EDIBLE CUTLERY AND TABLEWARE ARE ONLY PART OF JESSICA TISHUE’S PLANS
Jessica Tishue ’11 (BA) wants to change the world — one meal at a time.
An ambitious goal, no? But the world might not want to bet against her. After all, she’s already run a successful digital marketing company, founded an online media outlet and plans to officially launch a zero-waste, edible tableware company early this year. Perhaps most impressively, she hasn’t let a serious auto accident from two years ago prevent her from living freely and dreaming boldly.
“I would like to be a pioneer in creating the greatest food culture in history, and obviously I don’t do that alone” says the engaging and upbeat 33-year-old. “I really hope to create a food culture that honors our planet and honors our people as well.”
From an early age, the native of Northborough, Massachusetts started to see connections between food, health, culture and the environment. At age 15, she began to question the traditional Western diet and started reading medical journals to achieve peak performance in running cross country and to help her mother treat arthritis, high cholesterol and other health issues.
With an anti-inflammatory diet, her mother’s health improved. “She allowed me to test what I was learning on her, and it worked,” Tishue says.
One thing she didn’t like was snow and cold weather. During her second year in college, she convinced her parents to let her move to California and transfer to USD.
While she found her classes enriching, a few other experiences really stood out. One was a Semester at Sea where Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist Bishop Desmond Tutu was onboard. Every day, clad in pajamas, he would eat breakfast with students. “He had such a bright and positive outlook for the world and really celebrated life,” she recalls.
During her time at sea, she had opportunities to visit restaurants and homes around the world, learning about local cuisine and observing different rituals for preparing and eating meals. “That fascinated me, how whole cultures are influenced by our food systems,” she says.
Tishue also took part in USD’s inaugural Social Innovation Challenge. The competition and the mentorship she received in how social entrepreneurship can make a positive change in the world “really shaped everything I’m doing today,” she says.
After graduation with a bachelor’s in communication studies and a minor in international business, she took a job at a digital marketing agency. Soon, she went on to start her own firm, Disruptive Marketing LLC, whose clients ranged from startup firms to Fortune 500 companies like the Yamaha Corp.
Even as the company succeeded, she often recalled a moment in 2011 when she was enjoying a meal at an outdoor café, only to see a trash can overflowing with single-use bowls and utensils. When she had time, she tinkered in her kitchen. A decade later, her worlds as an entrepreneur, environmentalist and foodie have come together with her new enterprise, Bliss Foods™.
With Bliss Foods™, Tishue uses delicious superfoods to create edible, plant-based tableware and cutlery, eliminating waste that would go in landfills. Think, for example, of a mocha-flavored coffee cup or other edible utensils or bowls made out of sweet and savory superfoods such as sweet potatoes, seeds or nuts. Last fall, Bliss Foods™ won the Audience Choice award for the nationwide Women’s Fast Pitch Competition.
One obstacle that had to be overcome was the creation of the custom machinery for the products, so Tishue teamed up with USD Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering Chair and Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering Truc Ngo.
“I thought the idea of making cups, bowls and utensils out of superfoods was brilliant, and very appealing to those who seek healthy and sustainable options for their daily needs,” says Ngo.
While the chaos from COVID-19 delayed the start by a few months, a pilot launch to restaurants in San Diego is expected to be underway by the end of February of 2021, followed by expansion into some 900 restaurants designated ocean friendly by the Surfrider Foundation throughout Southern California and the state, and then to the entire nation.
The prospects for Bliss Foods™ and for Tishue are bright, says Ngo. “She sets her goals and is determined to achieve them. I think the world is her limit, and she can accomplish anything with her positive attitude, energy and internal drive.”
Underneath that drive is a strong spiritual component.
“I’m very connected to God, although not in an organized fashion,” shares Tishue, who considers herself a Christian with a strong Buddhist influence following a world religions class she took at USD. “I find that connection through many different things — nature, reading religious texts, music and kind people,” she says, adding that she strives every day to be an example of God’s light in the world.
That spiritual connection led to another one of Tishue’s projects. Last year she founded cookandculture.com, an online media outlet whose premise is to unite the world through food.
“Food is a global love language that transcends borders, races and religions,” she says. “It’s something we can bond over. For that moment we’re enjoying a meal together, it doesn’t matter if you’re Muslim or I’m a Christian. We can agree the food is delicious.”
Cook & Culture is a media outlet, resource and community whose mission is to not only celebrate the art of good food but help plant the seeds “to inspire the greatest food culture in history, and a thriving planet for generations to come.” Typical stories, for example, include “10 Environmentally Friendly Proteins … that Actually Taste Good” along with sections on cooking classes, food tourism and ending hunger.
The project really took hold after she spoke to USD students at a Half-Time retreat sponsored by University Ministry and the Career Development Center. Two USD students interned for the site, and as the pandemic eliminated opportunities for people around the globe, she invited underrepresented students and people displaced in their careers to work on the site and learn blogging, search engine optimization, web design and other skills.
The program — which has grown to 40 people from Nigeria, India, Taiwan, the Philippines and various regions of the United States — now has a waiting list to participate.
“Working with Jessica as a designer has been a remarkable experience,” says Ana Aguilar, a junior majoring in architecture with a minor in business administration, who designed logos, illustrations and graphics for the site. “Even with the pandemic going on, I have had the opportunity to virtually meet and work with amazingly talented people from around the world who share the same vision for a better food culture.”
“I’ve learned that when people pull their talents together, ideas can become reality,” adds Mayella Vasquez, ’22, an English and international relations major.
Tishue’s numerous endeavors are even more impressive given that over the past two years she’s also been recovering from a serious auto injury. In November 2018, she was a pedestrian in the San Diego community of La Jolla when she was hit by a car, damaging five vertebrae in her spine.
Initially unable to walk, she returned to her family in Massachusetts. Over the next seven months, she began to heal and today she says she’s “close to being recovered” but that her back does lock up from time to time, and that she can’t do all the ballet moves or run like she did before the accident.
But there were at least two silver linings from the injury. First, when she was back in Massachusetts, she met her boyfriend, Eric Borzino, who shares her love of good cooking and later moved to San Diego. Borzino, the vice president of corporate development for Everbridge, Inc., a global software firm, is also helping to develop Bliss Foods™. Last fall, the couple announced their engagement but are waiting until COVID-19 passes to set a date for the wedding.
Her recovery also was a turning point and gave her time to start putting the foundation together for her new enterprise. “I had a nagging feeling that I needed to be more purpose-driven and do something for the environment,” she says. “That’s what really woke me up to a new life. I just felt clear after that moment that this was my purpose and I need to focus on food and the environment.” — Liz Harman