“The vegan community is really strong, but I wouldn’t say the same thing about the vegetarian community.”
Alicia talks to Chitra Agrawal — maker of the Brooklyn Delhi line of condiments, and author of the cookbook Vibrant India — about her lifelong vegetarianism, the word “curry,” and her punk rock youth in New Jersey.
ALICIA KENNEDY: This is Meatless, a podcast about eating. I’m Alicia Kennedy, a food and drink writer. I’ll be having conversations with chefs, writers, and more, about how their personal and political beliefs determine whether or not they eat meat. The show will ask the question, “How do identity, culture, economics and history affect a diet?”
In this episode, I talked to Chitra Agrawal, maker of the Brooklyn Delhi Line of condiments. She’s a lifelong vegetarian, and we talked about raising a vegetarian child, the word “curry,” and her punk rock youth in New Jersey.
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ALICIA KENNEDY: Hi Chitra.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Hello.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Thank you for being here.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Thanks for having me.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Can you tell me about where you grew up and what you ate?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I grew up in Jersey in, kind of, I guess a multicultural home. My mom is from south India, in Bangalore, in Mysore area, and my father’s from north India, Delhi area, so they grew up kind of eating two different types of cuisine, speaking different languages, and they both liked to cook, so we ate both north Indian, south Indian. I mean growing up in Jersey, ate a lot of pasta and pizza, and a lot of times when my parents would make food at home, it would basically be kind of like Indian spice tacos, or Indian spice pasta, so I feel like it was kind of like all over the place a little bit, but we’re all, we’re, our family’s vegetarian.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Can you talk about the differences between north Indian cuisine and south Indian cuisine?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah. So south Indian I’d say is more kind of lentil, rice-based. So familiar, I feel like, dishes are sambar, rasam, dosas, idlis. And then my father would make a lot of the rotis, or he’d make chapati, paratha, pooris, and then dishes like chana masala, rajma, saag paneer. My dad also makes yogurt. My parents, like, have made yogurt since I was really young. So, they kind of divided those, those different dishes, but we would eat kind of like north and south Indian on the table, like almost every day.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Wow. Is that rare do you think?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I think it is for the generation my parents are from. They met in school, and they have what’s called a love marriage, so I think a lot of their contemporaries had arranged marriages and in my family also, I’d say, for the most part, a lot of my aunts and uncles had arranged marriages, and so I’d always be, you know, sitting with the other parent at like family functions because they don’t speak each other’s languages either. So they speak English to each other. Like my dad speaks Hindi, and my mom speaks Kannada.
ALICIA KENNEDY: So you grew up vegetarian. Have you ever rebelled against that or have you been vegetarian forever?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I have been vegetarian forever, and I am always kind of, I guess, thinking about that where I feel like I’m pretty adventurous in most things, but I never really, never really had the need or, I guess, curiosity maybe to try meat or fish. At one point in my life I actually considered, just, almost more so to make my life easier, to try fish or something, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I remember trying to, you know, get the courage to do it, and then I think at the end of the day I was like, you know, it’s just like my name, it would be easier if my name was easily more pronounceable, but it’s who I am and I don’t think, I think I came to the realization that it’s just who I am.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Have you changed your reasons for being vegetarian? If you’re born into vegetarianism, you’re not making that, you know, whether it’s an ethical choice or a dietary choice or anything like that, but have those reasons in your adult life bolstered your resolve to be vegetarian?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I think so. Definitely. I mean, yeah, coming from being a vegetarian from a cultural perspective and then, now there’s just, I mean, there’s so much information out there in terms of how animals are treated and, and, and so of course it makes, I think for myself, the resolve more to stay vegetarian. But I mean also now I have a small child and right, to this point he’s, he’s not even two, we’ve, we’ve been raising him vegetarian, but I think about that in terms of do I want to limit him in what he can eat, because I’ve seen, just from my own experience in traveling, that I wasn’t able to experience all of a culture when I would go to another country, and that’s the only piece that kind of makes me think about, do I want to raise my son vegetarian or not. Because I think that there’s a spectrum also of the way that meat is, that animals are treated for meat. So I think that from country to country, I mean, I think that in the U.S. it’s like, ugh, a really like, sad state, but I don’t know if that’s the case everywhere.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right. Is your husband vegetarian?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: He’s not vegetarian, but we mainly eat vegetarian in the house and, he’s actually from the Midwest. So he grew up, you know, eating that like meat and potato type of food. And the interesting thing about the whole discussion about our kid is that he’s open to if we want to raise him vegetarian or not, he kind of has left it in my court. But with food that we cook in the house, my husband actually cooks a lot of south Indian food. He learned how to cook a lot of this food from me. And you know, a lot of times we talk about how he’s just like, you know, I don’t miss the meat because this food has these flavors that you don’t really kind of think about it, you feel satisfied. So that has kind of been interesting, but then he’ll eat meat when we go out to it.
