I Was Bitten

If I have learned anything from my mother, it has been to be open-minded.

So when I received an unsolicited email from Naz Riahi two months ago introducing herself and inviting me to speak at her food trend conference, #BittenLA, I tried to keep an open mind.

First of all, I had no idea who she was or how to pronounce her name (“nahz ree-ah-hee”), and I had never heard of her conference.

But I loved her friendly, warm writing style so I replied to her. And the following week we spoke on the phone and a few weeks later she flew from New York to visit me at work. It was love at first sight (for both of us)!

Turns out she was born in Iran and her family moved to the United States when she was young. She ended up getting her MFA from The New School in New York City (same school that my youngest daughter, Sophia, attended) and majored in creative writing (her BA is in journalism and Spanish). After a few stints at marketing agencies, she decided to launch her own business, specializing in branding and marketing. And because of her passion for food and her curiosity for how food trends happen, she really stepped out there and decided to create a different kind of food conference. She told me it was like a TED conference, except for food.

In my book, this 35-year-old woman is fearless, and I love to help other entrepreneurs, so I couldn’t resist saying “yes!” But… what did she want me to talk about?

Naz told me I had 18 to 20 minutes to talk about how produce trends happen.

Really? She wanted me to succinctly explain the last 55 years of my life and my work…in 20 minutes. Well, I took a deep breath. And then she said, “You must use PowerPoint slides and you cannot use any notes.”

Goodness!

I still said yes.

And that’s what is so great about being open-minded. Instead of thinking of every reason why I did not have time to write a presentation (I was traveling the two weeks preceding the conference), I thought: “I can do this!”

And then she emailed me the title for my speech: “From Kale to Cherimoyas: Making produce trend.”

And on Friday morning October 28, I ended up being the keynote speaker at the first BittenLA Conference. The vast majority of the audience were Millennials (20- and 30-somethings). It seemed that most were creatives (working in agencies), passionate about food and food experiences.

As I spoke about the confluence of the roles played by chefs, the media, and supermarkets in food trends, then layered over the notion of “food as medicine,” I saw a lot of nodding heads in the audience. They chuckled when I asked if everyone was “over” kale. Or if they felt that jackfruit seemed to be everywhere. (After all, it was featured in the Wall Street Journal just a couple weeks ago.)

But probably the best part of my experience was seeing how one person’s passion gets amplified when she is genuine and inclusive.

As Naz was starting off the morning, she thanked her sponsors and shared her complete joy and appreciation when each of them offered to write her a check to support her conference. Dozens of volunteers ran around setting up the tables for breakfast and lunch, and making sure every detail was attended to. Yes, I said “volunteers.” Many of the volunteers took time off work to support the cause of food, innovation, and breakthroughs. And many had never met Naz before, but had heard about Bitten and wanted to help.

I ended my talk with two quotes. First, one by Eleanor Roosevelt:

 “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Naz told me she was a little nervous when she took the bold step to launch her own marketing and branding agency, and then a few years later the Bitten Conference. And this past week, to bring her conference to Los Angeles. I’d say Eleanor Roosevelt would have been proud of her.

The second quote was our company motto:

 “Eat one fruit a day that scares you.”

Naz highlighted that new fruits and veggies should not be scary—they should be embraced!

I’m so glad my mother instilled in me that I should be open-minded. I hope you will be, too.

Karen

Bitten_Naz_Karen

Bitten founder Naz and me

 

 

 

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