Why Is It Important To Make Friends With Food?

Festivals in India are a unique gastronomical experience. The roads are filled with some of our favorite snacks and pandal hopping would never be complete without trying at least 2-3 items on the street. We have all felt the aftereffects of this collective spike in appetite. Food affects your physiology more than any external element. When it has such an impact on us, perhaps we should pay a little more attention to what we consume. 

This article is a part of the campaign ‘9 mindful women entrepreneurs who are building a healthy future’. Each day, we’ll feature an inspiring entrepreneur and her journey towards a more sustainable future.

We are talking to Sridevi Jasti, 51, a food advocate, holistic nutritionist, organic and whole foods chef and lifestyle expert. In 2015, she started running her own supply chain of organic food from her brand called ‘Vibrant Living’.

Food is the most important thing to me since childhood.

All my memories from my teenage years is about food. Even as a teenager I became mindful and more conscious about what I was eating. When we were travelling by Indian railways, I didn’t like the food available and would plan extensively and carry packed meals. My mom’s a great cook and she would always take her time with cooking. Slow food wasn’t even a thing yet but it came naturally to us Indians. My mom never shied away from cooking food that takes a long time like shelling fresh, raw cashews for curries etc. I always volunteered to help her in the kitchen. I used food to fix everything. As a teenager, if I wanted pimple-free skin, I’d eat more veggies, drink Mosambi juice and put fresh sandalwood paste on my skin. As an adult when PMS symptoms appeared, I read up about natural foods and oils that can help. When I gave that a try, to my surprise the symptoms disappeared after the first month. That’s when I truly realized what food does to our body.

Being creative with food came naturally to me.

My parents were very supportive of our career goals and I chose to study food. In India, the only courses which involved food in some way were Home Sciences and Home Economics. I moved to Toronto to get my Masters in Nutrition and Community Health. The content of the course was similar to what I’d studied in India but my actual learning came from outside the university; the health food stores in Toronto

In these stores, I was introduced to a whole new world of food from other cultures and countries. I spent a lot of time in this store called Sunshine Natural Food, reading about alternative health nutrition, holistic health and herbal supplements. One day the store owner, after learning about my interest and knowledge, offered me a part time job. I had the time of my life working there because I learnt so much from the people, about their culture and their food and I got to share my food culture with them. Customers who would come to me with issues and I’d recommend the right food or supplements they should take. I realized that by studying what I loved I was helping others and myself. I was just living in the moment and enjoying what I liked. Natural living came easily to me; I would lead a natural lifestyle even as a student and not just through food.

During that time I met my future husband and eventually got married. He was into business and we started working together and we’d travel a lot. But no matter what, I would always ensure we ate healthy. I was very particular about sourcing good food from an organic market. I would regularly connect with the farmers and understand what they are sowing and how. Being creative with food came naturally to me. I’d always express myself through food and create delicious meals using healthy ingredients. I loved to throw dinner parties and my family and friends loved and encouraged what I was doing. My husband and I travelled for food and understanding different cultures through their food. At the time, we were in Miami and we’d pack up every 3 or 4 months and go to Italy or Toronto. We spent our time working, travelling and creating interesting food. 13 years into our marriage, we decided to have a child and I chose to have a natural birth. Even after my son’s birth, we continued to travel putting him into my sling (like gypsies!! ☺ ). But in 2008, when he was 2 years old, we decided to come to Hyderabad, where my parents were living at the time.

As a country, we were going in the wrong direction

I realized it’s not easy to eat healthy and find healthy ingredients in India especially compared to how I ate, growing up in the 70s. As a country, we were going in the wrong direction. Natural ingredients are scarce and people follow all kinds of crazy diet. Once, I was in a gourmet store in Hyderabad and took my time, choosing ingredients carefully. The store-owner noticed this and spoke to me about my journey and he asked me to develop a menu for their cafe! While formulating the menu, the people who worked there would request me to conduct workshops on raw and natural food and that’s how it all started. I also started training dieticians from Apollo wellness, to become holistic nutritionists. 

People enjoyed my cuisine and that gave me confidence that I could actually help them with my knowledge.

My journey started in 2011, when I was ready to start my own little kitchen for a couple of months. At this point I was still shuttling between India and Miami. I didn’t plan to make it big; I was just sourcing local ingredients and having fun developing recipes that would appease the local palate. I started with smoothies which became lunches and then dinner and ready-to-eat snacks. I rented an apartment, across my home and shifted my work there. I had a few drivers and we were the first delivery business in Hyderabad, back then for healthy food. What started with 2-3 items soon grew into 30 items and more and now, I have 25 people working in the kitchen. Vibrant Living officially started in 2015 when my family and I moved to India full time. I could have grown a lot more in the business but my focus was to have balance and fun in life. I started giving more and more talks and workshops. In 2012, I was offered a TV show on Maa TV – a popular Telugu channel and did 40+ episodes and went on to shoot my own Youtube videos. I always loved inspiring women and young girls to take care of themselves and encourage them to go to the kitchen and take charge of their health and their family’s because that is sexy.

