Just the Desert: Wknd Interviews with the Founders of The Goya Journal

Two missing things inspired Ayesha Tanya and Anisha Rachel Oman to start their food media production company Goya Media in 2016: the big picture was not represented in much writing about food in India, and there was practically no home cooking.

Ayesha Tanya and Anisha Rachel Oman. premium
Ayesha Tanya and Anisha Rachel Oman.

Over thousands of years of India’s history, “many of the stories that shaped Indian cuisine resided in kitchens run by women,” says Oman, 37. It was time to tell those stories.

Omen and Tanya, 34, worked together on a food magazine, and bonded over a shared love of Nigella Lawson. What they admire most about the British TV celebrity and cook is that he gave new meaning to home cooking in the 1990s and made the kitchen a place to reclaim a new incarnation. By watching her, they too thought they could challenge gendered conversations around food in India.

“For so long, the kitchen has been a prison that traps women in hourly servitude in the role of nurturing caregiver, and it still is. Yet food is trivialized as a woman’s domain,” Omen says.

Most of the stories in this area originate from the restaurant space, which is usually dominated by men. “It was time to take center stage with all the players in the chain, from seed-keepers to farmers, cooks and food writers,” says Omen.

The duo’s online publication Goya Journal was launched in 2016. In the seven years since, it has featured stories of women celebrating micro-cuisines and fighting to preserve particular foods; Stories of lovers-friendly and frequented cafes in Mumbai; Exploring new crops, revitalizing grains and new ways of growing food.

“In Tamil Nadu, women continue revival of orphaned grains through green revolution,” reads the headline of a story on the cultivation of a variety of millets published this January as part of a collaboration with Greenpeace.

It’s this broad and unique storytelling that, in February, The Goya Journal saw in The Guardian’s list of 30 things to love right now in the world of food. Since the publication house aims to “paint a vivid picture of where India is at this particular moment in history through the lens of food”, the list feels like a big win, says Tanya.

Publishing long-form content in the age of Instagram Reels isn’t easy, the women admit. They have reached out to their community of readers, and are looking to expand it, with the community cookbook A Kitchen of One’s Own, produced in collaboration with Niwala, a heritage recipe journal, last year.

“We care deeply about documenting family recipes, and want to show that many of these recipes, which are a little more process-intensive or resource-intensive, can be adapted to the difficult, modern Indian kitchen. It’s the equivalent of Goya putting on grandma’s old saree in a pub,” Tanya says. she says

Meanwhile, revenue is coming in from advertisers, events, and strategy and consulting gigs with brands in the F&B space.

Growing up in Kannur, Kerala, Tanya started writing about food on the Malabar Tea Room, a blog she runs with her mother. “It was a way to help share her recipes and the stories around them with the world,” she says. Tanya currently lives in Bengaluru with her husband Sajjad Anwar and cat. Omen, who grew up in Bengaluru, lives in Mumbai with husband Pritish Wesley and child Ari Omen Wesley. The two women collaborate on numerous video calls, and work with a vast network of freelancers in India and beyond.

They see their mission as important. Food is a means of addressing politics, gender and identity, especially in today’s polarized political climate, says Tanya. “Battle lines are being drawn in the kitchen for the first time, making food writing more important than ever.”

Goya plans to continue to cater to curious food enthusiasts. “Especially those who want to make sustainable food choices, want to learn more about the Green Revolution and its effects, or just want to explore the development of a sweet flavor whose recipe was changed from the Sikhs of Punjab, Pakistan, to the Muslims of the region. Partition,” says Tanya.

How do they decide which stories to tell? “One of the things we ask every time we consider a pitch is: Whose voice are we amplifying?” she says.

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