ALICIA KENNEDY: And do you feel any type of way about that? Has that been a source of contention?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I don’t, a lot of times he has plate envy because he’ll order something with meat and then I’ll order something else. And a lot of times he’ll be like, “I should have ordered what you ordered.” And then I’m like, “Well!”
ALICIA KENNEDY: So why did you start your blog, The ABCDs of Cooking? When did food become kind of a focal point of your life?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I’d say that it always was really, but I never really wrote about it. I think that it was something where, when I went to college, especially, my mother would email me recipes, and we’d be on the phone because I missed a lot of the food. We ate at home almost every day. I think that was what I missed the most when I went away. And over time I think like I started collecting all these recipes but they were everywhere, and I would be emailing them to cousins or to friends. I think that when I moved to New York, I joined a CSA. I used to live in California, so I feel like it was easier to get, you know, really good quality produce, wherever. But like in New York, you kind of have to seek it out. I think here when I a CSA, it was almost like a challenge for me to get through my CSA, but also I was learning these Indian cooking techniques at the same time from my parents, and the blog was a way to kind of blend that together. So a lot of the recipes that I was creating or making on the site, they were all based around like these different, weird vegetables that you wouldn’t find in Indian cooking really, but it was trying to kind of teach people the technique but also show them that, you know, you could really apply these techniques to any type of vegetable because that’s kind of how my parents cook too. You know, when they came to this country, a lot of the ingredients that they grew up I’m having at home, they didn’t have here.
So they would kind of like make do with what vegetables they found. So it was kind of in that same vein, but I started it basically to document my family’s recipes. I mean through it, it became this community thing where I was able to connect with a lot of people that were blogging in Brooklyn and in New York, and also I started, it, it was a way for me to connect actually with community here.
ALICIA KENNEDY: And when did Brooklyn Delhi launch, and what inspired that?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Brooklyn Delhi launched in 2014, and, I mean, a lot of the recipes actually that we have put out there for Brooklyn Delhi, I developed when I was blogging at The ABCDs of Cooking. So the tomato achaar was the first product that was something that I had come up with using heirloom tomatoes, which we don’t use anymore, because it’s like so expensive. The garlic achaar also, my rhubarb was also from that, and it was from Wilklow Orchards. I remember that was the CSA, the Fort Greene CSA, and I was getting all of the vegetables from Fred Wilklow, and later we sourced from him as well. So, those recipes kind of grew from that. And the reason why, achaar, I guess is that I have been obsessed with Indian pickle for, I mean since I was young, and I’d always bring back pickle from India. A lot of my relatives make it, and, but I couldn’t find something that was similar in vein here in the stores, so I started making it, but I also wanted to use the seasonal vegetables because that’s kind of like, that’s basically pickling. You want to pickle the good stuff.
ALICIA KENNEDY: So when did you start to get into using local produce and supporting local agriculture?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I’d say, I mean I was doing that when living in California, I went to school in Berkeley. I lived in LA after, and I feel like that, that whole farmer’s market routine was kind of instilled early on. My parents, also, I mean actually, they live in India for part of the year. I would go to India almost every year and that was also something that was always a part, we would go to the market or in India, sometimes there are people that sell vegetables just like walking on the street, like yelling, like cucumber, you know, and stuff like that. So the way that my parents cook would be like buying whatever they needed and then cooking it that day. And I think that that’s the way that I’ve always looked at it.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right, right. So what challenges, both in the kitchen and as a business, have you run into while you’ve been doing Brooklyn Delhi?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Like, oh, challenges as in…?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Like, what’s been the biggest problem you faced in the kitchen with it, like what has been…?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Oh you mean Brooklyn Delhi? OK. I’d say, I mean in the beginning, it was scaling, right? So it was kind of like you take a recipe that you’ve made over and over again in your home kitchen, and then all of a sudden, I started making it out of a soup pantry in Brooklyn and they had like a large braising pan and also a kettle, and we found, you know, there were all of these, in scaling it, it was like, OK , well in a pot in my house, like I can make it pretty quickly. But in a braising pan it was like, it took hours and hours and hours. Then just like the processing. It was interesting though because I worked with people that worked in the soup pantry and they make meals for thousands of people a day, right? So they actually helped me to understand a little bit of, of scale and things like that.
