5 QUESTIONS WITH FOOD PHOTOGRAPHER AND WRITER SANA JAVERI KADRI
WORDS BY GENESIA ALVES
Sana Javeri Kadri is one of the guest speakers at the Gather event organised by BARO, Bombay Perfumery, and Paper Planes. The event, amongst other things, also celebrates the release of the new issue of Gather Journal (an independently published food magazine), a copy of which can be purchased from here.
TCS: Everyone is constantly trashing food fads and trendy diets, but are there aspects of certain diets that absolutely make sense and are a modern way of looking at eating?
SJK: Personally, I’ve done it all, I started out as a morally superior vegan, swung dramatically in the opposite direction as an avid paleo diet proponent, became your preaching gluten-free fanatic, and then slowly realized that eating intuitively, and out of a genuine desire to nourish myself rather than restrict myself, was the healthiest thing for me. It’s meant that I don’t look quite the way I used to, I’m wobblier in more ways than one, my love handles definitely do a little wiggle when I laugh, and I can balance objects on my hips like a pro, but it’s a less forceful way to live my life. That being said, my diet also transitioned a lot as I became more involved in the politics of food. Seasonality: the idea that eating what’s in season is probably what’s tastiest, healthiest and best for yourself and the agricultural system. Organic: the idea that pesticide-free, fertiliser-free, chemical-free food is best for yourself and the environment. Indigeneity: the idea that supporting the biodiversity of your land and country is a huge cultural gain, and losing the hundred of varieties of local Indian greens to Dinosaur Kale is a terrible sacrifice. I can go on for days, but essentially, supporting an ethical, sustainable, well paying, and healthy food system is the best way of eating for ourselves and our future. It’s local, seasonal, organic produce forward, meat de-centered blah blah, but with a tremendous emphasis on the ethics and values associated with food.
TCS: What is a food/flavour that reminds you of India/Bombay when you are far away?
SJK: You’ll hear more about this at my reading next week, but for me it’s tamarind. Nothing makes my mouth water the way imli does. In America, it’s used too one dimensionally; it’s candy, or it’s odd ethnic ingredient. In Gujarati food, tamarind is everything, from polishing the brass kitchen equipment to seasoning the food. Shit, I’m drooling just thinking about it.
TCS: In an interview I saw you mention the phrase “the true cost of meat”. Increasingly, though, it has also become the true cost of un-polluted food. Is there anything you've come across that helps dealing with this modern thing?
SJK: The true cost of food is so messed up. India is the country with the highest amount of fertilizer usage in the world; that's terrifying. The government is essentially enabling awful, industrial, and chemical laden agricultural practices, because giving a fertilizer subsidy is a quicker fix than truly investing in an agricultural system. I don't know enough to really have a work-around. Sure, if you can afford it, shop at the farmers market and buy only artisanal, organic food. But that's not the systemic change we need. Sunita Narain, Vandana Shiva, the organic farmers cooperatives across the country…they're doing the real work of fixing the system.
TCS: As the world gets smaller and we don't have to wait for empires to bring us tomatoes or fiddle with our mango trees for “optimum” fruit, what do you think is the future of eating? Will we concentrate more on the ingredient or more on the process?
SJK: It depends on whether you’re asking for my optimist answer or my cynical answer. Cynically speaking, one casual browse through a food tech listserve (might I recommend FoodTechConnect) is enough to have you believing that venture capital is running the food system and the future of food lies in powdered moringa supplements and that “disruptive” startup trying to finally crack the meal delivery system curse via advanced coding and a light sprinkling of Stanford graduates trying to save the world. The other potential future is the one I pine for, the one where we realize that the answer doesn’t lie in producing more food when, in fact, our ability to feed the world stopped being a question more than a decade ago. We have enough; the problem today lies in enough of the shit stuff or the good stuff? Enough to provide jobs for all or enough to line the pockets of few? My idealistic future lies in disrupting farming; small scale, multi-crop, seed saving, and land ownership based farming, not a disruptive startup. It lies in vegetable heavy diets that uses meat as the luxury that it is, not the staple and false necessity that it’s become. I’m hoping we concentrate on the ingredient, on where it comes from, how it was grown and how delicious it tastes, than on how it was processed or packaged.
TCS: What are you looking forward to at the event?
SJK: I love Gather, it’s a beautiful journal that’s totally changed the game on how we perceive food photography, writing, and recipes. The event aims to create a multi-sensory experience to accompany the idea of gathering around food. It’s all the stories and creativity that comes out of that shared table, brought alive from the pages of the journal, that’s super exciting.
Feature photo by Abigail Taubman.
The City Story is media partner for the event.