Tag Archives: veganism

COVID Can’t Beat A Pumpkin Spice Papaya Spoonshot!

Imagine going to your favorite smoothie bar and lchecking the menu, looking for something new and interesting to try. You spot a flavor labeled ‘Pumpkin Spice Papaya Turmericand think – how could that possibly taste good? But you give it a shot since you’re a foodie who loves exotic sounding names, and lo and behold, it actually tastes pretty fine. Makes you wonder, how in the world did they come up with this combination?  

If you thought a brilliant chef concocted this in a restaurant kitchen, you’d be wrong. 

This hit flavor was created by a ‘food innovation intelligence platform’, which basically uses Artificial Intelligence to build a virtual ‘food brain.’

All this is explained eloquently by Kishan Vasani, the co-founder of Spoonshot, a company that uses its innovative technology to provide this ‘brain’ to the food industry.

“It’s like combining the experience of the greatest chefs and food critics around the globe with food scientists, food ethnographers, (folks who plot how food interacts with culture and behavior) specialty and niche food communities and online chat groups which may have as few as a thousand members, food commerce platforms, etc. A billion disparate points of data are extracted from this wealth of foodie information and connections are made which actually predict future trends at the embryonic stage, almost before they happen. With Spoonshot’s input, food industry clients can have a head start on the food trends bandwagon. All that data is also used to innovate new food and flavors which have the greatest chance of succeeding in the marketplace, like our pumpkin spice papaya turmeric smoothie.”

“We are in the business of trying to predict future trends before they go mainstream,” Vasani tells me. “Companies spend enormous amounts on research before launching a new food, but their methodology hasn’t changed over the past several decades. The success rate for new food launched in the marketplace is often between 10 and 30%. Our technology, which requires much less investment, is poised to increase that rate significantly.”     

Food trends often originate from a particular chef or restaurant in a certain town or country: how it becomes a global trend is what Spoonshot’s technology tracks.

Quinoa was an Andean staple that grew popular at the same time as gluten-free, high protein food became attractive. It’s the perfect alternative to rice or bread for a population rife with gluten allergies and obesity. Today, there is a shift towards veganism and food which is ethically produced, climate friendly and good for the environment.

For example, Spoonshot, (in collaboration with International Food Trendologist Liz Moskow), has come up with a future food trends list which includes Silverfin fishcakes made from wild caught US Asian carp. Asian carp is an invasive species of fish that is threatening the Mississippi river, and for environmentally conscious consumers, the environmental impact of eating this carp is just as important as the taste. Food with a low carbon footprint like legumes, pulses, grains seaweed and algae are going to appear more often on restaurant menus and in everyday cooking.

“Interest in environmentally conscious food has grown 55% in the last year alone,” Vasani says.

A good example of an environmentally friendly vegan alternative to dairy, is ice-cream made from Aquafaba, the water chickpeas are soaked in. It may not sound scrumptious but it’s actually quite delicious, and is predicted to trend in the future. Since meat alternatives are increasingly popular, vegetarians are going to see more of Carob-based products – Carob helps provide much needed collagen for muscle health to those who don’t eat any animal products. 

The Covid19 pandemic has also produced an almost seismic shift towards comfort foods. Anxiety is at an all-time high and foods containing the essential oil Copaiba, from the Copaifera tree, which produces relaxation are likely to be popular.

The most engaging part of Vasani’s story is his entrepreneurial journey, and his resilience, especially with facing the latest Covid fiasco. He grew up in England where his father ran a grocery store. There was a subconscious emphasis on food which he says comes from his Gujarati roots: dinner time was always the central hub of the family.

He joined a retail bank after a degree in business from Aston University (UK), but found the pace too slow for his entrepreneurial itch. This was the early 2000’s, the era of rising digital media platforms like Google, Facebook and Amazon.  Against his parents’ advice he launched his own digital marketing agency in 2006.

My parents gave me a year,” he says. “I was 22 years old and felt I had these ideas about personalizing a service product the way Facebook and Amazon were personalizing consumer experiences.

It was a rollercoaster ride. He eventually wound up his business and joined Just Eat, the European food ordering platform that acquired Grubhub in June, 2020.

Sai Sreenivas & Kishan Vasani, Spoonshot co-founders

However, the drive to be a self-made entrepreneur proved overwhelming. After a couple of years he left and, along with his friend Sai Sreenivas, created a business model that eventually led to the concept of Spoonshot. Initial investors were friends and relatives, before outside financing began to roll in.    

