Why Does a Mother Start A Potato Chip Company?

My husband and I are often asked how it is that we came to be in the snack food business. It is an odd business for a mom and pop start-up given that it’s dominated by major global brands. It’s a very personal reason with a complex backstory.

 Our first child, Jackson, was born in May 2001 and in December 2002, we celebrated the birth of our second child, Ella.

In late 2002, Jackson began to display subtle muscle weakness where he started to prefer crawling to walking; his weight gains started to slow; and he started getting fussy with stomach pains and unusual bowel movements. Our pediatrician dismissed our initial concerns but over the next 18 months, Jackson’s condition became steadily worse. We watched helplessly as Jackson’s weight started to drop, his gross and fine motor skills became more and more diminished, and his digestive symptoms became debilitating. Between his second and third birthday, he hardly slept for more than a few hours at a stretch; his muscle spasticity became so profound that he could not speak, feed himself or sit upright. As he turned three years old, he started to have significant difficulty swallowing food on his own.

Over that time, we saw specialists in nearly every field of pediatrics across the country. Jackson had spinal taps, CT scans, x-rays and MRIs; he had his blood, urine, stool, and spinal fluid analyzed and then re-analyzed.

We explored Chinese medicine and homeopathy, functional medicine and herbal medicine, Reiki and Cranial-Sacral Therapy. We subscribed to online medical journals and contacted their authors of different articles. Despite these efforts, there were no leads, no insights, and no diagnosis.

Although we had no idea what was causing Jackson’s spasticity, rigidity, and muscle weakness, we felt like we should be able to help his digestive discomfort which had become a source of profound suffering for him.

Conditions went from bad to worse. Jackson suffered a severe bout of pancreatitis and was admitted to the hospital. He continued to deteriorate and on our third day in the hospital, Jackson weighed less than 17 pounds. He was three and a half years old. There wasn’t much hope he was going to make it through this event. His doctor gave us some morphine and told us he hoped Jackson’s transition went smoothly. Odds were not good that he would make it another two weeks.

 At home, we had a cookbook purchased a few months earlier entitled “Nourishing Traditions,” written by Sally Fallon. The philosophy seemed simple: eat nutrient-dense foods as close to their original state (that is, unprocessed) as possible; eat fermented foods that are more easily bio-absorbed; eat ‘good’ fats.

In looking through the book, we found a recipe for a meat-based formula for babies. It consisted of homemade beef broth, beef liver, lactose, and a spectrum of healthy fats in the form of cod liver oil, coconut oil and extra virgin cold pressed olive oil, all blended together. With Jackson weighing 17 pounds at 3 ½ years old, the term ‘nutrient dense’ seemed like an idea worth trying.

Within a week of being on the meat-based formula exclusively, Jackson was sleeping better, crying less, and his pancreatitis started to recede. We started to believe this might help. Within two weeks, he slept through the night on occasion – for the first time in at least two years – and his weight started to stabilize. Within a month, he actually put on a small amount of weight and his pancreatitis was all but gone. We had been fully converted to the high (good) fat diet. His condition stabilized more and more as the weeks and months went by.

 We weren’t looking for a cure to our son’s undiagnosed disease – we were simply trying to make his quality of life much better and address what we thought was the biggest problem: inflammation. And we were able to do so by changing his diet. In fact, food was the only thing that was ever able to intermediate his disease process: good fats, grass-fed meats, fresh and fermented vegetables.

 We soon realized that almost everything we had believed about fats was quite wrong. We realized that traditional, healthy fats that had been consumed for centuries (like cod liver oil, tallow, lard, coconut oil, and unpasteurized butter from grass-fed cows) were a source of essential nutrition. And that man-made vegetable oils are the product of an industrial manufacturing process that was invented 100 years ago were a source of real nutritional aggravation.

