As we stood there, representing countries as diverse as Japan, Germany, India, and the US, all crowded around a Japanese cookbook, inquisitively studying the photo of tofu mash ( the leftover “whey” substance from making tofu) it struck me, now this is how food brings us together.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, my main project during the fellowship is managing a small, “all-natural” supply chain in Kangra Valley, Himachal Pradesh. Our basic goal is to create a connection between small, local farmers and an interested community in Mcleod Ganj and lower Dharamshala. By paying farmers market value for their produce ( typically between 30-50% more per kg depending on the product and week), we strive to create an economic incentive for transitioning to organic agriculture methods.
While I will be the first to admit our model is not perfect, I’ve noticed in recent weeks a fascinating back and forth in the quest for meeting supply and demand. Thanks to an increased level of communication between my teammates as I learn more Hindi and they learn more English, and stronger relationships with our customers and farmers, we are starting to expand our produce diversity and with it, seeing a powerful melding of worlds.
It began when a very good customer asked whether or not we sold bi-product from our Tofu like they did when she was a child growing up in Japan. I paused, I had never thought about what happened to the leftover Tofu waste post production. Upon some exploration, I discovered that it was typically thrown away; when I informed my team that in fact, it was a product used in Japan that we could sell for a nominal fee, all ears perked up. Cue a Japanese cookbook, seven curious customers and teammates, and 2 kg of tofu “goodness” later, and we all of a sudden were distributing a whole new product, reducing our waste, and increasing customer satisfaction.
Food systems (loosely) are composed of the producers ( in our case, our farmers), the distributors and processors ( the Jagori team), and consumer ( our customers). As the distributor and processor, we have a responsibility to listen to the needs of our producers and customers and respond accordingly. However, running a morally driven supply chain such as our own, requires reflection and critical thinking as well. As the distributors, not only are we responsible for ensuring our products truly are all-natural products, but we also have a responsibility to encourage consumption that is responsible ( through carefully packing our products in reusable and environmentally friendly packaging) and encouraging production that is diverse ( exploring existing crops that might not be widely eaten by our target consumers or that they may not even know exists).
Successfully bridging that gap between farmers and customers in a way that is respectful and meaningful for all is tricky, a constant balance between meeting demand and respecting supply. However, it gives me hope that if a project such as this, that truly brings the world together around their vegetables, can operate in semi-rural northwest India, it can be replicated and implemented elsewhere across sectors. We need to re-think our responsibilities as consumers, producers, and suppliers, finding the middle ground between all three, is a great place to start.