We figured out different ways, like for my roasted garlic achaar, it was like impossible to evenly roast all of the garlic at once, so they helped me to figure out a way to fix that piece. And so I feel like there was a lot of like learning curve, when we started, but then you start to understand like, “OK, this can, we can fix it by this, or we can do this,” and getting more familiar with using industrial size, you know, equipment.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right, right. So as a business, what’s been the biggest challenge, and you launched four years ago?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah, yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: What’s been the hardest part?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I’d say education almost, because I’m selling a product that is not very well known, and I’m selling it by the name that it’s known by in north India.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: So a lot of people call it Indian pickle, but depending on the region they will call it by the language that they’re speaking. So my mom, for instance, is from south India and achaar is referred to as “avakai,” when I was thinking of how we were going to position it, and I’m, I teach cooking classes, I wanted people to also learn something through it by the label, and I didn’t want to just call it “Indian pickle” because I wanted it to have, you know, I wanted there to be some other, some type of, more to it than, than just that, right? So that has been like a big piece, and also it’s just like I didn’t think about it, but of course, it’s like other Indians that know Indian pickle, they may not know achaar because they grew up calling it something else. So anyway, that was like a whole, like, I think it’s just a market research thing where I didn’t do very much market research for that. But I mean, I feel like we have tried to do our best with educating people on how to use it and what it is, and I mean, just keep going at it.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Well do you feel like you’ve grown and you, you’ve gotten more of a fan base who knows…?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah, no, definitely. I mean, well the other thing is, that we realized later too that, so achaar from a retail perspective somewhat doesn’t make as much sense, because people that are looking at a grocery aisle are like, “I don’t know what that is and I don’t know if I need it,” right? But from a food service perspective, it’s been great. So we have a number of places that use the achaar in sandwiches and in different dishes, like Blue Apron just started using the tomato achaar. So that’s like the perfect way for people to get educated, is that it’s already in something and they understand the flavour, and with Blue Apron, it’s like they’re cooking with it, right? So that piece has been really helpful for us.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right, right. And I was thinking, I was on your website this morning, and my first thought, but also I think I’m not a person who would ever think, “oh that food is too expensive,” but I was looking at the prices and I was like, it seems too cheap, like…
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Oh, well, I mean in terms of, I have to say, like our margins are pretty slim, right?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Of course.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: But what we have learned is when you’re selling an unfamiliar product, also, it’s like people are only willing to pay maybe, you know, a premium for it if they know it and they know that it’s premium, right? Our product is premium, but not a lot of people know about it.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: So I think I always think about like, you know, and it’s not comparable, like the guy that owned Sriracha, he’s like, “I just wanted everybody to try it, I can sell it for like a dollar,” you kno? I guess like with the achaars, it’s that we just want more people to try it, really, at this point.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: But that’s why I came out with two, with two other flavors that are a little bit more accessible, but they have the flavors of, like, my curry ketchup is basically flavored with my tomato achaar.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right, right. Well, there’s been this market for upscale condiments, like Sir Kensington’s or anything like that. Do you think that that sort of helped your market in a way?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I think so. Well, I mean, the grocery scene is just kind of messed up in general, where it’s like, our achaars sit in the, you know, “ethnic category,” right? Which means “brown food,” and then the ketchup and the mustard that we have sits in the condiments aisle, and there’s just so many more eyeballs that are looking at that aisle, that our products like have an easier time being picked up and sold. Just also because people are familiar with, OK, and we know what to do with that. In like the ethnic aisle, it’s like there’s not a lot of traffic, I don’t think. I think the most amount of traffic is people going there to buy coconut milk, you know?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, yeah.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I hope that changes. I plan on putting out more products that are more traditional in nature as well because my idea is that, you know, with just the way that I grew up eating, it was a mix of things. I ate very traditional Indian food, but on the other spectrum, I also ate like, you know, junk food, too, right? Then it’s like, how do I make my, how do I make sense of your identity, how do you make sense of this identity through this brand, when it’s kind of complicated, because it’s like a lot of brands, you have to stick to one perspective, and that’s it. I feel that I don’t want to do that because it’s just not who I am, so.
