Go to any trendy coffee shop and you’ll be sure to spot an increasing number of students and health-conscious individuals warming their hands around a ceramic white coffee mug filled with a gold-colored liquid emanating with steam.
This rise of turmeric lattes, also known as golden milk, ties into the Western wellness industry’s growing influence from pan-Asian culture and especially Indian traditions of meditation, yoga, and Aruyvedic eating over the past decade. According to Healthline.com, turmeric lattes, a Westernized version of the traditional Indian haldi doodh, now dominate the wellness market as a “superfood” with boasted health benefits such as inflammation reduction, memory improvement, mood elevation, heart disease protection, and more. Beyond its health benefits, turmeric lattes also provide a satisfyingly creamy and peppery, gingery taste that simultaneously lights the palate up with spice while cooling it down with the milky aftertaste. It’s creamy. It’s healthy. It’s everything a health-conscious, wellness-enthusiast could want.
And it’s also directly linked to recent 2020 farmer protests in India.With India accounting for 75% of turmeric production, it’s impossible to separate Indian labor law issues with the distribution of turmeric in the Western world. And contrary to the low-lit, art-smattered coffee shop with the eclectic-colored mugs and fancy turmeric lattes, the reality of turmeric farming is far from aesthetic.
85% of farmers in India own less than five acres of land and work in small-scale farming, averaging an income of 36,838 rupees or $505 US dollars a year in 2017. With wageindicator.org estimating the average single adult household in India needs between 6,610–10,600 rupees a month to live (or between 79,320 and 127,200 a year), that puts Indian farmers (which account for approximately 70% of the working Indian population) at unhealthy and unsustainable levels of poverty.
To worsen matters, while the prices for fertilizer, pesticide, and seed continue to rise, the fixed minimum price for turmeric has not. That, alongside new laws passed in September of 2020 to deregulate agriculture—under the false pretense of giving farmers more control—has led to a number of farmers in India speaking out against the laws and protesting these supposed reforms. Since the laws were passed, CBC News has reported thousands of farmers camping out on highways in Haryana and Punjab states in November and pleading leaders to withdraw the three agricultural laws that could lower their crop prices.
To date, the laws have resulted in nine rounds of talks between the central government and farmers (represented by farm unions) between October 14th and January 15th. The only consensus reached so far has been for a government subsidy of electricity and for a lack of punishment for stubble burning. While no further decisions have been made on MSP [minimum support price] and a total repeal of the laws, both the farmers union and government admit hopefulness that an agreement will be made soon during the next talk scheduled for January 19th.
When asked about the talks on January 15th, farmer leader Darshan Pal responded, “It was a 120% failure. We suggested that the government remove the changes made to the Essential Commodities Act instead of scrapping it altogether. But the Agriculture Minister [Narendra Tomar] has not said anything on this.”
In the meantime, farmers continue to protest for the repeal of these laws and demand justice and livable wages. And as these farmers demand their rights, it’s time for Westerners and the wellness industry to admit their responsibility in this situation.
While the overall wellness industry is quick to lift up the latest turmeric latte recipe or how to make a balanced, gut-healing curry, its overall silence on the Indian protests shows a darker underbelly of the wellness industry—self-care at the detriment of others.
When self-care leads to the harm and abuse of others, this self-care practice needs to be carefully evaluated and, most likely, re-established as something better. As those who believe in the betterment of ourselves and others, it’s important that the wellness advocate to lift up the voices of those who are suffering rather than remaining silent.
For those who regularly cook with or consume turmeric, there are ways to ensure the livelihood of those who produce the spices you consume. Practice conscious consumption—striving to purchase from fair trade and direct-to-consumer companies to support farmers rather than the middleman. Companies such as Burlap and Barrel are one of many fair trade, farmer-focused companies that support farmers with livable wages.
While the government decision may be wrapping up, the reminder of the importance of conscious consumption should not. Next time you’re craving a piping hot cup of golden milk, consider those involved with the production of those spices, and opt for ethically-sourced and fair trade turmeric options instead.
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