LET'S BE REAL: A CANDID CONVERSATION WITH RENEE DUNN OF AMAZI FOODS

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RENEE DUNN

CEO + owner, Amazi Foods


Let’s Be Real is kicking off 2019 with a conversation we had with Renee Dunn, the badass behind Amazi Foods. Everyday, we’re inspired by her kindness, her ability to tell it like it is, and her dedication to self-care as a daily + gritty practice. Renee is a loyal friend, a fierce business owner, and one of the hardest working people we know. We’re so honored to have her story on our blog!


Introduce yourself! What do you want people to know about you and what you do?!

I’m Renee, founder and CEO of Amazi Foods – a mindful food company, on a mission to help you Snack on Purpose by selling minimally processed made-in-Uganda snacks. I’m passionate about building a brand that is not only rooted in social impact, but carries integrity and mindfulness in every facet of what we’re offering – creating snacks that are not only ethically sourced and do good, but also taste good and are good for you. We’re big on adding value in a direct, simple way; clutter-free ingredients, transparent sourcing and production, and new flavors and textures with in every product we make.

Outside of Amazi, I teach and practice yoga at Down Dog Yoga, and spend most of my free time moving and sweating. Otherwise, you can find me cooking, eating, playing with my puppy, dancing in my car to dancehall music, listening to podcasts, and trying to make time for reading/journaling/etc but probably failing.

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What does living a balanced lifestyle mean to you?

My experience and understanding of balance continues to evolve – and I think that’s kind of the point. Right now, it means less restriction, more intuition. An obvious example of this, is with my food choices: I come from a place of previously being very restrictive and controlling with my food. Now, I generally eat in a way that most people would consider “clean” because it makes me feel good – minimal grains, processed foods, red meat, uncultured dairy, sugars (although I am a fruit fiend)… very little that comes from a package and low FODMAP when possible (I did an elimination earlier in 2018 and found it did help some IBS symptoms). That said, ice cream, homemade banana bread, and garlic hold special places in my heart, and I’m mindful of honoring those needs, too.

Balance transcends food, of course, and I try to find it by taking time for myself (reading, journaling, cooking, doing nothing…) and trying to be more of an observer in my daily feelings and reactions. Accepting that some days are going to feel more inspiring and productive, while others I may feel more dragging or anxiety. I suppose it’s a sort of rolling with the punches attitude toward it all. 

What's your fitness routine?

I practice yoga at Down Dog around 4x per week. Outside of that, I lift a few times a week (because I’m bro-y like that), and LOVE the athletic training and conditioning at MADabolic in Clarendon. I try to make it there 3-4 times a week (HMU if you wanna join… I have a promo code, friends!).

I also make a point of going for a walk or hike once a week – usually on Sundays (#SundayStrolls is a little series I started on my Instagram stories) – to simply get out of my head and have time outside, which is limited especially as it gets dark early and I’m allergic to cold. 

What does eating mindfully mean to you?

As for many who are recovering and repairing their relationships with food, it is rooted in the one-two punch of disordered eating and the validation of eliminations due physical intolerances and terrible digestive issues. While I still struggle with those digestive issues at times, I’m finding that the more intuition I can bring to my eating, the better, as well as thinking of what I need in terms of activity that day and what will keep me fueled and focused. For example, I used to consume a much higher fat diet, and was terrified of all carbs – even those from fruits (OMG YOU WANT ME TO EAT A BANANA!?). When I started lifting again last year (I had a little hiatus), I started to shift that, and have found that I actually love and need and want carbs, and my stomach feels better not eating nuts and nut butter all the time. So I try to stay open to shifting and discovering that things nourish me in ways I didn’t think they would.

What do you drink in a normal day? (coffee, tea, water, juice, energy drinks etc

Objectively too much coffee, lots of herbal tea, water. Occasional Sip City Switchel, fancy latte, Bragg’s Ginger Spiced ACV drink, or mylk-based beverage calling my name. I have a feeling I’m gonna hop on the celery juice trend at some point, but for now, that’s it.

How do you cope with stress? 

Deep breaths. Writing things down. Blocking social media. Calling a friend. Going for a walk. Tough workout or any form of sweating. Doing nothing. The occasional meltdown…   

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What are your favorite cities? Why?

Oh… I love this question. Tough one.

Asheville, NC – SOUL CITY. Truly. I recently took myself on a solo getaway there (everyone needs to do this for themselves). I just feel happy and complete there. Love the crunchy, earthy, low maintenance vibes, mixed with delicious restaurants, cozy cafes, crafty shops, always a buzz of activity, and plenty of hikes closeby. 

