Creating and sustaining a business that is an extension of your own beliefs and values with Ashumi Jhaveri
It’s great to see more and more people embracing a vegan lifestyle and inspiring others to do so through their own journeys. Ashumi's blog is a documentation of her vegan journey so as to help break myths about veganism as well as help others wanting to begin a vegan diet. The reflection of her personal values is well evident in her blog and food business and we were curious to know where it all began. We recently interviewed her and were grateful to have got the chance to put a face to her story and live her journey through her.
SWEET.POTATOLIFE. For the love of sweet potatoes.
Ashumi Jhaveri, @ sweet.potatolife, an architect by profession, became a vegan 3 years back. The vegan community in Auroville, Pondicherry along with her friends and family played a huge role in her decision to go vegan and start her own business. What started as a personal lifestyle choice, became a way for her to help others in their own vegan journey. She is still learning and growing each day and taking it a step at a time.
Let’s dive a little deeper into Ashumi’s background and her story.
A GLIMPSE INTO THE INTERVIEW
Can you describe your journey and what inspired you to go vegan?
My whole journey of being a vegan started 3 years back and this January is going to be my 3-year anniversary. I was living in Auroville and it’s a conscious community so there were a lot of vegan products available. At the time, I didn’t know much about what it’s like to be vegan because I couldn’t imagine myself not consuming cheese or certain chocolates I was really fond of and 3 years back there weren’t even that many options available as we have now.
So to come back to how I started my vegan journey, it was 5 years back that I was introduced to the concept of veganism. I was traveling to Himachal to volunteer at a place called Dharmachal Institute where I stayed for a period of one month. Dharmachal Institute is completely vegan and they do not serve any animal products so I started eating vegan food and I didn’t question it.
After 2 years when I moved to Auroville, I met a lot of people who were following a vegan diet and that was also a time in my life when I was questioning a lot of my lifestyle choices as does any 25-26 year old so I began questioning my food habits. I did a lot of research, started reading up on it and watched a lot of videos, and came across a plant-based diet. After hearing from people and watching videos on it, I thought there was no way I don’t support this industry. So for my body and the environment, including the animals, I became vegan.
I met a friend who has been vegan for 12 years now and his liver was not functioning but he was able to reverse that by following a vegan diet for a month or two. He was a hardcore non-vegetarian and he became a vegan in a matter of few months. His story was very inspiring to me and I learned about the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle through him.
Did your professional life ever have an impact on your personal journey?
I’m an architect and I practice natural building, natural ways of construction. This practice started through my questioning of the conventional architecture industry and that questioning in turn reflected in my food habits. I thought that if I’m practicing something so consciously then I should also eat consciously.
How did you progress from going vegan to starting your own business and sharing your recipes?
Initially, I started it for myself because I was staying away from home and I had to cook my own meals. I was always passionate about cooking but I never got into it because I was at home so I didn’t need to cook for myself. After I moved away from home is when it was for survival. I started to enjoy the process and it was very therapeutic for me to dig into every ingredient and know what is going into my body. Since it was a fresh start to veganism for me I was curious to experiment and make my food tasty and break the myth that vegan food is “boring”.
When I was in Auroville there were a lot of vegan potlucks. There’s a huge vegan community there so it was also learning from others and how they “veganized” their traditional recipes there that made me curious. I never thought I would cook with the ingredients that I cook with now after becoming vegan.
So I started delivering 2-3 items like cheesecakes and other desserts that I made at a friend’s cafe back in Auroville. When I moved back to my hometown and around the time of lockdown, my friends pushed me to dedicate myself to getting the word out about my food. But I wouldn’t call it a full-fledged business, rather a reflection of my personal lifestyle choices. In Surat, there aren’t many businesses that are vegan but there are many people following it so I want to reach out to them and give them good products so that they don’t feel that they are missing out because they’re vegan.
I started the blog in 2020 and slowly and steadily I am trying to match the pace of Instagram. I put in how much ever time I can and it’s more about creating awareness. Not just about veganism but sustainability in general. If you’re following a conscious path, you cannot ignore your food habits because that’s something you do every day.
I also travel a lot for work and people tell me that veganism is difficult while traveling so I want to break that myth through my blog. The process was very effortless for me so I want to show people that you don’t have to complicate it. Lastly, I want to spread the message about veganism and make people aware of what goes behind our eyes. I’m not really into activism and I don’t want to force anyone to adopt this lifestyle, it’s just about awareness.
What do you think is something you do differently than other vegan food brands out there?
I think for me in this process and in this journey, I have realized that just being vegan is not enough. In the sense that there are a lot of vegan products now in the market that contains chemicals, preservatives, and ingredients that I don’t want to put in my body. So I try and make everything from scratch for myself and for my small business. With my jams and cakes, for example, I make my own coconut milk or oat milk unless I am 100% sure that the product I’m using is preservative and chemical-free.
I did not face a lot of difficulties because I was in a place where there were already a lot of options. In a community like Auroville, I would find vegan food and all the comfort foods I was craving. But when I shifted to my hometown is where I faced difficulties because there weren’t many options.
If there was one piece of advice you could give to someone who’s just starting their vegan journey or looking to start their own vegan food brand, what would it be?
I want people to not dive into it in one go because I’ve heard a lot of people say I tried it for one week but it didn’t work out. At once they stopped everything and put in a lot of effort so I tell my friends and people that are interested in it to cut down gradually. If you’re addicted to tea, have tea but whatever things you can compromise on you should definitely cut down on those. You don’t have to be perfect from the first time itself. Only your goals should be clear and you should know where you’re heading. The key is to be patient and not too hard on yourself.
In terms of the business side, I’m also still learning but I would say that you should be conscious of the ingredients you’re using and have clarity on the purpose of your business. You should decide for yourself how ethical you want to be and how true you want to remain to it when growing your business.
What are your thoughts on the current Indian vegan market and where do you see it going?
In the last 1-2 years we have seen the vegan market in India grow at a really fast pace. There are so many brands now so now it’s difficult to choose. Initially, there were hardly any alternatives available and now it’s like what do I choose. It’s definitely scaling up a lot and I’m happy for that. It’s really nice that now there’s no reason for people to not go vegan. Even for your comfort foods, there are so many options now. If you’re craving cheese there are 100 varieties of vegan cheese. You also don’t need to import stuff anymore, you can get everything in India. It’s nice that the local market is gearing up and giving a lot of work opportunities along with it, especially for people wanting to move to more ethical businesses.
SLICC’S FAVOURITE HIGHLIGHTS
- Veganism is the beginning of a new world - Don’t look at it like it's the end of the world. There are so many different things you can explore in terms of lifestyle changes. It’s not just about what you eat but also about how you complement one change in the others areas of your life.
Do one thing at a time
Rather than doing everything at once focus on taking it one step at a time so your journey is as simple and effortless as it can be.
Support the local market
The vegan movement is expanding in India and with that, there are many local brands coming up so if you decide to become vegan look out for locally produced products.
Know what you’re putting in your body
Be aware of the ingredients you’re consuming. Just because something is vegan doesn’t imply its chemical, artificial flavor, or preservative-free.
We hope you enjoyed reading about Ashumi’s vegan journey. She started with a change in her personal life and is now trying to spread awareness to others in her own small way. Please comment and share your thoughts on the article. If you’d like to know more about Ashumi, do follow her on Instagram @sweet.potatolife