Making the Leap

While I was learning about the benefits of a plant-based diet, I was attending startup pitch competitions with Station Houston because I was unsatisfied with the culture and environment at ExxonMobil. At one competition, I told the organizer that I was interested in food, and he put me in contact with a food company Volgin Naturetech in the Houston food startup space. One Saturday morning, I visited them at the Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market on Richmond. This was my very first famers market experience, and I was amazed at what I saw. Farmers brought their food directly from their farm to the market and sold it without a middle man/men. The food looked so different – colors, shapes, and sizes that I was not used to seeing in the stores. There were foods that I had never even seen or heard of, and I was baffled to find out they were grown right here in Houston.

The farmers at Houston Regional Growers have a 100% sustainable offering. You can really taste and see the difference!

At this point, I was committed to not only eating whole foods, but eating local foods as much as possible. Being in a supply chain job, I was aware of the energy and resources that it took to move things around the country, and I realized food in the grocery store was no different than that. Even in Whole Foods, where I thought the produce was the best I could find, I would see “grown in Australia…Mexico…California…Guatemala”, even though I could go to Urban Harvest and get the same food grown right down the road in Houston.

Back at Exxon Mobil, I began thinking: what if I put my background and hobbies towards another cause? What if I made a company of my own? Given what I learned about food as well as the vast amount of misinformation out there, I knew I wanted to do something in that space. For a while, I thought of ways I could use coding to build an app or website to help people come up with seasonal recipes, but at some point I realized I wanted to be the one cooking and serving the food to the city I had grown to love. I had some doubts as a self-taught chef, but I was comforted by my background in chemical engineering. I was taken back to my training in controlled lab experimentation (food R&D) and process design (repeatable recipes), and economic calculations (business acumen) – and this gave me the confidence that I could run a food pop-up on my own.

In October of 2019, I left Exxon Mobil to start Bloom Foods. My very first product was a veggie burger made with local Gundermann Acres red beans, and I was selling kits of my burger, serrano salsa, arugula pecan pesto, buns, lettuce, and tomato. I sold this kit and some other groceries at a few markets when I decided to buy a portable grill and start to cook my burgers for people at farmers markets and events.

One of the very first Bloom Burger Kits sold. The packaging has come such a long way!

After an introspective period in February 2020, I realized that what I really wanted to do was come up with the most delicious veggie burgers in the world, make them by hand and serve them with care with the local community. Now, my mission is to create and share my seasonal, local, whole veggie burger creations with Houston! 🌱

Comment: Where are my mission driven people out there? What is it that drives you?!

My Food Awakening

In June of 2017, I was moved to a Supply Chain Modeling role, where I focused on saving money in the ExxonMobil Lubricants global supply chain. I was amazed at how far some of the raw materials and final products travelled to fulfill customer needs.

During this time, my co-worker, who happened to be an MIT alum, told me about the documentary “What the Health.” She was so moved by the information in the documentary and strongly recommended that I view it.

What the Health helped me to realize the shortcuts being taken in the food industry. I learned how companies spend money to make us think we are eating healthy, but in reality the picture is very different.

Watching “What the Health” opened my eyes to practices in the meat industry that were completely unknown to me. I had no idea that the meat and dairy industries funded the research around dietary guidelines in the US. I didn’t know that major meat and processed food companies funded research for non-profits like the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association, all while their products were linked to the causes of these diseases. I had no idea that American eating habits were the leading cause of (painful) death, and that these habits were spreading around the globe.

Very shortly after watching this documentary, I had dinner with family friends. My friend’s dad, an Olympic track coach, showed me a book called Healing with Whole Foods. The book was basically a textbook – it’s over 700 pages long and is mostly words. When I asked him if I could borrow it, he told me I could, but that I should be careful because “once you read it, you won’t be able to go back.” I laughed him off and started to read. I wasn’t finished with the book when I returned a month later around Christmas, but by then I knew exactly what he meant.

My friend Kayla’s dad introduced me to the book that changed my life! It’s safe to say that family knows a lot of athletes 😀

By reading Healing with Whole Foods, I learned about how our body is attacked by refined foods that are so common in the “Standard American Diet” (SAD). Refined flour, sugar, salt, oils and fats, grains, legumes, and more were created to make cooking more convenient, but their incomplete form attacks the body in ways that sounded so familiar once I read about them. I started to eat a plant-based diet, and my life changed almost immediately. My awareness practices became deeper and easier, I lost excess weight on my body, and I was able to recover from exercise and injuries much faster.

Healing with Whole Foods combines Eastern and Western traditions to explain food in a holistic way. I am glad I had some experience with Eastern thinking through Zen practice, because that allowed me to receive the information in this book much more openly.

After that, I read books like Fast Food Nation, Salt Sugar Fat, and How Not to Die. These continued to open my eyes to the manipulative practices of the meat, dairy, and processed food industries. I began to see food very differently. I realized that it was extremely hard to find a meal that didn’t have something refined or processed in it.

Comment: Have any of you read these books or seen these films? If so, what impression did they make on you? What books and films changed the way you view your food?

Tune back in next week to hear about the start and growth of Bloom!

About Chester – Durham to Houston

Thanks for reading my very first Bloom Foods blog post! I wanted to take some time to introduce myself and my story to Houston…so here it goes!

My name is Chester Chambers. I was born in Durham, NC. My parents grew up in Virginia, and they both graduated from Duke University (I’ve been a Duke basketball fan from the jump!)

My parents’ work led our family around the country; over the span of 12 years, we lived in St. Louis, Dallas and Maryland. When I lived in Dallas, my brother and I started playing soccer for club teams around the city. Through Thierry Henry, I became a fan of Arsenal and Barcelona. I fell in love with the beautiful game.

Celebrating a goal with my friends

This marked the beginning of my health journey – given that I played soccer 3-4 days per week, I stayed in great shape, regardless of what I ate. My passion for soccer led me to pursue it at the college level, and in my senior year of high school, I was lucky enough to be accepted into MIT! Given my background in math and science, I was eager to bring the same passion I had for soccer to my studies and decided to major in chemical engineering.

As Cambridge turned from green to bright orange, gold and brown, the grueling soccer season began. In turn, the intensity of my fitness routine dramatically increased. I began training or playing soccer 6 days per week. To fuel up, I loaded my dinner plate with chicken and pasta at our campus dining hall, where I had an unlimited meal plan. I didn’t know much at all about nutrition and I put on 25 pounds of what I thought was healthy weight in college (most of it was in the form of muscle).

MIT Men’s Soccer 2015 Senior Game

Upon graduating from MIT, I joined ExxonMobil in Houston, TX as a Process Design Engineer. Although it was difficult for me to adjust from a flexible college schedule into a 9-5 job, my co-workers made the experience enjoyable. After a few months and an oil downturn, I was moved onto an IT project. I became very interested in coding during this time, and I taught myself HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python and other coding languages in my spare time.

Comment: Are any of you sports fans as well? Comment on your favorite teams below.

Ever wonder what’s it’s like to be a student at MIT? Leave your questions below and I’ll do a live video with answers!