Spices can transform a dish, take your taste buds on a journey around the world. But where are they actually coming from? When it comes to spices, India has historically been the epicenter of the spice trade and the colonialization of the country was largely due in part to the rich, decadent spices that come from the soil. While no longer under colonial rule, the West’s relationship with spices, those who grow them, and the land it comes from remains strained.
“Diaspora” is a noun to describe peoples who have left — in other words, dispersed— from their ancestral home. It’s often described as a spread, and to describe a group of people rather than an individual. A person can immigrate as part of a diaspora, but an individual is not, in themselves, a diaspora.
Having grown up in Mumbai before moving to California, founder Sana Kadri is part of the South Asian diaspora here in the States. Over time she found herself discovering more about the modern-day spice trade, the undue burden put on farmers to produce our spices, and how diluted the quality of these products are by the time they reach our shelves.
Like most industries, taking a peek behind the curtain leads to disheartening discoveries. First is the exploitation, both of people and their lands. Most of the spices we receive have been picked for aesthetics over quality, exchange hands multiple times with the quality diminishing with each pass. Unfortunately, the only dramatic changes in the spice trade 400 years ago and the spice trade now is the the nutrients in the soil have been depleted. Farmers are still being taken advantage of by the Western world and not paid for their efforts.
A huge part of sustainability, in our eyes, is supporting sustainable economies in the developing world. Yes, local goods support American farmers and take less mileage to get from garden to plate. But a tomato is not cumin, it’s not cardamom, it’s not fenugreek. Those plants are native to other regions, and being able to economically support sustainable efforts in the developing world is the other very important side to sustainability that shouldn’t be overlooked. It can’t be fair to only support sustainable development in this country now that the locality of products is considered important when decades— centuries— of exploitation of other peoples and their lands is why more than half of the world is still considered to be “developing”.
Diaspora Co.’s passion for transparency is clear by the way they prioritize putting money equity, and power into regenerative farming efforts across South Asia. In 2021 they were able to publish their first impact report, and also have a map to show where all of their spices are sourced. They also have a Farm Worker Fund, which directly supports the 850+ farmers involved in Diaspora Co.’s supply chain.
In a way, Diaspora Co. and Green & Bean share similar roles: we both act as a bridge between producer and consumer. While we usually connect you, a consumer, to a product made by a producer, Diaspora Co. is in itself a bridge to over 150 different farms throughout Sri Lanka and India. They work to not only pay them a fair, living wage (about 6x more than average), but also to share their names, their stories, and to wholly redefine what “Made in South Asia” can mean.