In 2018, Taanya Ravi from Bengaluru completed her three-year in-depth investigation on animal cruelty in poultry farms, cowsheds and slaughterhouses. Armed with a button camera hidden in her brassiere, she visited several states as part of her investigation for Mercy for Animals, an animal welfare NGO.
While Taanya had been an animal rights activist for a while, this investigation would turn out to be a life-changing experience. A year after it was over, she launched her venture, Live Yum Food, to sell vegan-based alternatives to dairy products such as cheese and ghee.
Scenes of horror
Recalling her eye-opening journey, which was a risky affair at times, she tells The Better India, “I have witnessed and filmed gut-wrenching scenes — be it the smells, screams of terror, or pools of blood. Animal agriculture is inherently cruel and unnecessary. I saw it with my own eyes. The images of heads without bodies, and their state of helplessness, haunt me to this date. In the process, I was chased, leered at by men in these facilities, and even threatened. I didn’t want to just expose the brutal sights behind closed doors, but also find a solution. That’s how my venture came into being. For others, it may be a business, but to me, Live Yum is a sacred mission to help animals.”
Taanya credits her dog, Oreo, for providing her insight into the world of animals. She became more empathetic towards animals. “To me, it was as though countless Oreos were trapped in these facilities or on the chopping blocks. My conscience changed thanks to Oreo.”
Starting a vegan venture was not easy. To begin with, the industry is a niche market, so churning enough revenue was a huge challenge. The choice was harder considering she had to leave her well-paying steady job at an MNC. After the investigation, Taanya turned vegan, and like the majority, finding healthy and tasty food was a challenge for her as well. That’s when she had her eureka moment, and decided to make affordable cheese on her own.
Taanya secured seed funding from a sponsor of an animal rights conference, and later, other activists began providing interest-free loans. Her family pitched in as well. However, funds drained swiftly in R&D, even before she could begin the manufacturing process. That’s when she hired a business advisor. Little did she know that he would question her mission.
“After a session, he told me to drop the idea, saying that I will never make it. I was surprised to hear that from someone I was paying to help get my business off the ground. Hearing that from an “expert”, I wondered if I should even continue. But if I’d listened to him, I’d be nowhere. So here was my first lesson — always listen to the voice inside you,” Taanya recalls.
She was still aware that veganism is a niche industry, and thus establishing a decent brand position in the market would be challenging. So she channelled all her energy towards identifying things that other vegan brands didn’t offer.
Standing hand-in-hand with ecology
For example, she found that some brands were using palm oil in their products, which essentially does not cater to vegan standards. “While palm oil is a plant-based product, it cannot be called vegan. Planting endless rows of monoculture palm plants requires burning large swathes of rainforest, snatching away wildlife habitats, and killing thousands of animals. We stand with the ecology, and we stand with orangutans, refusing to externalise our costs to make a cheaper product.” she says. She was also careful about not adding nuts to these cheeses, to ensure they were allergy free.
Taanya says making the cheese is a multi-layered process, which begins with measuring ingredients, and is followed by mixing, moulding, shredding, weighing, sampling, sealing, stocking and, finally, shipping.
Live Yum Foods has four products — cheddar cheese shreds, ghee, cream cheese spread, and mozzarella cheese shreds. The cheddar cheese consists of modified potato starch, filtered water, refined coconut oil, inactive yeast, sea salt, citric acid, annatto (natural colour), and vegan natural flavour. Meanwhile, the vegan ghee is a near-exact replication of its dairy counterpart, according to Taanya. It is made from interesterified vegetable fat, turmeric extract, annatto, and vegan natural flavours.
Pavan Melkote who has been a loyal customer with Live Yum for a year now, agrees. “I have been a vegan for five years, and have tried multiple vegan brands that offer ghee. But Live Yum Foods’ ghee is exactly like the regular one. I order two ghee bottles every month, and the cost is the same as any mainstream ghee brand,” Bengaluru-based Pavan tells The Better India.
The products are available pan-India, both online and offline. They can be ordered from their website, or through Amazon and Big Basket. For people looking to buy off of retail shelves, products are available at Foodhall locations across the country. Taanya has also listed products on vegan stores online. “We currently service B2B and B2C. We also cater nationwide to individual/institutional requirements for catering and events,” she adds.
The journey has not been without its fair share of challenges, reveals Taanya. “There have been other challenges concerning ingredients, initial distribution, production, unscrupulous businessmen, and other such temporary setbacks. But I use the setbacks as fuel to grow further. I aim to launch more products soon,” she says.
Edited by Divya Sethu