In this article of "Where Are They Now" series Diane Galambos interviewed Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma, an author, educator, speaker and better food advocate. Puneeta appears regularly on TV as a good food and sustainability expert.

Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma a person in yellow dress standing.
Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma

Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma

Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma has a concrete goal – “to help a million people change how they cook and eat, and create positive habits in their kitchen and home.” She may achieve that goal given her range of activities. As outlined on her website she has been “featured extensively on TV and on prominent national and international media platforms such as CBC Life, CHCH TV, CTV, The Social, Global News, Martha Stewart, BBC World News and CBC Radio.”

Arriving in Canada (from India) several decades ago she continued her corporate marketing career for a while, then began writing/blogging in 2016 after her second child. Why blogging? She explains that she was looking for recipes and was finding few authentic recipes offered up by “people who looked like her.” Puneeta began with family recipes from her mom with her own adaptations.

Having lived in Toronto, then almost a decade in Calgary and now back in Toronto she considers her blog – Maple + Marigold a love letter. “Maple represents Canada, my current home in Toronto and our lives today. Marigold refers to India, the colourful land of my youth and the traditions I learned in my childhood.” Puneeta feels lucky that living in Calgary made western Canada explorations easily accessible. Her connection to India remains strong returning each year to visit close family.

Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma in a blue dress standing by the table.
Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma

Don’t, however, expect a narrow cultural focus on her blog. As noted earlier, her goals are broad. “…walk along with me on my journey as we together tackle two of the world’s biggest problems – our personal health (with emphasis on the well-documented connection between food and mood) and the health and prosperity of the planet.”

Puneeta joined FBC about 8 years ago and attended the conferences in Ottawa and Toronto. Over the years, she’s found that FBC advice has brought (sometimes surprising) clarity to her goals. The scene seemed to be moving fast and it was a challenge to get up to speed. For a while, she always felt behind re advice on what to do – embracing maxims such as “stick to your niche,” “find your voice,” “do reels,” etc. Latching on to what others were doing and what was working for them was not working for her.

For Puneeta, Maple+Marigold is her work. She had to get it right. “Monetization is important for me. My blog, teaching workshops, my writing and media work and also my brand are my primary business and also my income streams.”

When it comes to the numbers game, she concedes that followers and comments are important but so are eyes and ears. If you want to help a million people, she says, the switch to TV and radio is the way to go. She enjoyed the passive income of Mediavine, but cut the connection last year. When random undesirable ads would creep in it felt like a home invasion.

“Important for me is control of my voice, especially in the sustainability and wellness space where misinformation and & influenced opinions are easily amplified and widely heard. I choose carefully who I align my work with. Sponsorship campaigns are harder to find and income growth can be a slow process with these goals though, so keep that in mind as you make plans to move your business forward.”

Puneeta also says she has a hate/tolerate relationship with social media – and recently posted about this at some length. She concedes that Instagram is a great place to showcase one’s portfolio and many of her media contacts happen via IG DM. The problem is that people don’t see one’s posts if the algorithms don’t push them to your account. It’s hard to do all that’s required to harness the algorithms and she’s opting out of that game.

Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma, a person holding celery.
Photo by Tanvi Madkaiker

With a clear sense of her personal brand, Puneeta now reaches out to other streams – yes that means pitching – a topic on which she has much experience. Her basic tips? “Keep your pitches short - three paragraphs at the most and start with the hook. What is most interesting about your segment/ article? Spoiler Alert: It's not us! The hook is what matters, is most important to the reader/ viewer.” Puneeta has many “irons in the fire.”

  • Her Maple + Marigold blog continues to thrive. She used to do the photos and the WordPress
    site management, but has delegated some work enabling her to make the best use of her time.
  • Puneeta has a newsletter and advises newbies to start one, pointing out that you don’t need a
    full website to do that. Puneeta has found this to be an effective way of staying in touch with
    followers. She has just begun to look at SubStack – but doesn’t foresee monetizing at present.
  • Media appearances (as outlined above) keep her busy and she recommends working briefly with
    a media coach before taking that on.
  • Her Sunday Cooking Club sounds neat! Once per month, you can watch her live on video and
    cook with her while watching or later.
  • Puneeta has developed her own framework for “good-for-you, good-for-the-planet”
    cooking/eating. Eating with Benefits™ is based on up-to-date research and offers flexible
    strategies for achieving health benefits.
  • Eating with Benefits™ forms the heart of her upcoming book on good for us, climate-conscious cooking, scheduled for release in April 2024.

With her joyful smile, Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma - author, educator, speaker, and food advocate – has one more piece of advice for new bloggers. “Remain steadfast on what is important for you - your vision and your business goals. In this business, it is easy to get swayed by what others are doing and achieving.” She goes on to say “whether it’s a business or personal joy - do it on your own terms.”

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