She is a Certified Integrative Nutritionist, Wellness Entrepreneur, Speaker, Lifestyle Writer, and TV Personality, Chef. Discussing Her Newest Book “Bountiful Cooking” A Conversation with Author, Agatha Achindu.
Q: Agatha, your new cookbook, Bountiful Cooking, emphasizes the importance of reconnecting with traditional, organic culinary methods. Could you share a key concept or recipe from your book that exemplifies this approach and its potential health benefits?
AA: What I have tried and found successful in my workshop and coaching practice is to get everyone I meet to look back to their family traditions, from way before our food supply chain got super convenient (ultra processed) and industrialized. What was the food like?
My key concept, which is entrenched in my cookbook Bountiful Cooking, is that food should look and taste extremely delightful while providing optimal nourishment for mind, body, and spirit. At one of my workshops—on wholesome comfort food—I remember a few attendees telling me they had never seen chicken pot pie made from scratch and without cream of mushroom soup. “How will it get nice and thick?” they wondered. At the end of the workshop, they were all surprised by how incredibly delicious, thick, belly-warming and comforting the dish was. We made our roux (flour with real butter) instead of using cream of mushroom soup, and we made our dough (and they were shocked by the small number of ingredients used—just flour, butter, salt, and water).
Food usually isn’t the problem; how the food is made is sometimes the issue. Take a look at my Chicken Pot Pie (page 168), bursting with minerals, vitamins and fiber from vegetables and fresh herbs—full of nutrients the body needs to thrive. You and your family will enjoy this family favorite, but without a long list of unnecessary proinflammatory ingredients.
Q: As a certified integrative nutritionist and food activist, you’ve strongly advocated for clean eating and wholesome food. How do you see the global organic food market evolving, and what role do you think traditional wisdom plays in shaping modern dietary habits?
AA: Organic food is a method of farming that promotes ecological and public health. Organic farmers avoid the use of most synthetic materials, such as synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, genetically engineered seeds, antibiotics, and sewage sludge. Instead, organic farmers rely on a suite of ecological, cultural, and mechanical practices to grow food and raise livestock without synthetic inputs—practices that studies continue to show are good for both our health and the planet.
There has been a massive shift in mindset toward organic food. The more folks learn about the health benefits of organic and the potential dangers of chemicals to overall health, the more their appetite for organic has grown. That is the reason we continue to see such massive growth in the organic food space. The organic food market has witnessed remarkable growth in recent years, and this trend is expected to continue throughout the foreseeable future.
In less than two decades, sales in the organic sector have grown from $3.7 billion in 1997 to more than $46 billion in 2016. Although it can’t come fast enough (in my opinion), traditional wisdom is slowly making its way back in today’s market and playing a big role in influencing consumer needs. Consumers are demanding less-processed foods and more fresh wholesome foods like our ancestors used to eat. We all see where the modern diet has gotten us. My hope is that we continue to see the push for traditional foods over our modern diet of high-processed and ultra-processed foods, which are the root cause of many chronic diseases in the world today.
Q: Bountiful Cooking offers delicious recipes and encourages readers to think critically about food policy, health, and personal empowerment. Can you elaborate on how your book empowers individuals to take control of their own health and well-being?
AA: That is the reason I ask everyone who buys Bountiful Cooking to take the time to read the book from cover to cover before starting to cook. It isn’t like a typical cookbook; there is a treasure trove of wisdom in this book. I didn’t want to write just another cookbook. I wanted to empower each and every person who comes across my book with the knowledge needed to make healthy choices for themselves and their families—not just to follow recipes.
Through reading the cookbook, you will learn how your everyday choices impact your health (you are what you eat); how to eat for good health (eat the rainbow); why eating what’s in season is good for your wallet and your health; how to choose healthy cookware that doesn’t have the potential to compromise your health; what cooking oils to use; the benefits of important nutrients and the food sources you can find them in; how to meal plan so you and your family are set for healthy eating success and so much more.
Q: You founded Yummy Spoonfuls Organics, which was the first nationally distributed organic food for kids. How has your journey as an entrepreneur and food activist influenced your approach to nutrition and wellness, and how has it shaped your mission?
AA: For more than 25 years, I have been preaching what evolving research and the latest statistics prove: How we eat and live is how we are going to age. Nutrition, exercise, rest, sleep, environmental toxins, stress, spiritual life, relationships, financial and work life all play a major role in everyday health. Over the years I have watched trends come and go. I have watched people make the same mistakes over and over when it comes to their health. I have watched folks resign themselves to a lifetime on daily medication(s) for chronic diseases. I have watched them struggling with insomnia and constant fatigue, thinking that’s just how life will be.
