Sana Javeri Kadri is pretty frank about the state of turmeric today. “Most of it is really sh*tty—the stuff in the grocery stores is seven years old and has no nutritional benefits,” says the Mumbai-born, Oakland, California-bred 26-year-old about the Indian spice that’s become a hot commodity in the wellness world. “Everybody should drink golden milk [a blend of hot milk and ground turmeric] if that makes them feel good; I’m not here to police anybody’s consumption. I just think it’s important to understand where it comes from and why it is the way it is.”
That’s where Kadri and her spice company, Diaspora Co., come in: Closely partnering with (and fairly paying) farmers back in her native India, Kadri is doing for indigenous spices what the single-origin movement did for coffee. “The company was born out of a research project, just me asking, ‘What does the spice trade look like?’” she says. “I didn’t have the answers. I didn’t go in thinking I would start a business. I just went in wanting to learn as much as humanly possible.” Most of the people Kadri talked to, from chefs to wholesalers, also didn’t have the answers. The Indian spice trade proved impossibly opaque, so Kadri got cracking on clearing it up. “I spent seven months in India working with grumpy men in government offices, hiring an operations manager, making the paperwork happen,” she says. “Being a 22-year-old with nothing to lose had a lot to do with it—I was like, ‘F*ck it, I’m going to visit 19 farms today.’”
Each Diaspora order comes with explainer cards not only about the spices but about the hands behind them: peppers harvested by the Parameswaran family in Thirunelly; chilies plucked by the Narne brothers out in Vatticherukuru. Through the company, which began with its flagship turmeric in 2017 and will expand with 10 new spices as well as retail stores in both California and India this year, Kadri cuts out the middleman and directly imports the farms’ wares rather than going through wayward traders. To support those partner farms during the COVID-19 crisis, Kadri paid them 100-percent advances on their 2020 harvests and created an emergency healthcare fund to cover their 100-plus workers.
As a queer woman of color contending with the bureaucracy of a bicontinental business, success is hard-fought and Kadri is quick to get real about those struggles. “My mental health has suffered. I’ve been more anxious than I ever thought I would be since starting this business,” she says. “You’re forced to question your worth and the work that you’re doing every day. At 26 it’s gotten easier, but at 23 it was tough. People laughed at me—they truly didn’t believe I could do it.”
Luckily, she has a road map to follow through the adversity: her mother. “My mom started her architecture practice from my childhood bedroom in India; her dad wouldn’t loan her the money to get started,” says Kadri. “For the past 26 years, her office was 100 percent women, which in India is really something. She now employs 45 people at her firm.” It’s that inherited indomitability that charges Kadri forward, to new spices and stores, and into rices and legumes in the near future. “It’s a big, fat year,” says Kadri of 2020. “It’s very exciting and we’ll see what happens next.”
This article originally appeared in our Summer 2020 issue. Get the magazine here.