People have this notion that healthy food is not tasty.

A floor of our 3-storied house is converted into a workspace where we keep our products. Healthy food is hard to understand until you taste it and people have this notion that healthy food is not tasty. I wanted to show and teach people how to make tasty and healthy food. Now, I’ve started hosting an open market on Saturday where people can come and see what we do and taste things. We have workshops as well and our open market houses a collection of sauces like pesto, guacamole, curry chutney, snacks, drinks, kombucha, local food and berries etc. 

We deliver our food across the country and are stocked in some local gourmet stores. Our plan is to start a cafe and store soon. I had to work a lot, in the start, to educate people on the importance of pure, clean and organic food and why it’s worth spending more money on it, but I am happy that I was able to help and become a market leader. 

One of the most important lessons I learnt was to always give back to be truly happy

There were times when the responsibility of this work would get too much and I wanted to go back to my carefree Miami life and travelling for fun. But even when I had that beautiful life there was one thing that was always missing – purpose.

I think slowly things fall in place as they are meant to. Earlier, I would go to a counselor friend of mine and ask her- what is missing? Why am I not as happy as I could be even after being blessed with so much? Here, I would throw huge dinner parties and cook multiple courses without any trouble. I was being productive but I wanted more. And then it hit me – all I wanted was to give back and share whatever I had learnt to be truly happy. My obsession with food and knowledge of nutrition always made people happy. I built on that and decided to make this my full-time business and get back to work. My own need for happiness made me give back. My journey was fun and fulfilling and that kept me going because there were many times that I wanted to quit. Today, I am happy that I didn’t quit, as I am never bored! 

A lot of people fear food and I think that is so sad.

They look at food as an enemy, always stressed out about whether it’s good for them and how much to eat. The stress leads them to indulge in unhealthy food and they end up feeling guilty. If you actually pay attention, you can see how food adds to your happiness, love, and clean emotions. Certain foods produce serotonin in the body that triggers happy hormones.

These are conflicting times with so much contrasting information and advice on food.

My goal is to remove doubt and help people have a healthier relationship with food. We naturally as humans crave for fat and something sweet, Instead of indulging in natural stuff like fruits or nuts, we go for processed food. Now we are so far into synthetic food that we can’t tell the difference between real and fake just like we cant tell the difference between when we are hungry and when we are thirsty. We are not following our body’s signal we are just mechanically eating.

My work revolves around educating people about natural food, where it comes from and the implication of what we are consuming. How to make the right choices for their own bodies and the planet. I teach them the basics of good health and try to help them understand the value of food. What to eat to keep your gut healthy and build immunity.

How to eat food that keeps your brain sharp. How dark chocolate makes you feel happy because cacao contains antioxidants – a natural chemical called ‘Anandmai’ which comes from the Sanskrit work ‘Ananda’. This way, I try to promote mindful eating and living.

Food is your basic choice and when you are on diet you don’t have a choice

Diets are based on the principle of restriction; food is your basic choice and when you are on diet you don’t have a choice. Most dieticians tell you about the things one cannot eat instead of all the things that nature has to offer. We look at calories and proteins instead of what’s natural and unnatural. Your digestion starts when you look at food and your mouth waters. On a diet, you’re not excited and while you might lose weight initially because of portion control, you end up sacrificing your overall physical and mental health.

When you’re on a diet and not getting enough calcium or vitamins, your body tries to give you signals on what it needs. However, we often misinterpret these as cravings and end up eating the wrong kind of food. This leads you to cheat on meal plans and lose your motivation along with the nutrients and feel horrible about yourself – it’s a vicious cycle.

That’s why it’s important to learn what food is serving you

You don’t have to be a nutrition expert to know that something is off with your body. Whether it’s irregular sleeping patterns, weight gain, skin conditions or low energy, your body always lets you know. When this happens, you have to take a closer look at your diet. Are you eating natural and unprocessed food? Are you having digestion problems? Look into them and be conscious of these signs. Correct these one at a time and reach out to professionals who can help you.

I conduct my one on one sessions and during that time we talk about their journey and their connect with food. I don’t want to provide a temporary solution when I can help them learn about the nature of food. If one learns they can share it with their family and friends and I want more people to eat better. We must teach kids to connect with food and nature and encourage clean food in our homes and neighborhoods. After all, we are what we eat.  

Sridevi’s route to achieve happiness in life through food is simple and impactful. Her advice on taking control of our food choices is a bitter reality that we cannot afford to ignore anymore. To learn more from Sridevi about everything natural follow her on Instagram @vibrantlivingbysridevijasti and to order from her go to www.vibrantliving.in

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