IN 2016, SANA JAVERI KADRI found herself at a crossroads. After moving from her hometown of Mumbai to California, she wanted to learn more about the historical forces shaping her own identity and experience as a queer woman of color in the United States. A food photographer, Javeri Kadri turned to culinary history to better understand the history of global empire. For more than a century before the British crown officially made India a colony, the British East India company—a private corporation that had a monopoly over much of the South Asian spice trade—ruled the subcontinent.
Spice trading, Javeri Kadri realized, hasn’t changed much from its colonial roots. Often, the people growing spices are disconnected from the global marketplace by middlemen, who take the lion’s share of the profits. In 2017, following a series of sourcing trips to spice farms in India, Javeri Kadri founded Diaspora Co., a small spice company that directly sells seasonings from South Asian farms to U.S. and global consumers.
Diaspora Co. is one of a number of small companies bent on challenging the colonial legacy of the spice trade. In contrast to large spice companies, some of which have dominated the industry for hundreds of years, these endeavors tend to work directly with local farmers and are owned by people grounded in the cultural and culinary contexts of the spices they sell.