Starting Up with Pradumna Walimbe @ wa!
Tradition, nostalgia and travel – these are the humble beginnings of wa!
From a young age, I developed a passion for food as I watched my mother create original infusions from wild vegetables and spices in our home kitchen.
Preparing and sharing food was a huge part of my upbringing, yet it was only later in life when I discovered travel that I connected the diversity of local culinary recipes with the united relationships they create between people and cultures.
Something didn’t quite add up though. If these vibrant culinary cultures bring together people on such a vast scale, how is it that they are dividing people too as resources run dry?
I realised that there had to be a more efficient way to meet these food demands and ensure no one goes to bed hungry, whatever part of the world they live in. This was the light bulb moment and the creation of wa! and the pledge of ‘nourishing happiness’.
I wondered if there was a way of reintroducing authentic, healthy and delicious food that both changed people’s perceptions of vegetarian food whilst encouraging a healthier attitude towards the environment and ending world hunger. This was when ‘favour flavour’ and ‘nourishing happiness’ came along.
So to ensure I could get accreditation from the Organic Food Federation and the Vegetarian and the Vegan Societies, I started to work alongside local organic suppliers and farmers to make sure our meals were made using the freshest, plant based ingredients, which were then blended with flavours influenced from my travels around the world to create a range of organic, free-from, vegetarian and vegan soups, sauces and meal pots. As well as not containing any additives or preservatives, I wanted to make sure the meals would be cooked freshly every day, right here in Oxford – with the chefs getting started at around 2am each morning ready for the pots to be distributed to cafes, delis and health food stores in and around the city, just in time for the lunchtime rush. And as part of the journey to educate people about the ways of healthy eating, I decided to make the pots show a ‘date made’ stamp rather than ‘use by’ which gives an added confirmation of how fresh the food is.
But what is ‘nourishing happiness’ and what does it means to wa!? Aside from feeding you fresh, nutritious, wholesome food, we have set ourselves a mission. While you are reading this, we are busy helping to change lives around the world.
Our ‘nourishing happiness’ pledge promises that for every wa! soup bought, a child in poverty, anywhere in the world, gets fed with a healthy meal. The last batch of almost 8000 meals was delivered only last month to the Ehsaas School for mentally handicapped children, a charitable organisation in Satara, India, that struggles to get aid and is currently run by local volunteers. Now that is something I love shouting about.
wa! has been welcomed with open arms by health conscious, organic, free-from, vegan, and vegetarian Oxford folk of all ages. And feedback has been that children have even started to eat veg after trying wa! which is a fantastic achievement in itself.
Word is now spreading fast to those who count the calories, eating according to the ‘traffic light’ rating system, or are looking to turn their diets around without having to find the time to cook healthy food from scratch. That said, even if you’re not a green, lean, vegan, body builder, the options available, in particular the five-a-daylish soup, will be enough to lure you in, and possibly even sway you over to the other side.
The meals taste so good even the most carnivorous of carnivores will be asking for seconds.
We are stocked in local delis, markets and health food stores, such as The Market Garden in Eynsham, Gatineau in Summertown, The Athlete Centre, Cultivate Veg Van, Farm Fresh and 1855 Wine Bar Bistro, all in Oxford, and the city’s North Parade Market – among other places.
First published Thursday 8 January 2015 in Food Reviews