“Twice in the last five years we’ve been left with a week’s worth of money in the bank. The last time it was around Covid. We were about to close a round of funding and then Covid blew up around the country and our investor pulled out at the last minute,” Vasani recalls.

“This happened on a Saturday” he says. “We were so demoralized that we decided to shut everything down. Five years of grueling work and innovation would go down the drain, quite apart from the 20 full time employees we had in Bangalore. That was one of our worst days.”

“On Sunday, both of us woke up and seemed to be hit by the same motivation at the same time – we were not going to let a tiny virus beat us and negate all our hard work over the past five years. We decided we were not going to fire anyone; our company model believes in complete transparency with our employees, so we told them our dire financial situation. Some decided to leave, and some stayed. But no employees left because of Covid or our financial situation. One left to start their own business, and one left to pursue a PhD. We spent the next few days going to our network to secure emergency funding. We took 50% pay cuts but we steadied the ship.” 

The sucker punch of Covid19 has not dimmed his enthusiasm or his spirit of entrepreneurship.

“We’ve put everything on the line, cashed out all our savings and made enormous sacrifices,” he says. “The economy will recover, and we’ll be ready.”

In August Spoonshot overcame Covid19 by securing $1M in seed funding.

Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing Editor at India Currents

Image by silviarita from Pixabay 

Why Dolly Went Vegan

Dolly Vyas-Ahuja is making a documentary film. Why? Because she can never forget the evening of April 16, 2014. She had just returned from walking the dog and was surfing the net for a recipe when she heard the speech that caused an awakening. In “The Best Speech Ever” (graphic content warning!) by Gary Yourofsky, she heard about the cruelty that animals are subjected to in the process of becoming our food. Recalling the day, she says it hurt her “so deep down to her core” that she had a breakdown on the kitchen floor. She became a vegan overnight, “no longer willing to ingest anxiety, grief, and torture in her body.”

This was just the beginning in Dolly’s journey to veganism. Determined to become a voice for animals, she began speaking at temples, global conferences and radio talk shows to create awareness about the cruelty of animal agriculture and the dairy industry, as well as its impact on animal rights, personal health and the environment. Just like her grandfather, a freedom fighter who marched alongside Gandhi to liberate India from British rule, she strove for animal freedom and liberation. Although she was born into a Gandhian family that believed in ahimsa, she says, she did not realize its true meaning until her awakening five years ago.

Dolly found several receptive takers for her message of non-violence. She was invited by Urvashi Jain, the President of the Jain Society of Houston, to speak to the members of the temple. Several attendees showed an interest and after her talk, the temple stopped serving milk to the Sunday school children and began using plant-based milk for tea. Ghee was substituted with coconut oil for lighting divas at the temple and Urvashi became a vegan.

Dolly, who is based in Houston, is currently working on “The Land of Ahimsa” a documentary that seeks to inspire and encourage India to adopt a vegan lifestyle. India is the land of ahimsa, which means non-violence to all living beings. The mission of this documentary is to convince people to bring ahimsa back into their daily lives by avoiding the use of dairy, honey, silk, eggs, leather and meat.

The film touches Dolly’s transformation to veganism, the vegan movement in India and covers activists, plant-based doctors, sanctuaries, athletes and vegan businesses. Imagine, she says, if one-billion people led a compassionate, vegan lifestyle. The impact would reverberate through the entire world. The film is directed by award winning Bollywood director Aryeman Ramsey.

Born in a vegetarian Gujarati family, Dolly says she got her first taste of meat in school. At 13, she visited her grandfather in Rajkot, who asked her what ahimsa meant and if they ate meat. She now understands why he was asking her those questions. He was trying to teach her the true meaning of Ahimsa and choosing peace over violence.

Gandhi once said, “The moral fibre of a nation can be judged by the treatment of its animals.” Like Gandhi and her grandfather, Dolly has a dream that India will rise to the true meaning of non-violence, choosing justice over habit and creating a new divine imprint.

Dolly has her own YouTube Channel – Dolly’s Universe of Ahimsa. Her GoFundme Page Link is https://www.gofundme.com/f/tek5gs-the-land-of-ahimsa

This article was edited by India Currents Culture and Media Editor, Geetika Pathania Jain.