My life’s work, from teaching free workshops to launching Yummy Spoonfuls Organics and Life Unprocessed™, all revolves around empowering folks to make better diet and lifestyle choices for themselves and their families. My journey has truly helped shape my mission today of helping my clients uncover, unlearn, and unleash their unique, optimal lifestyle design. I want to empower audiences to think critically and independently to un-process their generational habits and wellness misconceptions to arrive at solutions that actually work, enabling them to thrive on their journey to longevity.
Q: Your book tour for Bountiful Cooking has taken you to various cities. Can you share your experiences and insights from interacting with diverse audiences in different locations? Are there any unique food or culinary traditions you’ve encountered on your tour that have left a lasting impression?
AA: What a blessing this past month has been! God has truly blessed me with the opportunity to gather and share space with some incredible humans. What a time we had in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Rhode Island, New York and Los Angeles over delicious foods and wine from Nimble Vineyards. I can’t wait to see what happens in Chicago and Dallas. What has stayed with me the most is the fact that over and over, from city to city, I have heard the same words from people, some very loudly and others ever-so-subtle. People want to go back to the basics. They want to go back to the traditional wisdom of eating real food. They want to cook more; they want to eat better. They want better convenience food, instead of the ultra-processed foods that are devoid of life-giving nutrients, including fiber.
Q: What is one word of advice you can offer to young women who want to reach your level of success?
Q: Can you tell our audience one of the most memorable moments of your career?
AA: It’s your lucky day; I am going to share two because they are both important.
First, in 2006 I was told it would be impossible to make fresh organic food for children without any preservatives or additives. We couldn’t find a manufacturer (after talking with more than 150 co-packers) who would make food the way we wanted. To see Yummy Spoonfuls roll out in 2016 in Target and, later, Walmart stores nationwide was an incredible moment. I felt so vindicated, because many people did not believe it was possible to make a fresh, healthy product like Yummy Spoonfuls Organic Baby & Tots Food commercially viable on a large scale. Secondly, when I was able to get my client off the blood pressure medication she had been on for 20 years, it was such a powerful reminder that the human body has the capacity to heal when provided with the nourishment it needs to truly thrive.
Q: At the start of your career, what do you wish you had known?
AA: Borrow money when you have money. I know it sounds crazy, but it is the truth. It is better to have it and not use it than to come up short when you need it. And as a business startup, you are going to need it.
When I left my job as an IT executive at Agilisys to start my first company, Yummy Spoonfuls, in 2006, I was credit-worthy, so I funded my startup using my own resources. I believed that if I needed money down the road, I would simply go to the bank and borrow the funds. Access to credit had never been an issue, so it never crossed my mind that I would not be able to take out a loan. But what a mistake that was. A few years later, I had gone through all of my own money, our 401k and family savings, and I needed more to keep going. By that time, I was in a very different position. I had no steady income, no job, and my husband and I had spent all of our savings—everything—and our only asset was our home.
Lenders turned me down for business loans because I was no longer credit-worthy, having bootstrapped the business for years. There was no way to collateralize a loan at that point. In hindsight, the perfect time to get a bank loan would have been in the beginning, when I was credit-worthy. Rather than using up all of our personal resources, I could have leveraged my healthy financial position to secure funding before I even left my corporate job.
Q: Which woman inspires you and why?
AA: My mother, for igniting in me the belief from a very early age that we are truly what we eat. I can still hear her voice like it was yesterday: “You can’t have that soda; too much sugar is bad for you. Don’t throw that plastic in the garden; it will affect the crops. Go drink more water; that might be the reason for your headache. We cannot use chemicals in the garden because those bad chemicals will get in our food.” Etcetera. Food was made from scratch with the freshest ingredients because that’s what keeps us healthy and happy. Those formative years have been a huge influence in my life.
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to pursue their dream and start a business?
AA: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t follow your career dreams because you’re a woman. You have ideas and passion to bring to the world. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t live your life fully and completely fulfilled, because your path can include a multiplicity of things.
That said, if you do think of starting your own business, do the one thing that you are really passionate about. You should also be willing to do it for free since the first couple of years usually are a lot of work with very little pay. Start small but think big, because your business will eventually get bigger, and you need to be prepared for that growth.
