Anisha Mistry Fernandez is a writer and podcast host. In her professional role, she is the Editor and Head of Campaigns and Partnerships at the EU’S FoodUnfolded, focusing on food policy and sustainability. Outside of work, she is the host of the Naughty Bites Podcast.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role
As a writer, I am both a co-author (Wine Law and Policy: From National Terroirs to a Global Market) and a food journalist. I specialise in food ethics, cultural food identity and the broken food system. My work has been published in several international publications, including The National UAE and titles in the UK, Spain, and Australia. In my day job, I am the Editor and Campaigns & Partnership Manager at FoodUnfolded, an EU-funded platform and magazine that asks the hardest questions about our food system. FoodUnfolded is a project of the European Institute of Innovation.
My passion for food and cooking began in childhood when cooking for family and relatives. I developed a real curiosity for the culture behind eating and food enjoyment in different cultures, particularly with Indian food, which is depicted so heavily in Indian art dating back to the 14th Century.
It was this passion that sparked the idea for my podcast, “Naughty Bites“. In each episode, I ask experts about sustainability, provenance, food identity, and climate change. From tackling food policy and food identity to the creative solutions that are feeding the world and helping the environment, I have spoken with chefs, PR advisors and CEOs who have been trailblazers in their respective industries.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
A good question, and I would honestly say no. I found solace in studying food science. I didn’t have the support from my family in pursuing food science as a career and so I felt like I was fighting to pursue something which only my mother encouraged me to. So, I would ask myself what she would do. I knew that I excelled in food science, and I went on to study it.
Once on the course, I realised that I didn’t want to work in Food Manufacturing! Nevertheless, the experience I gained working on MSG-free Chinese meals for the NHS and working for an M&S dedicated site, enabled me to figure out that I wanted to focus on food identity, sustainability, health etc. During this time, I wrote for regional, national and international publications, and focused on my areas of expertise from wine to olive oil.
I moved to Spain and then worked for various food EU initiatives, the projects I was heavily involved in were adopted by EU and Non-EU Member States and it gave me the opportunity to explore food from an international and intellectual property perspective, which then also presented the opportunity to co-author a book on Wine Law & Policy.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was a teenager. Wanting to help her, I started to learn about food and nutrition. Nutrition and food became a joint passion as I was able to stay home from school during the final months of her life. Tragically, she died a couple of months after and I was expected to assume her duties in the family. This meant I had to cook, clean and raise my sister. My grandmother taught me to cook, but I also wanted to learn more about the science behind food. It led me to discover my passion for cooking, it provided a means to process my grief and enlightened me to the world and even my own identity through food. However, much to the consternation of my family, who had hoped I would join a profession like medicine, accountancy or law, I decided to study Food Science and Technology. Still to this day, I have no support, understanding or even any interest from my family in my career.
Working full-time, raising my child (soon to be two) and caring for my cat (who is very needy), my life is busy. Before my little one wakes up, I get an hour to myself to relax, and that sets the tone for the day.”
The practice of swimming and yoga became my “secret weapon” in my efforts to penetrate the closed world of living and working in Spain. As a young woman of colour in Spain, I had to deal with a lot of knocks on a weekly basis, so this became my way of staying stable throughout all of that.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
It’s hard to choose; being a mum, having a career, and being a published author.
I consider a lot of my close friends to be my family (not necessarily by blood) since they are a great set of people whom I can really be myself with, and that has been a great blessing in helping me achieve my biggest accomplishments yet. It would not have been possible without them.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in your achieving success?
To me, being the change, you wish to see is very important. I am working for a company that asks tough questions about our food system. If I don’t do it differently or ask these questions, how can I encourage others to do the same?
My career has been driven by this ethos since the beginning and it has enabled me to achieve success.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
The importance of this cannot be overstated! I have been fortunate to have had (and still have) mentors including Rosemary Wood, Emily Scott, Cristina Lima Trinidad, Ken Hom, and Cyrus Todiwala. The qualities of a good mentor go beyond success. A good mentor must have the desire and disposition to develop other people. Reflecting on and sharing one’s own experiences and failures is essential. There are a few mentors in my life who not only talk the talk but also walk the walk.
My mentorship experience in the food system has enabled me to mentor recent graduates who are passionate about it. The success of my mentees is important to me, and I am eager to develop and assist them.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
In my experience, one of the most important things you can do as a woman of colour who is in my shoes or at different stages of their careers is to learn to distinguish between signals and noise. To this day, I still receive comments. Unfortunately, this is a reality. It’s impossible for me to control what other people say and do. There is only one thing I can control: myself. Of course, you can get worked up about it and spend hours thinking about it, or you can just let it go and move on. You should choose a job where you can make a real difference and where you are valued. That’s my biggest piece of advice for women of colour. The road to success isn’t easy, and the noise will always be there. There was noise when I started, and it’s still around today and there will be that same noise years from now. Embrace your differences and use your position of power to empower others.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Being afraid, doubting yourself, and comparing yourself to others are just false illusions. The power of believing in yourself is magical, so drown out the noise and anything and everything is possible.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
This is an interesting question; my next challenge is to launch a campaign to raise awareness about various ingredients that affect children’s health (mum’s the word) and work on my next book.