It’s not what you eat, it’s how you think. What you eat is obviously very important to me, but how you think is even more important. Of course, eating nutritious food is a key foundational tool to feeling well, but so much is in your attitude. If you can train your mind to focus on what’s working, to stand in your self-worth, to approach your experiences with joy and gratitude, that mindset will affect your overall health in such positive ways.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Caroll Lee, Founder of Provenance Meals. Caroll is an avid cook, mother of two, Board Certified Health Counselor, and the founder of Provenance Meals. Her passion in life is to feed people real food — food that is raised, grown and prepared in traditional ways that are good for your health and good for the planet. Caroll practices holistic nutrition, understanding that a healthy diet must be combined with other sources of nourishment — loving relationships, enjoyable physical activity, meaningful work and spiritual connectedness — to reach true health and happiness.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was working in luxury fashion, on the e-business side at Gucci Group as well as a couple of different branding agencies in SF and NYC, and was feeling unfulfilled. I was spending my time selling expensive clothes and shoes online, and as much as I loved my colleagues, it wasn’t satisfying that spark I knew I had inside me. Ultimately I knew I had more to offer the world.
The decision to start my own business came while I was pregnant. I knew I didn’t want to miss the first years of my daughter’s life while I was working every weekday from 9–6. And while I was pregnant, I spent a lot of my time thinking about my next meal. (Although to be honest, I’m always plotting my next meal!) But especially while pregnant, I was focused on making sure that the food I was putting in my body was nourishing for me and for her, and I embarked on a mission to educate myself on what were the healthiest foods for my body.
After the birth of my daughter, I left my job to care for her. Once I gave myself the time to step away from my career, I realized my true purpose was to help busy people much like myself — whether they be busy professionals, parents, or both — with an easier way to eat well and to fuel their best life. In 2007, I opened an organic, farm-to-table market that served products and meals made with only ingredients you could trust. I eventually went back to school for nutrition, and then to work as a holistic health coach with an emphasis on functional medicine. The clients in my practice began asking me if I could help them reach their wellness goals by providing the healthy meals they craved but had no time to cook, and Provenance was born!
Can you share the interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I opened my first organic food business, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was part of a growing movement of small-batch, artisanal prepared foods. My market was carrying some very new products at the time that have gone on to become huge consumer brands in NYC and beyond, brands such as Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, Hot Bread Kitchen tortillas, Peeled Snacks, and Siggi’s Icelandic Skyr. The main products we produced in-house were probably some of the first organic “meal kits” — packages of semi-prepared ingredients and locally-sourced meats and fish with instructions on how to finish the meals at home. Even though I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing half the time, looking back I find it interesting that I had put myself in the right place at the right time, and that my instincts were spot on. That experience has helped me learn to trust my gut when it comes to the market and the opportunity, and has led me to success as a health coach and as a mission-driven entrepreneur.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I remember when we had our first major Hollywood actor as a regular client, a total super star and heartthrob. We were delivering to him regularly and slightly outside our regular delivery windows so I asked our staff if there was anyone who could make these deliveries for us. One young woman volunteered, and I was grateful to her for taking on the additional responsibility. Later, we got a request from the actor’s assistant that we send a different delivery person, because the current one seemed a little “too excited” to be there dropping off the meals. I immediately realized my mistake!
That’s one small example, but I think the lesson learned was having good instincts about what tasks can and should be delegated and to whom. In the early days of Provenance, I really tried to do every role by myself. I had to learn to recognize that I’m not the expert in all areas of my business, but I could surround myself with professionals who were specialists in their field, even when it comes to something as seemingly simple as delivering a healthy meal. As CEO, I do pride myself on my ability to learn whatever needs to be learned to move the business forward, and to learn it fast, but I also know when to let other people take the reins in different areas and to be okay with letting go.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
We’re currently working to grow and scale nationwide, which is super exciting as we’ve been exclusively a NYC-based company until now. We’ve got some major partnerships with other wellness brands in the works, companies that I really respect because of our shared values.
In addition to that, we’re working on more content to educate as many people as possible on the pillars of functional medicine and providing some of the background knowledge and tools to help people look and feel their best.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The one person who’s been with me through it all has been my husband. Early on in our relationship (over 21 years ago now), we used the made-up word “potentium” — the combination of potential plus momentum — to describe our budding relationship and the future pathways that lay ahead in our lives. That same concept has driven me forward through multiple challenges in my life and businesses. It’s a core belief that I keep coming back to, a belief in my own potential as a human being and my ability to uncover opportunities and steadily make progress.
My husband is a serial entrepreneur, so he knows firsthand the emotional rollercoaster of creating something new and putting it out into the world. Yet he always reminds me that the problems I’m focused on solving are probably 20% of my business, and that there’s a whole 80% that is working well. In other words, celebrate the successes while solving the problems. I’m grateful to him for reminding me to not lose my perspective during tough times.
Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that will help people feel great?
Here are three of my favorite tweaks, in order of easiest to hardest for me.
1) Keep a glass of water next to your bed and drink it first thing in the morning. I like to start my day with a headstart on my hydration.
2) Meditate or Exercise at least 10–15 minutes a day — 10–15 minutes a day is not a lot to ask. I remind myself that taking that small amount of time for myself is relatively easy, but the impact can be huge. Of course if I can take more time, I will, but by being consistent with that 10–15 minutes every day, I have no guilt about not doing more during my busier times.
3) Go to sleep! I am terrible at this one. I’m not a morning person by nature, and it seems like my brain just lights up at night. Sometimes I indulge it, but mostly I make myself go to bed even if I don’t feel like it. I use blue blocking glasses at night and turn all my devices’ blue light off in the evening so that it won’t add to my stimulation.
