade.

Sana regaled us with her on field experiences and illuminated the complexities that still haunt the agriculture and trade of spices. The cardamom mafia in Idukki, Kerala; the sirakhong chillies being smoked dried on a bamboo mat in Manipur by Hill Wild; the pesticide resistant superbugs from B.T. cotton that infest byadgi chillies in Karnataka; the “overmedication” of farm workers by well meaning ‘Western ethics’ in the turmeric fields of Andhra Pradesh.

Sana clarified, and yet made more complex the different layers - land ownership, daily living wages, distributors, organic farming certificates, expensive processing equipment, transportation networks that bring spices to our kitchen.

Talk conducted online by Sana Javeri Kadri on

December 3, 2021 as part of Food and Politics Studying Foods Workshop

Photo by Calum Lewis on Unsplash

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