Tel Aviv – my second home. My mom’s family and business is out there, and I used to spend my summers there…staying with family, going to summer camp, fresh squeezed carrot juice on the boardwalk, and grabbing ice cream at the beach. THE FOOD is my whole heart. I cannot get enough of Israeli food and produce and flavors and smells….. and the vibes are warm and laid back, yet direct and in your face. Can you tell I miss it?

Kampala – special place in my heart. The dysfunction, the chaos, the dust, the noise. Every day is draining, but you find pockets of slow, and know that right beyond the city is endless greenery.

I also love Capetown, Portland, Charleston… but I’ll save those for another time.

What do you wish people were more open or real about when it comes to fitness, living a balanced lifestyle or the drinking culture?

I think everyone is very black and white about everything. You drink or you don’t. You party or you don’t. You care about fitness or you don’t. I don’t think that’s a reasonable expectation, of anyone. We can go through phases of not wanting to drink, and we should have the confidence to say as much, without it quickly becoming an invitation for inquiry from the other person. I wish also that in general people were more creative about the activities we engage with for our social life – like not everything needs to be around drinking, but I don’t think many people know of other accepted options. 

How do you seek out community? 

Like-minded souls! Fellow food-preneurs, fitness fanatics, nerds who went to liberal arts colleges. I keep my circles fairly tight, but am always open to connecting with others and seeing what we can offer each other.

What's the hardest part of maintaining a work life balance?

Compartmentalizing. I have a REALLY hard time with this. Not sure how to do it. But thoughts of both permeate each other all the time, and I end up with anxiety and cyclical thinking. One of my goals for 2019 is to get better at this, and in practice, sticking with one focus at a time, seeing things from idea/intuition through to execution before pivoting or thinking about other things. I don’t expect this to be easily attainable, but just a consciousness I’m trying to bring whenever I feel myself pulled from work to personal life, and vice versa (and even within each of them). 

What’s the hardest part of adulthood? 

Ha. I’m a very independent, responsible person – often to an annoying point, but I have a lot of barriers around “adult” things. I had to figure out health insurance for the first time last year. I basically picked the worst plan possible and lost lots of money! But I guess learned the hard way… I gave up on trying to switch my car plates from MD to DC because the DMV kept telling me I needed another registration and I was confused. I also never bought furniture for my last apartment because decorating an apartment seemed like a big commitment.

What would you tell yourself 10 years ago? 

SO MUCH. Probably would boil down to: “chill the fuck out.” Be kind, especially to yourself. You have no idea what’s ahead of you. Let it unfold (SURPRISE YOU’RE GONNA BE SELLING PLANTAIN CHIPS!!!!).

Do you live by any mottos or mantras?

I repeat these a lot: “I am curious. I am in process. I am passionate. I am kind. I am creating.”

Others:

  • Regret is a far greater fear than the fear of failure. Always try.

  • Give and generate what you wish to receive

  • #SnackonPurpose

  • Look in the mirror, turn my swag on, say wassup 

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How do you stay motivated, both at work and in your active life? 

This is actually something I struggle with (as it relates to my work life), and something I’m trying to be more adamant about in 2019. When I feel unmotivated, I tend to fall into pits of anxiety, and they last a long time. I guess I lose sight of what’s exciting. Generally what pulls me out is a great conversation with someone – a customer, a potential partner, a friend. A few practices I’m trying to put into place: 1. More involvement in work pertaining to brand voice, marketing, and partnerships so that I’m always involved in the energy we’re putting out there and our positioning; 2. Daily Five Minute Journal entry in which I write a few things that I’m excited about each day; 3.  Podcasts! Love How I Built This, Tara Brach meditations/dharma talks, and Dear Sugars.

This doesn’t really happen as much with working out because I’m a freak, but whenever it does, I tend to just take time off and stop pushing it. I usually am ready to come back to it naturally in a few days.

What advice do you have for people who want to make changes in their diets or fitness plans? Or for people who aren't happy with their status quo? 

Write them down. Be easy with yourself around this. Find something you enjoy. Stick with plans, but leave yourself space to mess up. It’s always ok to recommit and pivot! 

How do you turn around a bad day? Any tips/tricks? 

Podcasts (above), walking outside, puppy cuddles, BLAST music (dancehall or some sold hip hop), move around, grocery shop to get ingredients for a dish I’m craving (i.e. buy my fave ingredients: salmon, pomegranate, sage & parsley for pesto, broccoli, jicama…. No new friends)…

I make time daily for: movement and good food.