When we read Rachna's story, we can't stop picturing her food-obsessed childhood antics. Many of us feel a strong connection to food at a young age, but what's so compelling about Rachna's experience is that she eventually felt an equal pull toward entrepreneurship and invention, and that's what finally landed her at the intersection of her dreams.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
I think the universe knew I wanted to work in food well before I did. My favorite childhood activity was making chapatis with my mom at age 3. I was obsessed with learning about how restaurants worked, to the point where I'd sneak into restaurant kitchens on my way to the bathroom as a kid. When my parents owned an ice cream shop, I was in my most happy place - making milkshakes, banana splits, and cold pressed juices well before that was even a thing - all at age 8. I get my food obsession from my father, who not only is one of the best cooks I know (of course, second to my mother), but also one of the savviest patrons of local fare. Before Yelp existed, my dad had his own methods, which usually involved scouring every restaurant review, and driving my mom and I sometimes hours to try the next best new restaurant.
But that was just an irrational obsession. I knew I wanted to work in food when a friend and I decided to enter a social enterprise pitch competition. Our idea was a food business that helped the Dominos eater learn how to cook. We didn't win the competition, but dreaming up a new venture that paired my passion and my skills was so invigorating that I knew I had finally figured out 'what I want to do when I grow up'.
How did you get your current good food job?
I was shopping around a business plan for a food venture I wanted to launch when I ran into a friend who told me about Purpose - the movement building consultancy. They were looking to incubate a new company that not only helped small producers (which is what my business idea was focused on), but also helped the entire local food economy grow and make regional and sustainable food the norm. This was a bigger vision than my original idea, but one that I was even more excited to tackle.
After several conversations, example pitches, and workshops with Purpose, we decided to give it a go. I would lead the Food incubation at Purpose. The incubation turned into a real start-up called Foodstand.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
There are three big components to my past that have helped me find success with Foodstand:
1. Entrepreneurship is in my blood ? I've always been starting new things that change the world around me even in the smallest way. As an only child of entrepreneurs who have a history in food, I caught the 'start-up' bug from a young age. Most kids played 'house,' while I played 'company' (my cousins will verify this). The first award I ever won was for an invention at age 5 ? which I still use today. I co-founded a NY Times critically acclaimed dance company that used performance to raise awareness for education for marginalized youth. Professionally, I've had the opportunity to launch several new products and businesses. I even got a patent out of one of them!
2. Obsession over building things that changed how people behave ? I don't know why this became an obsession, but I remember the moment it did. NERD ALERT! I was in my first marketing class as a junior in high school, and I had just learned about the psychology behind building product loyalty and irrational decision-making, and was hooked because I knew I was a victim of it. I followed this passion in every project, testing and learning different theories in behavior change.
3. A family of food people ? Like most immigrant families, food is at the center of my family life. But coming from a family of entrepreneurs in food, I saw the opportunities and excitement in it, but I also saw what was drastically wrong with our industrialized food system that relied so heavily on cheap commodities.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
One thing that has been a huge learning experience as a founder is balancing instinct vs. market indicators. You hear this from many founders, but it is a delicate dance to follow your conviction and still let the data guide your decisions.
Calling it quits isn't an option. When you believe something is going to change people's lives, quitting just isn't in the vocabulary. I learned this from my parents, who have shown more perseverance than anyone I know.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
The greatest opportunity in food is to demonstrate demand for more sustainably produced foods. We see indicators of the market responding to demand already. That is why Safeway has an organic aisle. That is why Perdue is removing antibiotics from its chicken.
Our government isn't going to force change, but if we as consumers start shifting where we spend our food dollars, that is all the market needs to start changing its practices. That is our goal with Foodstand. We are helping more people discover better food so they can support a food system that will keep them, and the planet healthy.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
Replacing all McDonald's with Dig Inn's. McDonald's is an artifact of everything that is wrong with our food system - from the labor practices, marketing, supply chain, all the way down to the food itself. McDonald's currently serves a market that desperately needs an alternative. Dig Inn is just one example of many who provide seasonal, freshly prepared, balanced, and FAST meals at an affordable price point - $5 gets you a full meal. I'd consider this 'compensation' because this is an example of the change I want to see in the world. And if I can play any role in making that happen, that is more than enough compensation for me.