posted November 21, 2023
The inception of Project SHAKTI took place as the world was thrust into the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Drawing inspiration from the divine feminine energy, Shakti, the project aimed to be a transformative force amidst a world in chaos.
Harnessing the prowess of a renowned national research entity, JIVINITI Research, with researchers Susan Newhouse and Marta Villanueva, embarked on a unique virtual journey through an innovative multimedia research portal, which assured respondent privacy and real-time engagement and dialogue with the research moderator. This platform brought forth the voices of women from America’s most vulnerable ZIP codes, revealing their intimate relationship with food.
These discussions weren’t just dialogues; they were raw, unfiltered expressions captured through multimedia vision boards and letters to their future selves, following a 5-day diary exercise.
JIVINITI’s approach, rooted in the esteemed Mayo Clinic’s Health and Wellness Coaching model, was designed to be comprehensive and empathetic. The qualitative sample of female respondents spanned across races and ethnicities, representing the White Caucasian, African American, and Latina communities in the U.S.
Further depth was added through video interviews, presenting them with alarming data regarding food consumption patterns and their repercussions. The exposure to a prime-time Israeli Vegan TV advertisement provided key perspective, prompting introspection about carnism.
Spring 2023 marked a significant milestone. At Harvard University, where the flame of knowledge burns fiercely, JIVINITI was a Mindich Engaged Scholarship partner to the first ever course on Food Systems Transformation, created by Dr. Sparsha Saha, the only political scientist researching meat and U.S. politics. Five brilliant students at the Harvard Challenge Lab, a collaboration between Harvard and the Plant Futures Initiative at University of California, Berkeley, set out to unravel SHAKTI’s raw data, a deeply woven tapestry of race, gender and food choices.
Mentored by JIVINITI’s founder, five brilliant young women—Nicolette Peale, Lena Ashooh, Abigail LaBreck, Natalie Weiner, and Leslie Nevarez—ventured into the heart of an issue often kept in shadows: the dietary plights faced by low-income women and women of color. This wasn’t just an academic venture, it was a quest, fueled by fire and spirit, to peer into the corners of our society where injustice and hunger converge.
This exploration was not mere academic curiosity, but a passionate mission to spotlight areas where societal inequities intersected with hunger, health food messaging, and ultimately, illness. Their findings culminated in a compelling letter to the USDA (click to read here) with a synopsis written by Dr. Pragati Dubey, a sociologist and ethnographer, and reinforced by a letter by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—together urging a reexamination of the concept of “Healthy Food,” emphasizing the criticality of understanding cultural and genetic dietary nuances and pushing for accurate public health campaigns.
Project SHAKTI stands as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, symbolizing hope, perseverance, and transformative energy. It is a celebration of the harmony achieved when individuals unite for a greater purpose. Through this expedition, we discovered that collective endeavors, powered by love and wisdom, possess the potential to bridge societal divides and allow the radiant force of Shakti to prevail.
More than an endeavor, Project SHAKTI is the manifestation of hope, a testament to the indomitable spirit of youth, and a beacon of change. Reflecting on their tireless dedication, my heart swells, echoing the resounding beats of countless hearts they touched.
In this profound journey, we were all reminded of a timeless truth: When kindred spirits unite with purpose and passion, they don’t just touch lives, they transform destinies. With love, wisdom, and collective spirit, we have the power to mend the ruptures in our society and let the divine energy of Shakti shine through.
Nivi Jaswal-Wirtjes is a Whole Food Plant-Based Investor • Research Innovator • Social Entrepreneur • Unilever, Boston Scientific, WPP Corporate Alumna • Main Street Vegan Academy graduate • Board Certified Coach in Health and Wellness, Lifestyle Medicine, and Jungian Depth Psychology. She speaks in academic, corporations and in education-related events about #burnout #nutrition, #publichealth, #behaviorchange, #planetaryhealth, and #climateresilience. Check out more of Nivi’s work on LinkedIn, The Virsa Foundation Inc. website, and Instagram.