ALICIA KENNEDY: With the ketchup and the mustard, I saw you on a panel at the Happy Family Night Market around Indian cuisine, and the word curry was brought up because it’s always brought up, because it’s kind of a vague term.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yep.
ALICIA KENNEDY: And you talked about why you chose to go with it, because of its accessibility to a broad population. Can you talk about the process of developing those flavors, and also why you decided to go with that name?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah. So, I mean, the ketchup basically was something that we would make at home. I would basically mix our tomato achaar with ketchup, and so we had pitched this to a buyer and she loved the flavor of it. And so we’re, we, at that point we decided that we would develop it and put it out there. And then she also asks us to make a curry mustard. So these are actually products that exist in Germany.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Huh. Wow.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah. And so I didn’t know that until later, but I did struggle with the name because, like, a lot of times people think, oh curry, they think heavy cumin, you know, this like generic curry powder, right? But we also were like, OK , what if we do masala that, that spice mixture, what if we do spicy, what if we do, you know, all of these different things?
And at this point we were like, “OK, we didn’t do any market research with achaar, let’s do market research here.” So when we did it, it was astounding the number of people that were like, “Curry, it says it’s Indian,” and, you know, if I said “spicy ketchup,” people will be like, I mean this whole thing drives me mad, you know, because I’m also a person that comes from a perspective that, I mean I don’t love the word “curry”…
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: …yet my parents use the word “curry,” you know, and so, it’s kind of like, it has this backlash, but at the same time people are using. It, it’s kind of like, you know, people using the word “noodle.” That’s not an Asian term, but it’s been, it’s used to describe something because there isn’t another word maybe right now that other people, that most people are able to understand.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah. Do you think that’ll change?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I hope so. I really do. I mean the whole thing about putting these, the curry ketchup and the curry mustard out, is that, I hope it’s a bridge, you know, we have specific, like on our bottles, we specifically say, you know, talk about achaars on there because we find that if people like these flavours, then hopefully they’re going to want to go for something more like traditional, and so it’s my only hope, but I’ve learned so much about grocery just in the past four years. Going in there pretty naive and then understanding that even if a buyer is excited about your flavors, they’ll put you on a shelf. But consumers are just not there, with Indian flavors.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah. And do you think, I mean, we’ve, there’s been such talk, especially in the last decade, about the artisanal small batch products and stuff like that. Do you think we’ve hit any sort of point right now where either people know what that means and why that’s important, or do you think that people still kind of are like, “No, I’ll get Heinz,” and that’s fine and that doesn’t mean anything?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I mean, I think that, I was just like looking through some research just now, on the condiments category, and in general, in America, I’d say people could care less about small batch. I think it’s mainly on the coast maybe, and communities that are more connected to artisan makers. And, it could just be a case of economics, right?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: You have to be in, there’s a lot of families, right, that can’t afford to pay for small batch types of products even though they’re probably better for their kids and things like that, but that’s the sorry fact about, you know, the consumer goods, like, industry.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right, yeah. Now as a food writer, I think about this all the time because you’ll see big magazines or editors be like, “Sure, Heinz is the best ketchup, like, screw a house-made ketchup,” and I’m like, “Ugh, we could eat the house-made ketchup, we don’t always need everything to be that generic,” and like same thing with like a Hershey bar, like Skippy peanut butter or something like that, where it’s like, but these things are bad for people and ecologically.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: But it’s hard to say this because then you look like a snob.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: So it’s like trying to find that balance between like being a snob and being, like, caring about how things are made.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah, I mean I almost feel like sometimes those articles seem like sensationalist, right? So it’s kind of like “Ha ha, like I’m this like, really highbrow food writer, but I’m going to say that I love Kewpie mayo,” you know?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right, it’s just like, “Come on,” like, it seems like a pandering to an audience that probably isn’t reading Bon Appetit anyway.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: I don’t know. That’s my own…
CHITRA AGRAWAL: No, I see it.