Is there a particular book that made an impact on you? Can you share a story?
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan forever changed how I looked at food. Once you understand the ins and outs of our food chain, how corn is used in processed foods and contributes to the obesity epidemic, why grass-fed and local and organic are essential, especially when compared to factory-farmed meats — well, you just can’t un-know this stuff once you read it.
I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma in 2006. I had already started down a road of reading my ingredient labels and educating myself about the importance of chemical-free foods and personal care products when I was pregnant for the first time in 2004. But this book really put into words everything that I felt was wrong with the American food system. Knowing that what to eat for dinner had become a confusing landscape for so many people, it led me to start my first organic food business with the conviction that I was helping improve the health of people and the planet.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
The real food revolution has already started and my work is to make it bigger and more mainstream. Once you have that foundation for good health, you have the energy and motivation to continue down that path. Most people don’t know how AMAZING their body is supposed to feel. I always say, the thing about good health is that you don’t know what it feels like until you have it. My mission is to help you become the most incredible version of yourself, one bite of nutritious food at a time. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
We’re in the middle of a food revolution, as Monsanto faces more and more legal challenges, as people wake up to the effects of ultra processed foods in their diet, as people begin to connect the dots between what they eat and how they feel. My goal is to just keep providing an alternative to the Standard American Diet (or SAD as it is appropriately acronym-ed), and educate and encourage people to commit to eating clean for a few days, a week, a month, so they can experience firsthand how they can live better.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
At Provenance, we focus on gut health. The science shows that how you feed your microbiome can have an enormous impact on your sense of wellbeing, your energy levels, your skin health, even your mood and how you think. So I believe it’s not my success so much as it is our client’s success that brings goodness to the world. I believe that when you’re feeling your best, and you’re not dragged down by low energy, chronic pain, and IBS, for example, then you can go out and focus on the things that your unique self is supposed to focus on. My job is to provide the food that promotes gut health and wellbeing. My clients take that good health and go out and put their positive energy into their world, everyday. It’s a ripple effect that I believe will add up to something big down the road.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) Running a business is a marathon, not a sprint, and it won’t be a straight line to success.
I’ve learned that when I conquer one challenge, another one will be waiting for me right around the corner. Knowing this helps me take myself a little less seriously and reduces some of the stress around whatever the various issues of the day are. I think of my company as a sailboat. If I’m at the helm, no matter how much the wind blows and how many times we have to adjust course, my job is to steer that boat in the right direction and avoid being batted around at the mercy of the changing winds.
2) Don’t feel guilty for taking vacation.
Last year I had the unique opportunity to travel for an extended period through Southeast Asia, while my incredible team held down the fort in New York. (Thank you, team!) Giving myself that mental break, and a 100% change in scenery allowed me to get some distance from my company and resulted in me getting a big picture view of the things that needed to happen next. As CEO, it’s easy to get mired in the immediate problems at hand, but it’s exactly the birdseye view and longer term thinking that your team needs to know what direction to head. I love to travel and get outside of the fast pace of NYC. It’s when I can slow down, gain perspective, and think my big thoughts.
3) No one wants to talk about you business 24/7 with you, even if you think it’s fascinating!
I have to remind myself that while I love to turn my various business challenges and issues over and over in my brain, it doesn’t always make for interesting dinner conversation! It helps remind me to have a life outside of my work.
4) Don’t underestimate yourself and give away your power.
People may have more years of experience in my industry, but no one knows my company and my brand like I do. I once heard a founder describe her company as her child, herself as the parent, and the people who had years of experience in their fields of business as teachers. The teacher may have a different perspective on what is best for the child, and you may think that due to his or her years of experience of working with children that he or she knows best, but at the end of the day, no one can decide what course of action is best for their child more than the parent. I feel the same way about my business. I welcome other perspectives, especially from other founders or industry experts who have been through it before, but at the end of the day, I have to go with my gut and hold onto the decision-making power.
5) It’s not what you eat, it’s how you think.
What you eat is obviously very important to me, but how you think is even more important. Of course, eating nutritious food is a key foundational tool to feeling well, but so much is in your attitude. If you can train your mind to focus on what’s working, to stand in your self-worth, to approach your experiences with joy and gratitude, that mindset will affect your overall health in such positive ways.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Perfect is the enemy of the good.” In my regular pursuit of perfection, I often will deliberate too long, delay the start of something new, or never do it at all. Women in particular are held to high societal standards in terms of how they should look, feel, and behave. I struggle with perfectionism and am constantly reminding myself that “perfect” doesn’t even exist. It’s a completely subjective standard depending on what you’re doing and who is deciding. So remembering this mantra daily pushes me to just get things done, even if they’re not “perfect”.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
● Michael Pollan — I would love to cook a meal together, made with local ingredients, and talk about the state of food and “nutritionism” in this country.
● Michelle Obama — Can we please continue what you started in the White House, with your organic garden and work towards putting healthier meals on the plates of schoolchildren across the country? What’s it going to take to take down the corporate interests that are dictating the foods that are sold and served in restaurants and groceries, that are bad for our health and bad for our planet?
● Dr. Mark Hyman — He’s one of the OG functional medicine doctors and I feel like he would be a big fan of Provenance if he tried us. How about lunch on us, Dr. Hyman?
● Padma Lakshmi — I had the honor of meeting her very briefly the other night after hearing her speak about her experiences as an immigrant, her love of food, and the roles women are expected to perform, in and out of the kitchen. I’d love to continue that conversation, mono a mono!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Instagram is where I’m at! Follow @provenancemeals to salivate over our delicious food photos and to get all the latest updates as we expand, and @caroll.lee where I show off my love of travel and scenes in the life of a busy wellness entrepreneur.
Thank you for all of these great insights!