Humans of Agni

Mir, Berkeley

08.24.20

"I didn’t have a particularly refined palette growing up. My mom cooked us delicious, wholesome meals, but I didn’t want to eat them. Instead, I requested things like apple pancakes for dinner or plain noodles with scrambled eggs and bread crumbs. My mom is going to cringe if she reads this because these are not the type of meals she necessarily condones eating or is proud of making, but I honestly still love them (a lot) and I still request these when I’m home because they’re lifelong favorites! I once asked my mom for the noodle recipe and I could feel her eye roll through the phone as she said: “it’s three ingredients, I think you can figure it out.”


Anyway. My pickiness was a bit unfortunate because I was born with a lot of health issues, some of which I’m still managing today. My mom always told me to eat less sugar and to eat more whole organic natural foods, both because this is a good idea in general but also because she really believed it could help with managing my specific symptoms (particularly my severe skin inflammation). I refused to listen, probably just because she was my mom. I had a huge sweet tooth and at friends’ houses I would often binge on candy and cookies. Whenever I did this, my allergies would flare up and I’d get terrible rashes on my skin. But I still refused to listen to my mom about what I should eat and would scoff at the idea of my sugar binges having anything to do with my skin flare-ups.


In college that all changed. I started to take my parents more seriously as human beings and trusted friends, not just authority figures. I started to wonder (at first only to myself, of course) if my mom was right about food having the potential to transform my health. So I started experimenting with what I ate. From what I’d absorbed from my mom and the world around me, I understood being healthy to mean cutting things out of my diet. I went vegetarian for a while. I completely cut out alcohol. Sometimes I’d feel great for weeks at a time, but then I’d usually feel this emotional pull back to the things I’d cut out. I’d end up binging on dining hall cookies and then need to start all over. It was a roller coaster of trying to figure out what the heck food was to me... how do I want to interact and engage with it? 


A few years after I graduated college, I reached a new low health-wise. I developed incredibly severe daily stomach pain. The most recent diet I’d tried was Whole30. I took it really seriously because I thought it would help me get to the bottom of the painful skin issues I’d been dealing with since I was a baby. On Whole30 I was eating mostly raw foods and veggies, partly because I didn’t like to cook much in my tiny East Village kitchen. This was a particularly confusing time for me. After a few weeks, my skin was glowing. My hives and eczema had cleared up entirely — literally for the first time in my life. I was losing weight (though I didn’t have much to lose) and I was getting external validation that my skin was glowing and that “I looked great.” But the stomach pain hit hard, and within weeks almost every time I put something into my mouth I ended up keeled over in pain a few minutes later. My stomach was completely destroyed. It got so bad one day that I had to leave work for the ER, where I ended up being billed $2k for a doctor to tell me everything looked fine (when it clearly wasn’t).


It took awhile for me to feel ok moving away from that diet, even though I could feel the severe negative impact it was having on my body. I added back gluten, dairy, and sugar in moderation and I started feeling better. This confused me even more. I felt like I’d cracked the code to some of my lifelong ailments, but then it triggered a new response. I felt so discouraged by the conflicting impacts of food within my body after I worked so hard to learn as much as possible and commit to what I thought was best for me. But clearly I still had more to understand. I sought out a nutritionist and a homeopath and worked with them over several weeks and months (I actually still talk to that homeopath, who is phenomenal) trying to figure out what was going on in my body and brain.


At the same time, I was deepening my connection with food in other ways. I was working at a non-profit that supports founders of businesses that are scaling up. Mostly by happenstance, I ended up working with the food founders. I’d never really considered a career in food, but this job exposed me to the incredible communities being built around food all over the world. I was in awe. I wanted to get closer and closer to the art and joy of creating and sharing food, tastes, dishes — and all the stories that come with that — with others. I took on a weekend barista job outside of my Monday-Friday to satisfy this craving and I fell in love with it. Every weekend I got lost in the energy of working in a bustling SoHo coffee shop. The customers’ anticipation and the beauty of each cup and bowl (it was a greek yogurt + coffee and matcha shop) meant my shifts flew by. 


It was around that time that a really fortuitous thing happened: a friend introduced me to Astrid (aka Agni’s CEO and my now co-founder). When I listened to Astrid talk about her vision for what she wanted to build, everything clicked. It combined all these seemingly different experiences and parts of my world: the research I’d done around working with food to resolve health ailments, the strength and connection food can bring to our communities and families, and the joy in the sensory experience of eating something sourced and prepared thoughtfully. Weeks later, I moved back to California from Manhattan and started working with Astrid on what is now Agni and I haven’t looked back. I’m still overwhelmed by gratitude that I’ve been able to turn my passions and interests into this lifelong project we call work. 


I am still very much on my own food and health journey. I’ve learned so much since committing myself to Agni and having the amazing opportunity to read, research, and be exposed to incredible food and health experts for “work.” I fully appreciate how everything — from the way our food is grown and harvested to how it’s transported, prepared, and enjoyed (or not!) — plays a massive role in our health. And that each of those steps have physical, biological, chemical, emotional, and environmental factors at play. How all of this plays into my own allergies and conditions is something I’m continuing to explore. I’m grateful that I’m with someone (shoutout to Davis) who is ultra supportive of me in this — it can make all the difference knowing that whenever I want to explore a new ingredient, routine, etc. he’s always there for me and often excited to try it together. It’s getting easier and easier over time to understand what to eat to feel my best and to know how to prepare those meals (without it being a huge time or financial investment). I think I started from a really hard place mentally: because I was born with these severe allergies, I grew up with the narrative that if I was eating something I was enjoying, it was probably going to be bad for me. I’ve been able to undo a lot of that recently and experience so many foods that both my taste buds and my body enjoy.


I noticed something recently that piqued my interest. On a vacation with my partner’s family, I found myself feeling really good and healthy, despite not being able to “control” or “avoid” things (as can happen when you’re in new environments) that I’d grown up associating with allergy flares. The focus of the vacation really wasn’t about food. We enjoyed our meals immensely, but figuring out our meals wasn’t the highest priority of each day, which it has easily become at other times in my life. Something about being in a different place and experiencing that reframe was really powerful. For all of the effort we can put into choosing or cooking or plating “the perfect meal,” maybe there’s also something to letting go and going with the flow. I’m not really sure yet. But it feels good to be able to notice, observe, and integrate that experience with my ever-evolving understanding of my relationship with food."