It was in 2018 at the Food Innovation Program, organised by the Future Food Institute, Italy, that Elizabeth Yorke and Anusha Murthy first met. They were among 15 participants, who worked in different fields —as lawyers, chefs, designers, technologists— and were united by their common interest in food innovation. Together, they discussed topics such as cultured meats, circular economies, food security, and more.
However, both Murthy and Yorke kept asking each other, what did this conversation mean for India? How could one remove the discourse around food innovation from a Eurocentric context? “We also wondered how to give our batchmates insights into what was happening in this space in other parts of the world,” says Yorke. And that’s how Edible Issues came about.
It started as a newsletter with news about every aspect of food, from agriculture and policy to tech and recipes. From then on it took the shape of a collective that is now fostering thought and conversation on the Indian food system. Today, their work in this space has earned Edible Issues a spot in the 50 Next: Class of 2022 list. According to a news report, this selection, based on research by the 50 Next group and the Basque Culinary Center, celebrates young innovators in the field of gastronomy and is a companion list to the annual ‘The World’s 50 Best Restaurants’. Yorke and Murthy are part of the “Empowering Educators” category, along with another noted name from India—Vinesh Johny, founder of Lavonne Academy of Baking Science & Pastry Arts in Bengaluru. There are two other Indian innovators in the 50 next selection: Delhi-based forensic scientist Risha Jasmine Nathan and Nidhi Pant from Mumbai.
Those who have followed Edible Issues over the years would have come across conversations on pertinent topics such as edible oils and India’s journey towards oil self-sufficiency, farmer struggles, possible extinction threats to date palm jaggery and Cavendish bananas. My favourite is the Seaweed Saturdays—a research and public engagement—that they organise. Together with marine conservationist Gabriella D’Cruz and Takshama Pandit of Food is Political, Edible Issues looks at the realm of seaweed forests, the engagement of coastal communities with these, and also some interesting seaweed recipes.
It’s not just through the website, social media sessions and the newsletter that Yorke and Murthy create a platform for discussion, but through monthly meetups as well—which have gone virtual during the pandemic. In June 2020, one interesting session was conducted with food designer Akash Muralidharan, who embarked on a quest to document the stories of Tamil Nadu’s forgotten vegetables after returning to India from Italy. “To say the way we eat today has changed is an understatement. Beginning from our diets, to what we choose to put on our plates, to what is available to us, has changed. And this very much applies to vegetables,” mentioned the meetup note. It prompted people to think about biodiversity, and the lack of it on our plates.
From the very outset, Yorke and Murthy were clear that they wanted to break silos within the food ecosystem. “The restaurant industry operated in a silo, while the agro industry only had conversations within its sphere. We wanted to look at a holistic picture and at the kind of food futures we wanted,” says Yorke. Usually, pop culture and media looks at food through different prisms. There is either a cultural lens that gastronomy is looked at or from a policy perspective. There are not many platforms where different aspects of food come together. Edible Issues stands out in this context by bringing a wholesome, nuanced understanding of the food ecosystem.
Yorke and Murthy hail from very different backgrounds. While the former is a chef and founder of Saving Grains, an upcycling food initiative, Murthy is a growth product manager at a food tech startup and a food innovation researcher. When the two started talking, one’s focus on sustainability and the other’s expertise in tech came together. “Together, we focus on building things with a purpose,” adds Yorke.
Edible Issues has now become a space about things that people feel collectively curious about. For instance, in 2020, there was a session on the budget and what it meant for people in the food ecosystem. Today, people from academia, intergovernmental organisations and from restaurants collaborate with the duo. “We have been told that the work we do could be called network weaving. Sometimes a lot of things that we do might not seem to have very tangible results. But the conversations have an impact on some of the products being launched and projects being initiated,” explains Yorke. “This is the power of a community space. We are now talking about tools, activities such as mapping exercises and design spreads, that can empower anyone in the community. They can pick these tools and build their own conversations.