Food as medicine: Entrepreneur nourishes cancer patients with meals on-the-go
The Pappas restaurant empire isn't known for its healthful fare, but one Houstonian's journey with nutrition and wellness began while working in the company's headquarters.
Angela Anderson's bachelor of arts from Houston Baptist University with a focus on communications was intended to launch a career in administration, but working with the Pappas ownership inspired an interest in cooking, an obsession with locally sourced ingredients and a passion for holistic healing — a combination that led her to New York City to study at the Natural Gourmet Institute.
When she recognized that there was an underserved market that sought nutritionally rich options, Anderson was motivated to start a new company.
The Hippo Kitchen — think Hippocrates' often quoted adage, "let food be thy medicine" — offers chef-prepared meals that support healing for patients undergoing cancer therapy.
"People come from all over the country to the Texas Medical Center to fight cancer," chef Anderson tells CultureMap. "More than 115,000 people receive care at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center alone, and I wanted to provide better alternatives for those facing chemotherapy, radiation and steroid treatments."
"Houston is filled with hospitable people. What do hospitable people do? They want to give food."
The 29-year-old entrepreneur begins crafting her creations from mainstay dishes — pancakes, mashed potatoes, enchiladas, noodle stir fries — and experiments with variations that add nutritional power. She might keep the skin on the carrots to prepare her Creamy Carrot Soup for added fiber, toss in chia seeds in her Apple Kuzu Pudding to boost omega-3 fatty acids, include kombu (seaweed) in broths and substitute dairy with almond milk in her Rice Pudding.
The Hippo Kitchen's menu, which ranges from $3.50 to $13 per item, is friendly for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, raw and neutropenic diets. The caloric, protein and fat content is posted alongside the potential health benefits, such as alleviation of constipation, diarrhea and nausea, and whether the recipe is recommended for before or after therapy — even if weight gain is desired. Delivery is currently available inside of Beltway 8.
"Almost everything is organic," she says. "But if I have to choose between say an organic carrot from California or one that isn't certified organic from a local farmer I know, I will choose local. Vitamins, minerals and essential enzymes are depleted quickly during shipping and storage."
"Houston is filled with hospitable people," Anderson adds. "What do hospitable people do? They want to give food."
The Hippo Kitchen's Give. Care. Share. program encourages patients to set up accounts to which loved ones can contribute directly to subsidize the cost of the meals, a function that also nods to southern grace and gentility.
"Everyone wants to help family and friends," she says. "This is a way they can do so in a meaningful way."