Owner of Pachamama talks nutrition
Leanna Braid was interviewed by Hannah Burrows on March 4, 2019. Braid is the owner of Pachamama, a chocolaterie, tea and espresso bar, & whole-food emporium, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Her business features specialty vegan food and drink, which reflects respect for Pachamama (or Mother Earth), “a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes for her ability to sustain life.” Braid makes her business decisions based on a strong ethical foundation that surrounds sustainability, both environmentally and socially. Through her passion for consumption of whole and plant-rich foods, she addresses the barriers that individuals face due to accessibility and the actions we can take on an individual level to transform our relationship with food.
HB: What initially sparked your interest in consuming and promoting a vegan diet consisting of whole and plant-rich foods?
LB: I have been interested in food my whole life but became more interested in plant-based eating when I was pregnant with my daughter. It was also during this time that I began working on the vision that would eventually become Pachamama.
HB: Can you tell us about your journey of opening Pachamama and how you turned your personal interests and beliefs into a business?
LB: My journey to opening Pachamama is perhaps less traditional than most business startups. Pachamama was borne out of both passion and necessity. After an almost 10-year career in environmental education and strategic planning with Parks Canada, I lost my “secure” government position during the large-scale downsizing that took place under Stephen Harper. At this time, I had put down some roots in Antigonish and realized that if I wanted to stay here, I would have to create my own job. I had been working on a business vision for some time that would combine my love of healthy food with my passion for sustainability and community.
Shortly after my daughter was born, my husband was badly injured and it became necessary to start the business. The timing was not ideal - building a business from scratch and becoming a mother meant that life was extremely busy, stressful and exhausting. But it was also an exciting time.
I have always made decisions about my business based on a strong ethical foundation. Maximizing profits has never been at the core of Pachamama - I have built my own business model that incorporates and maintains a strong ethic of sustainability (environmentally and socially). To do this, I had to build my own supply chains because those available did not satisfy the ethical requirements I wanted in place. In essence, I have become my own supplier, distributor and retailer. This allows me to build relationships directly with growers and other suppliers, to maintain better pricing and to stand behind all the products that have become part of the Pachamama brand.
HB: How did you initially form the relationships that you now have with farmers that supply your business (both locally and worldwide)?
LB: Initially, this meant doing a lot of research, making a lot of phone calls, meeting face to face with local growers and organizations that support them. Countless hours were spent reading and researching supply lines and digging through layers of “middlemen” to find direct sources of products. In short, hard work, persistence and a dedication to thinking outside the box.
HB: What do you think is the biggest issue that the farming and food production world is facing at the moment?
LB: There is no simple answer to this question, in part because food production and the problems we currently face regarding food security are so interlinked with other large-scale problems such as climate change, globalization, the industrialization of food, the breakdown of community, etc. However, if I had to highlight one issue it would be the increasing fragility of our food system due to many of the factors mentioned above. Food security is declining as the impacts of long term food industrialization, societal disconnection from food, and availability of “empty” foods in the form of highly processed goods continue the rise.
HB: Studies have shown that exposure to poor quality food environments amplify individual risk factors for obesity such as low income, absence of transport, and poor cooking skills or knowledge. How can individuals combat these risk factors and find ways to purchase and consume more whole foods?
LB: This is a challenging question because it is impossible to answer without examining the reasons for these limiting factors: poverty, mental and physical illness, lack of food education, etc. In the current system of food production and distribution, the barriers to accessing whole foods are often insurmountable. The existence of food deserts in urban areas, the astronomical cost of whole foods in northern/isolated communities or the lack of publicly funded healthy food school programs are just a few examples of this.
I believe that it will take more than simply the actions of individuals to make change and combat these risk factors. More public education and funding regarding healthy eating and whole foods is needed so that some of these barriers can be removed, or at least reduced. The new Canada Food Guide is a step in the right direction and will hopefully begin to guide policy, programs and education. All schools should have gardens and teach the basics of growing and preparing food. Governments should tax unhealthy/processed foods and subsidize whole foods and local food productions.
HB: Studies have revealed that there is a direct link between soil health and human health, and that the chemicals used in industrial agriculture are among the causes of modern illness. What is your take on this? Do you agree with this statement?
LB: I cannot articulate it better than Jane Goodall when she said, “Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads. How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poison?”
HB: Indigenous people see the Earth as something to be nurtured and nourished. How can we develop such empathy for the Earth and change our current relationship with it? Additionally, how may we inspire people to change the way we farm, eat, and think about food?
LB: I wish I had answers to these questions. In my opinion, it is difficult to foster this empathy without changing the capitalist system that currently dictates food production education, economy, etc. Until corporations and governments are held accountable for their actions and their impacts in the planet, it will be difficult to address these larger issues.
However, this does not mean we cannot take action on an individual level to transform our relationship with food. Choosing local and whole food options, when possible, is important but it’s also important not to judge those who are not able and to examine why this option has become a privilege and not a right. In terms of inspiring others, I try to live by the following: Make changes where possible, whether big or small; Take more time to prepare food from whole ingredients; Have gratitude for the food you eat and for the planet that produced it; Learn about how to grow your own food, even if it’s just one plant to start; Enjoy simple foods because nutritious, delicious food does not need to be complicated; Don’t be afraid to experiment with and try new whole foods; Resist the temptation to eat fast food, processed food, junk food etc., because your body will thank you; Whenever possible, vote with your dollar; Share your love of food with others; Resist judgements about the food choices of others, and instead, examine what might be the reasons for their choices and decisions.
Remember that in the current system, there is no perfect way forward, only your ability to make the best choices you can based on the information to have. Strive to seek out this information and small changes will lead to changed habits.
HB: Charles Massy, a farmer and scientist, believes that if people ate truly nutrient-rich food out of healthy soil, the national health bill would be slashed right away. He claims that the big chemical companies and big food companies know exactly what they are doing and, therefore, he sees this as a form of genocide. Do you agree with this statement?
LB: I completely agree that spending on public health would be greatly reduced if people had reasonable access to healthy, whole foods. I think large chemical and food companies, which are often connected to pharmaceutical companies, are driven by profit and greed and this leads to producing, processing and packaging food in the cheapest possible way to maximize shareholder profits. A convenient side effect, from the perspective of these companies is the consumer addiction that arises from eating foods packed with salt, sugar, preservatives, processed fats, etc. used to both cheapen the cost of the good and to increase the stability of foods for transportation and display on shelves.