ALICIA KENNEDY: So, but your cookbook, Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn, came out last year, 2017. How did that come about, and can you talk about the point of view of the book?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah. So, I actually got contacted by a publisher that had seen some of the work that I’d been doing on the blog, and then I was doing a ton of pop-up dinners, like cooking classes and all these things, and they were kind of attracted to, to that work. So we started, you know, just talking about what that angle would be. A while ago I had, I had also been approached by like an agent who was like, you know, “I think what you’re doing is interesting. You want to start writing a proposal?” I started writing it and I was like, you know what, I have no idea what I want to write about. So like, let’s just like table that for a little bit. But by the time this publisher had come around, I had really become more interested in south Indian cooking. And I was also using a lot of local vegetables, I was partnering with farmers for the pop-up dinners I was doing, and it really seemed right, like, that seemed like something that I could write a book about.
And so what happened was I just, I wrote the proposal. I had met an agent, actually at Food Book Fair or something like that, and she was on a panel, but she was like super late. And so what she said was that, “OK, I’m super late, but you can ask questions at the end.” So I went and asked her, and I was like, “Hey, like, you know, this publisher said that they’re interested in my work, but I’m just kind of like, how do I navigate this, is this something?” And, and by chance, she knew the publisher, and she was just like, “Well, you know, that’s, like, he’s a good editor,” and blah blah. And she was just like, “Send me your proposal if you want help with, just like, representation and stuff.” I, so I wrote this proposal which was basically almost the whole book. Just like the intro part and everything, and I sent it to her and she, she was really into it, and she was just like, but you know, maybe you want to shop it around to more publishers just to see what you got. And eventually, I mean she did shop it around, and I ended up going with an imprint of the publisher that had contacted me anyway. So, it was kind of a roundabout thing. But, but, and the perspective is also recipes from my mom’s family in Bangalore, and she is a Brahman, and that style of cooking is, you know, based all in vegetarian styles of cooking.
That is greens, vegetables. I kind of took those recipes and then layered on like local vegetables and things like that. And I mixed in some of my, you know, some other influences, but it’s pretty much like a, I’d say, traditional south Indian cooking techniques, though.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Did you enjoy writing the cookbook?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I did, but it was really tough because I had launched Brooklyn Delhi at the same time, so it was kind of like, like a manic time, I feel like, when I look back on it, and I don’t even know, like, you know, like how that went, got to be. But it kept on extending the date. So I actually wrote that book over three years.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Oh wow.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah. And like, the name of the book was supposed to be From Bangalore to Brooklyn, and that was something that was like, we kind of had to go back and forth about, for a long time.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Did you do like the name?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I mean, I would rather it be From Bangalore in Brooklyn, but I guess at the time they were like, not as many people know Bangalore and, from a sales perspective, and all this stuff. So at least I got it in the subtitle, but…
ALICIA KENNEDY: The title is so broad.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah. The title is very broad and I’ve seen this a lot with Indian cookbooks where the title is broad, but then the story is very particular and specific, and it’s just this whole marketing thing, you know?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah, yeah. Do you think you’ll do another cookbook?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Maybe eventually, but I have to be very, I think that and actually learned this from Lukas too, where for his last book, he was very specific about what he wanted to name it and everything like that. I think that that’s very important as an author. I think I was a little bit naive going in. They’re like, “oh, you know, we’ll figure it out,” and all this stuff. But I think the more specific you can be about just, like, even the name, just perspective, the better the process will go. But they didn’t really change anything of what I wrote.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Oh, that’s good.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: So it was, I’m like, well, the inside is all good.