As we embraced this healthy fat diet over the last decade, we came to more saturated fat in more of our meals. And as our family grew to four children, we started experimenting with making everything they ate ‘fat friendly’. Perhaps, inevitably, we experimented with frying our own potato chips in coconut oil.

 We couldn’t believe the difference in flavor. Our coconut-oil chips tasted like an actual potato — rich, deep, aromatic. The combination of the light, almost sweet coconut oil, the earthy potato, and the dash of sea salt made for a wonderful combination of savory, salty, and crunchy. We all instantly found a new favorite recipe.

 We realized that if a healthy fat like coconut oil could work wonders for Jackson then certainly it could be beneficial for our other kids too. Over the past decade friends, family, and neighbors started to eat our chips at picnics, dinner parties, and holidays. They all remarked on how fresh and tasty they were – how they tasted like a real potato, and many said “You should sell these!”

Initially, we scoffed at the idea but eventually came around to the notion that we could sell these. So what really made us decide to start selling potato chips fried in a healthy fat? A debt of gratitude.

I believe that healthy fats saved Jackson’s life by altering the course of his disease for the better and mitigating the most extreme of his symptoms.

It was only after we stopped thinking about selling potato chips as a business that we came to an important appreciation. Jackson’s Honest isn’t a business, it’s a movement: a movement to re-introduce healthy fats into the food chain.

As for Jackson, he finally received a diagnosis in 2015 that he had a rare variant of an already-rare autoimmune disease called Aicardi–Goutières syndrome (AGS). It is an immune disorder that presents with a chronic inflammatory condition in parts of the brain.

Once we received this diagnosis, and in speaking with the researchers at the NIH, we came to realize why Jackson’s high (good) fat diet intermediated in such a profound way in the course of his disease. The details are complex but the basic idea is that a high fat (ketogenic) diet full of the medium chain triglycerides and saturated fats found in coconut oil, cod liver oil, and lard are by definition a low-inflammatory diet: by lowering the overall consumption of carbohydrates and replacing those with lauric acids in coconut oil, we are disrupting the inflammatory process of insulin and leptin production/use in the body.

 It is with immeasurable sadness and broken hearts that we share the sad news that Jackson passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on Aug. 13, 2017.

A Mission For Real Fats

Before we started on this journey, we were flabbergasted by the breadth of snack foods that were fried in some combination of highly processed polyunsaturated vegetable oils. But we admit to starting Jackson's Honest out of a good bit of idealism too. The snack food industry is a behemoth: almost $10 billion worth of potato chips are sold in the US annually, another $6 billion in tortilla chips. Since its invention in 1853, the potato chip has become a staple of the American diet, and it has ranked as the country’s number one snack food for more than 50 years.

The potato chip industry abandoned highly saturated tropical oils in favor of inexpensive polyunsaturated vegetable oils many decades ago. The reasons behind this are varied and complex. Economics, political influence, faulty nutritional science: all played an important role. But years of new evidence based on balanced nutritional science are implicating polyunsaturated vegetable oils as health antagonists when they are heated, pressed under high pressure, and oxidized by the modern, chemical-intensive vegetable oil manufacturing process. The most infamous of all the polyunsaturated oils – ‘trans’ fats – being one of the derivatives of the vegetable oil manufacturing process.

As you might imagine, lipid chemistry – the study of fats – is a highly complex science. But researchers and authors like Dr. Mary Enig, Gary Taubes, Dr. Bruce Fife and nearly the entire Paleo and Weston A. Price communities have come to the conclusion that healthy, traditional fats like lard, tallow, and coconut oil are not at all the demons they are made out to be, that they constitute an important and, in certain respects, essential component of a healthy diet. And, further, that the overconsumption of processed polyunsaturated vegetable oils – particularly ‘omega 6’ fatty acids – might well constitute a misunderstood health risk.

We are a company and a mission: our goal is to make clean, simple products with as much of these nutrient-dense fats as we can in a great tasting and convenient form while spreading the word that ancestral fats are a critically important part of a balanced diet.