(That's Me, Ash, Making Chillas)

    A note from Ash (the founder)

    This is text from a talk that Ash gave for the Cherry Bombe Future of Food is You Seattle tour (2023).

    Hi! I’m Ash, I use she/her pronouns and I run Ojaswe a regenerative food business, on a mission to make delicious, nourishing & culturally relevant food accessible on a rapidly warming planet. 

    We launched our first line of products one year ago: we have two savory pancake mixes, made with chickpeas & South Asian spices. 

    In 2021, I left my full time job launching brands for Big Food Companies, to go work on a regenerative farm in the San Juans. That experience was incredible and transformative in so many ways. For starters, it taught me that I have no desire to be a farmer. It also taught me that our food system is not set up for success in the face of climate change. 

    Industrial agriculture (which is much of how we make our food today) emits 1 trillion tons of carbon/ghgs, causes a massive loss of biodiversity, and uses chemical fertilizers that harm both our health and planetary health.

    After learning about our current food system, I started to change the way I fed myself and my family: changing the composition of our plates, choosing local fruits & veggies as far as possible and shopping local, in co-ops etc. 

    But…I’m a first generation immigrant, I’m queer and I’m a third culture kid. What these three things mean is that food is a big way in which I express my identity. 

    I was born in India, a notoriously food driven culture. I’ve spent half my life here in the US - mainly in the South - with its strong and unique identities. And Being queer means I have had to find my community in non-traditional ways. All this also means I learned to cook in a whole variety of kitchens and my food is a little Arkansan, a little Texan and a little South Asian. 

    As I was changing the way I fed myself, it became harder and harder to find the ingredients I use in my food - be it South Asian or Texan while also being environmentally friendly. Choosing culturally relevant food like legumes, rice, or opting for a good TexMex meal felt like a tradeoff between honoring my roots and wanting to care for our planet. 

    I’m not alone in this…. as the world continues to globalize, there are more folks people whose food is a hybrid of different places and cultures. And more and more diaspora around the world are seeking culturally relevant food - which doesn’t cleanly fall into boxes. 

    So I started Ojaswe to answer one complex question: In the face of climate change, how do we make and responsibly enjoy culturally relevant food in a globalized world? 

    The practical answer? We work directly with small and medium sized regenerative farms in North America to source biodiverse ingredients such as black chickpeas to make culturally relevant food without the massive climate-impact of a global supply chain. Next, we turn to food cultures where these ingredients have been used for centuries for guidance and inspiration on how to use them. And finally, we put these legumes in approachable formats like pancake mixes, making them accessible to a wide range of people who may not otherwise know how to use them. People continually tell me how much they love the product - because it is gluten-free, vegan and packs 10gms of protein per serving with zero artificial additives and is a filling & nourishing meal or snack that they can put on the table in under 10 minutes. And on the supply side also gives our farmers a new market for crops that are not quite “mainstream” in North American cuisine yet. This intentional approach helps us strengthen regional food systems.

    But what makes us uniquely us…is the foundation that we’re building all this on: And that is seeing our world as being interconnected. There’s a concept in Sikhi - “Sarbat da Bhalla” - which translates to the wellness and prosperity of all. It is based in the understanding that everything is interconnected - that we are in community with all aspects of the world around us…. With plants, with animals & with each other. We are One - despite our differences. Our diversity is beautiful and important. (Afterall, a dish really sings when we can bring different flavors & spices together) 

    As a business, this is our north star. It allows us to make decisions without solely focusing on financial gain. It reminds us to honor and celebrate each ingredient we use. It enables us to pay our farmers equitably, for their effort and time (we pay our farmers up to 2x more than the commodity market). And It allows us to visualize a world where every choice on our grocery shelf can not only help reverse climate change but also celebrate our individuality, diversity and fusion. In other words, it leans on the power of food to bring people together.