Hop on the rug with us - and get to know how Cooks Who Feed’s Seema Sanghavi lives life well.
As a young girl, growing up in New Brunswick, Canada, Seema Sanghavi quickly learned how to make her favorite dish - roasted chicken, at the age of six. “My parents are both Indian immigrants, so they worked all the time,” she says. “And I was home with my four sisters, and no one else wanted to cook or liked to cook or was good at it. So it was either eat what someone else made, which probably isn't very good, or figure it out.”
So, she figured it out. She made her older sisters open and close the oven for her, but she figured it out. Pretty soon she was watching cooking shows and dreaming of becoming a chef. “But having typical Indian parents, they very much wanted me to go to university or college and do something, I guess in their minds, more professional. For them cooking was more of a hobby than something you can make a career out of,” says Sanghavi.
She ended up going to university to study business and marketing, and then moved to the Netherlands doing online marketing work, before returning to Canada. But her passion for food always remained one she kept simmering in the background.
It was a trip to India to attend a friend’s wedding in Delhi that became the fire that sparked a change of course in Sanghavi’s life. One of her friends had mentioned to her about an NGO she should visit while she was there that provided paid training and fair, safe work for marginalized women. “In my head at the time, I thought that I would maybe volunteer or something like that. I didn't think, ‘Okay, I'm going to leave my job to work with these ladies.’”
But that’s exactly what would happen, just a few years later when Sanghavi left her job in digital media operations to pursue a small business, called Cooks Who Feed, that would help the women she met at the NGO.
A cook who feeds
“When I started talking to the ladies in my broken Hindi, and they were responding in their broken English, and started to get to know them, I really wanted to do something to provide them with more opportunities for fair trade work.”
It became personal too, she says. “Part of it goes back to my parents being immigrants and that's where they came from. I felt like I kind of owed it to these ladies because in another world that could have been me. Both my parents were born and raised in India during the partition and my father came from extreme poverty. He was a sponsored child. That's how he became educated and that's how he applied to university in Canada and how they came here. So I just felt this need to give back, and to not take for granted what I have.”
Today, Sanghavi gives back and gets to live out her foodie dreams, as the founder of Cooks Who Feed. The initiative provides meals to those in need, through selling aprons made by the women of the NGO. Sanghavi’s company partners with charities to rescue surplus food that creates the meals. Every apron sold provides 100 hearty meals and also tackles an issue that’s become close to Sanghavi’s heart - food insecurity.
“It became clear to me that to fight hunger, it wasn't about producing more food. We have enough food. It's about lessening the amount of food that we waste, and instead of it being diverted to landfills, getting it to people who actually need it,” she says. “When I started learning more about that, that's when I started connecting the dots and said, ‘Okay, we're going to make kitchen textiles,’ and we’re going to have a giveback model to support organizations and charities on the ground that are just doing that - rescuing surplus food to provide meals.”
Finding a way to help
So far, Cooks Who Feed has created over 300,000 meals and is on track to provide half a million meals by the end of the year. When Sanghavi first began, she had only two designs for the Kickstarter campaign she ran to get the idea off the ground. Now, she has collaborations with six celebrity chefs, including Art Smith and Christine Cushing, as well as a children’s range.
Like for many, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the company and it had to shut down production for a while. But Sanghavi bounced back. “What keeps me going is that I know, deep down, we've made a difference. I can see it in that we've grown the team of ladies in India that we have. I know them personally, so I know the changes it's made in their lives to have fair, steady income and obviously the number of meals, so I can see it. But I do feel like I wish we could do more,” she says.
The pandemic also impacted a lot of people food wise, with community fridges and mutual aids being set up to help. “Everyone knows that there's a lot of people that suffer from food insecurity and it's not just something that happens somewhere else on the other side of the world; that it happens everywhere. I think people are aware of that. What I wish is that people would figure out what works best for them to help solve this,” she says.
“It doesn't have to be starting a company selling aprons or kitchen textiles. But whatever fits your lifestyle, whatever you can do, because every small thing helps. It's not about everyone doing everything perfectly. It's about, ‘let's have everyone do something small that will make a big impact.’ So whether it's buying an apron or volunteering at a local food bank, whatever it is that works for you. I just wish more people would take a step forward and do that.”