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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

An Inspiring Tale of an Undercover Investigator-Turned-Entrepreneur with an Indomitable Spirit

It is no secret that entrepreneurs are usually driven solely by profits. Many a times, even owners of ethical businesses, who choose to tread the path of entrepreneurship with noble intentions, lose touch with their original vision and turn their ventures into profit-minting enterprises. But Taanya Ravi, Executive Director at Live Yum Foods, refuses to fall into the trap. Her story is nothing short of extraordinary and is filled with several up and downs. Still, the sportsperson in her – Taanya was a championship level Badminton player- made her stand tall even in the worst of circumstances and she managed to achieve success in the face of all adversities.

Personal Life

Taanya is a courageous woman and a true feminist who has faced some of the most challenging situations in her personal life. Still, she never gave up! Speaking to The Vegan Indians, she said, “Life is tough, so we have to find opportunities in difficulties and fuel in setbacks, and use the inevitable trials in life or business to find our own hidden strength. I am still ashamed to talk about it, but the reality is that I have survived severe domestic violence like so many other women. I had been punched repeatedly, had my jaw dislocated, pushed down the stairs and worse. I have learned that silence is the abuser’s biggest weapon, not fists, and when we are silent about domestic violence, we become accomplices in furthering this culture of violence towards women. I have also encountered sexism as an entrepreneur, but it just makes me want to succeed even more to prove people wrong.”

Taanya’s life took a turn about 10 years back, when she adopted a dog named Oreo. Her furry companion has been the driving force for her work as an undercover investigator in factory farms and slaughterhouses across India and serves as her greatest inspiration.

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Oreo – Live Yum’s Chief Eating Officer and Taanya’s Inspiration

Sharing her experience as an undercover investigator, she said, “I have witnessed and filmed many nasty things, which most consumers could not bear supporting, be it the smells, screams of fear, pools of blood and so on. Animal agriculture is inherently cruel and unnecessary. I had a world-class button camera in my bra and filmed all across India in every state and even had a few close calls. When I say animal agriculture is cruel, not only have I seen it with my own eyes, I even have videos to prove it! I could write a whole book on this chapter of my life – the long cross-country drives, the close calls, the images that will never leave me – heads without a body, screams stopped but eyes and lips still moving, and a sense of helplessness for never being able to help those in need. I have seen young animals playing before slaughter, others in terror knowing what is to come, being chased and leered at by men in these facilities.”

Live Yum – Food with a Purpose

Vegans today have a lot of healthier options in cheese, thanks to people like Taanya. She launched her own cheese brand ‘Live Yum’ in 2019, which has now moved into other product segments such as vegan ghee. According to her, a combination of three factors led to Live Yum. First, her love for cheese and the difficulty to find delicious and affordable vegan cheese in India. Second, her role as undercover investigator that made her understand the cruelty behind dairy cheese. Third, an injury her back suffered during an investigation, which made her go out of job.

Taanya told us excitedly, “Crisis turned to opportunity and Live Yum was born! It brings me so much happiness to be making veganism easier and tastier. I experimented for a long time with many ingredients as I wanted a product with a longer shelf life and one that was affordable so that I could make veganism accessible to as many consumers as possible.”

“To this day, each and every order is a source of joy to me knowing an animal is not harmed for that meal. It is a business but to me Live Yum is also a mission – to help animals. Each customer is my partner in compassion and is helping in making the world a better place. I am so thankful to them. Without their purchase and support, there is no Live Yum,” she added.

According to Taanya, Live Yum has seen a steady growth since its launch. “We were aided by a few spurts. The most remarkable part of our customer base is that they are our best marketers. They share their culinary creations using our products and make others aware about them. We feel that a relentless focus on perfecting the product and a seamless customer experience will eventually lead to a wider customer base. While marketing is important, no amount of snazzy or expensive marketing can make up for an average product.”

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Drool-worthy desserts made using Live Yum products

“I am incredibly thankful to all the customers who have left us reviews after purchasing and shared our products on social media, which has allowed us to grow while focusing our resources on production and R&D. The response from the vegan community and their support in this mission has meant so much to me and I am very thankful for all the help of our customers to get the word out that being vegan is easy, affordable and yum!”

Brand with a Difference

According to Taanya, there are a few aspects that have made Live Yum stand out in the market. She said, “Firstly, our cheeses are not nut-based, which has several advantages. Secondly, we were the first company to make vegan cheese shreds widely available in India. Thirdly, unlike some other vegan enterprises, we have refused to use palm oil or hide it in our ingredients under the guise of vague vegetable oil or fat names. While palm oil is a plant-based product, it cannot be called vegan since planting endless rows of monoculture palm plants requires burning large swathes of rainforest, snatching away wildlife habitat 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.”

Live Yum's Cheese Shreds
Live Yum’s Cheese Shreds

“For example, our premium vegan ghee costs a little more, but I believe consumers who are aware of the consequences of palm oil production will not mind paying extra to support ecology. I hope consumers and other brands will join us in our commitment to purchase and produce 100% palm oil-free products.”

Vegan Consumer Market in India

Taanya is of the view that the vegan market in India still in its infancy and a niche, but efforts must be made it grow it. “We need more vegan consumers and more vegan companies. It is a positive feedback loop as a greater demand encourages us to make more products, and more sales allows for economies of scale bringing costs down, which makes it easier for others to join the vegan movement. The animals and planet are not going to save themselves, so it is vital we bring veganism into the mainstream, and I take some satisfaction in being one more female vegan entrepreneur working to do so.”

Taanya added that her focus is to continue bringing in the best products to the public and to keep developing new products. She thinks entry of established, foreign players in the market should not be seen by local manufacturers as a threat. “As the market expands, the tide would lift all boats. As per my knowledge, foreign funding has flooded the vegan space and nearly all large vegan brands in India have received significant foreign funding. It is a global economy these days, and most people can invest and own a part of any public company in the world. Still, I think it is a good thing to have homegrown companies that can serve customers but also keep the profits within the country. It is not a black and white issue to me. If funding helps veganism grow, it is a good thing according to me.”

“I have also received help from international activists and investors in terms of interest-free loans and seed investment. I met one of my main sponsors at FIAPO’s India For Animals Conference in Hyderabad, and his support and belief in me has been a big boost in starting the business. I have had help from my family and I aspire to help others too. If I am fortunate enough to have continued success, I would love to be able to fund other social justice endeavours, such as programmes helping street animals, ending domestic violence, LGBTQ support and the like.”

“I see my role as just giving the best, and it has become obvious to me that heroes often fail and the success or failure of any endeavour has an element of luck to it. I am not afraid to fail, I am focused on giving the animals and Live Yum every fibre of my being and every last bit of my energy and let the cheese shreds fall where they may. It is a joy to work with a purpose!” she exclaimed.

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