Gather your support network—you need your tribe. You need to surround yourself with people who are relentlessly positive, who lift you up, because you are going to be down sometimes. You need support. I am so blessed to have my husband, Georges, at my side. He has supported me through the darkest of times and always believed in me. I never could have done it without him.
Define roles from the very onset, from simple things like dates with your better half, time with your kids, work time, time with friends, etc. This is imperative, as it will help to alleviate any sense of guilt you might have while trying to balance work with your own life. Your success depends on your ability to be able to balance your work with your personal/family life.
Assess your company’s core activity and then look at whatever is taking time away from that core. These might simply be drains on your limited resources or things not bringing in revenue. Then proceed to eliminate such pain points.
You can be a great mom and have a great career. Do surround yourself with positive, supportive people; do nurture yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. You can’t care for others or fulfill your potential without caring for yourself first. You are worth it.
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
AA: Do unto others as you would like done to you. This was a mantra I grew up hearing that still defines my life today. If we could all treat others the way we want to be treated, imagine the beautiful world that would be.
Q: After high school, where did you feel your career path would take you?
AA: In a roundabout way, right where I am today. You see, growing up I wanted to be a chef. My mother was mortified. “All this money for Catholic schools, and you want to be a what?” was her cry the very first time I mentioned this to her. I was nine years old. Of course, like every other African child, I went off to college, graduated, made real money, moved up in corporate America and traveled the world. I remember at my wedding in Jamaica in 2003, I was able to articulate to my mother because I wanted to be a chef many moons back, and she was stunned. Three years later, in 2006, I quit my six-figure job to offer countless free workshops to embark on my purpose of making the world a healthier place.
Q: Can you tell us how you manage your work/life balance?
AA: As working mothers, I believe we can be our own worst critics. We are constantly taking care of everyone and feeling guilty when we are not. But the reality is, for us to be at our best and not start feeling resentful of everything we are doing, we need to find a balance that includes us.
I am saved by my calendar. My sanity, considering my extremely busy schedule, is really centered on planning.
I have scheduled date nights with Georges, my husband of 20 years. Even when we had no money to go out, we kept our date nights (today, staycations are fashionable). Unless someone needs a kidney from us, nothing moves that date/time.
I am dutiful about going to the gym, going to church, playing cards with my boys, traveling and, yes, cooking. My joys are scheduled like everything else on my calendar. I am that intentional about it. To truly enjoy the abundant life, full of possibilities and creativity, that God has so generously blessed me with, I take the time and effort to plan it well.
Please know that you, like me, can be amazing mamas, kickass business owners, wives, aunts, etc. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for the path you choose or for wanting it all. There truly is room to make it work—all you have to do is plan.
That said, one thing I don’t get caught up in is mom’s guilt, because sometimes, even with all the best planning and intention, life gets in the way. It’s okay if I miss a school event because I was working out of town or if I forget a birthday. I take it in stride. I can’t be everywhere. I am happy being a mami and a business owner. I tell other moms: “Don’t let mom guilt make you forget your own purpose. We can be wonderful mothers as well as a multiplicity of things our hearts desire. Go on and live your life in a way that sets your heart on fire. Be magical.” That is balance to me.
Q: What's your advice for women in male-dominated fields?
AA: I say simply think like a woman and act like a man. More than 25 years of my career has been in IT and food manufacturing, which are both male-dominated industries. I had a lightbulb moment over 20 years ago that completely changed my life. A male colleague and I were on a project together, and we had to do some training before starting that project in Macao. He was struggling with the certification program, which I passed on the very first try. I supported him through the entire project because that’s what we women do, always nurturing. I sat and watched his confidence during weekly updates; then I really started watching, really started paying close attention. All the men had that same confidence, even the ones I had on performance probation. Men don’t need to be smart; they just truly believe they have the right to be there.
Seven Things About Agatha Achindu
1. If you could share a meal with any four individuals, living or dead, who would they be?
My mother, father, husband, and son.
2. What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?
Cook for my family while watching a movie.
3. What’s your favorite app on your phone?
4. What’s your favorite quote or saying?
“How you live is how you are going to age.”
5. What would you sing at Karaoke night?
Order my steps in Your word, dear Lord. Lead me, guide me every day. Send Your anointing, Father, I pray. Order my steps in Your word, etc.
6. If you could go back in time to change one thing, what would it be?
Celebrate every little win. I remember when my product got into Whole Foods Market. That was just another day—we didn’t take the time to truly celebrate what a massive win that was! Today I look back after making it all the way to Walmart and realize that the journey is what’s important. Please take the time to celebrate your wins, big and small.
7. Would you rather cook or order in?