ALICIA KENNEDY: I mean, you’re not the first person I’ve heard who’s like, “well, the inside is me, but the outside was for someone else, I don’t know.” Like, yeah. You mentioned Lukas, Lukas Volger, who’s been on the show before, do you feel like you have a good community within Brooklyn of food people?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, I, I probably met most of my friends through food here, and when I was writing the blog, so, I mean I met a of people when I was selling at food markets that, but it was actually like a food market that was before like Smorgasburg, called the Greenpoint Food Market. And, it was like in 2010 or something like that, and a lot of people that were in that market now have brands like Mama O’s Kimchi, Anita’s Coconut Yogurt, Brooklyn Brine, Anarchy In A Jar, Morris & Co., like, there are all these people, and I met a lot of them then and we’ve stayed in touch and we help each other a lot with our businesses, because it’s just like, there’s so much to navigate. And then from like a cookbook perspective, from blogging, I met Cathy Erway, Diana Kuan, like, a lot of people. Louisa Shafia, Lukas, who helped me through the cookbook process too, so it’s like, there was like these two worlds, and I think it was like going on, you know, this like fuddy dorky time in Brooklyn where people were just like doing cook-offs and you can just do whatever you wanted. You made a lot of friends though, through it, you know, and it wasn’t pretentious at all. It was just what it was.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right. I mean it has this reputation as being pretentious.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: But yeah. You don’t think that’s earned though?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Oh, the pretentiousness? Well I think that things have changed a lot, right?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I mean now it’s, I mean there’s a lot of cool kids. I feel like I’m an old dork.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah. I can imagine. Yeah. Yeah. We’re not going to name any names. You talked about this a little bit about with travel and stuff, but do you think that being in the food world and in Brooklyn, has like being vegetarian limited you at all?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I’m in Brooklyn, I feel like it’s gotten better. I mean, when I first moved to New York in 2005, I feel like it was a totally different landscape, and now, I mean, it’s very, it’s easier for us to find food that is, well I’d say more vegan actually than vegetarian. I think that’s another thing, right? It’s kind of like the vegan, the vegan community is really strong, but I wouldn’t say the same thing about the vegetarian community, I feel like.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: It’s kind of like this funny thing where it’s like the vegetarians kind of are looked at like, you know, uncool, again, dorks.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, it’s true. I mean, I’ll admit this. When I first became a vegan, you know, there’s a strong current of anti-vegetarianism within veganism.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Like, you know, it’s like, “You’re just half-assing it, you’re not, you don’t really care about animals, blah, blah blah.” Of course, I don’t feel that way now.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: But that’s, it’s a very strange thing because you would, you would think that vegans and vegetarians are natural allies, but…
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: But no.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah, and also, I mean you would think that it’s like veganism also, it’s about caring for animals. It’s about, like, I would think community.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: That, that it would, that they, they would be kind of like BFs, but like, it doesn’t seem to be the case.
ALICIA KENNEDY: It doesn’t work out though, I know. You’d mentioned to me, I think that you were a punk rock kid?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: How, how was being in that space, and obviously that’s a, like, super vegetarian, vegan-friendly way to live.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Yeah, definitely. I mean in high school it was, I mean we would go to like, you know, legion halls, and just like go to shows and stuff like that. And it was, it’s like a very welcoming community, because I don’t really feel like I ever really fit in, kind of thing. So when that kind of became, you know, a scene, it was like, it was really cool, for me. And then I went to Berkeley, so it’s like going to the Gilman and there was a very kind of like established, more established community there of like larger, I dunno, it’s in all of these things like Food Not Bombs, like all of those types of organizations, it’s like, it does, I think it does, it does filter into even the work in food later that I did, which was just creating stuff out of nothing and trying to find people that are like-minded and people that you can collaborate with. And I think that that whole feeling kind of came from that too.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Absolutely. Yeah. Do you think that food and cooking food, eating, is a political act?
CHITRA AGRAWAL: I think so, more so now than ever really. Just in terms of what’s going on with, I mean, farmers getting pinched and things like that, it’s like you really need to kind of take a stand to ensure that we are getting vegetables and fruits from smaller farmers in the area. I think that’s the piece that I feel most passionate about just because I work with farmers, so, but, but it is a funny thing because I came to it later, it wasn’t like, my vegetarianism was so not rooted in that, and it’s something that I became more knowledgeable about later, too.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Thank you so much for being here.
CHITRA AGRAWAL: Thank you.
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