I went Paleo for 30 days to get closer to potential customers of my startup, who expressed their own frustrations with low carb catering options. It involved a great deal of restriction, awkward conversations, puréed dessert recipes, and big hunkin’ slabs of meat. What I came away with is an even stronger appreciation for how much culinary choices shape identity and why startup founders should consistently remind themselves of the pain they are trying to solve for.
Paleo is a diet that combines dietary choices available to our primal ancestors with the belief that processed foods account for an overwhelming amount of terrible diseases that plague modern-day humans.
My diet consisted of meat (mostly grilled, avoiding fried or breaded varieties), eggs, and vegetables. It excluded rice, bread, dairy, processed sugar, cheese, yogurt, beer, and every other thing that I normally find delicious. For my friends who know that I’ve been vegetarian for 10 years, this came as a huge shock — but I wanted to viscerally understand the pains of a growing segment of my customers. I wanted to feel the burn.
I’ll admit, by the end of the 30 days, I was craving my old diet (PITA AND HUMMUS!). But here’s some of the valuable takeaways:
- Learn to love eggs: Eggs were the perfect protein to satisfy me at any point in the day (including sneaking their way into my dessert concoctions). Finding alternatives that weren’t meat was painful.
- Deal with food going to waste: This was one of my first frustrations with eating out on Paleo. Carbs are foundational to dishes (rice, pasta, etc.). And they have to be avoided. That means food is constantly left over, and you’re left without the food you need to fill you up.
- Tell waiters you have celiac disease: No matter how hippie California-land may seem, not one restaurant owner I spoke to knew what Paleo was. The response was a lifted brow and, “Come again?” When I explained myself, they would shout, “OH, so you have celiac disease? We can accomodate that!”
At Chewse, we work with a variety of restaurants in Los Angeles — and it still confounds me that they don’t know the difference between vegan and vegetarian. So it shouldn’t surprise me that they wouldn’t get Paleo. This was a big pain every single time I ate out. Sometimes, you want an easy meal without having to lead a sermon on your diet.
- Prepare to get lambasted over otherwise peaceful dinners: People reacted negatively when I told them I was Paleo. I mean, downright offended. As if I had told them that their high-carb lifestyle was going to prematurely kill them (note: not what I said). As if I took my primal diet literally and started cooking meat over fire at the table.
It made me feel defensive about my choice, and required that I better prepare for the naysayers or avoid bringing up the topic altogether. It also created an immediate bond with others on Paleo. We were put into an “us vs. them” mentality, which meant that we were compelled to create a partnership to find haven in. I had several group dinners where the other Paleo guests at the table and I ended up commiserating over limited food options and stigmas. But it also had the positive benefit of a community where we would get jazzed discussing fitness programs, outdoors activities, and philosophies on organic and farm-grown agriculture.
Social situations became kind of painful.
So am I still Paleo?
Nope (even though tasting bone marrow was pretty freaking fantastic). I can’t say that I found Paleo to be a sustainable diet for me. I didn’t feel the extra boost in energy that some people get with the low-carb, high-protein diet. It didn’t quite work for my body. I definitely met people who loved the food options and felt it naturally fit with their lifestyle, and I absolutely applaud them.
What I am left with is a healthy respect for my customers on Paleo – I felt the pain urgently. I was put in a position where a miscommunication about my lunch could mean no food. That kind of urgency makes you learn and commiserate, quickly.
Understanding and listening to the customer can be really hard when your customers have a huge range of diets that are hard to keep up with. I hope to translate those frustrations I learned from the last 30 days into a language that restaurants understand and can accomodate when preparing meals. To be a true marketplace, we need to create a common dialogue that connects customer needs to restaurant deliveries, from soup to nuts.
As a founder, feel the pain. Listen in. Solve pain in a lucrative way. That’s how we win.
Special thanks to Ben Braverman of HeyZap — one of the original tweets who inspired the journey and who took the time to review the post. If you want to learn more about what I’m building, follow me on Twitter and salivate over delicious office lunches at Chewse.com.