My name is Kristy O’Connor. Growing up, my family was always conscious of what we put into our bodies. My dad always said, “Not everything you can eat is food”. There are so many illnesses around us today and it seems like everyday a new illness shows up. It’s getting worse. Imagine diseases like liver cancer and diabetes are affecting our children. Not so long ago, it was only older folks who got strokes and heart attacks, but nowadays, it is so prevalent among young people. It is truly scary. I believe that most of the diseases are related to our lifestyles and particularly the “foods” we choose to put in our bodies. At the Health Cottage Whole Foods store, we provide everything one would need to lead a healthy lifestyle. From supplements to organic produce and a wide range of whole foods, we have everything to nourish the body at every stage of life.
How did you get started in the Health Industry?
Getting into the industry was a bit of a surprise for me. I am a professional chef and though as a chef my focus has always been on clean healthy eating, I thought that my first business venture would naturally be a restaurant. It wasn’t until my grandfather had a stroke that I seriously started looking into wholefoods in a big way. I started preparing meals for him that were specifically targeted to help with his particular health complications. Along with my mom, I also started giving him natural supplements to strengthen his body. I believe this is what prolonged his life because the traditional doctors were saying that he had little time left when he first had the stroke, However, my grandfather lived for years after.
What is your philosophy on health?
My philosophy on health is a simple one. In the words of a wise man, “Let food be Your medicine and let medicine be your food”. I believe this to the core of my being. I suffered with PCOS for a long time and I tried many of the prescription drugs out there which are give to treat the problem. They never worked, for that matter, they made the problem worse. I believe that the issue with prescription drugs is that most of the time they only treat the symptoms of the medical issue as opposed to curing the medical issue. As a matter of a fact, doctors will tell you that certain diseases have no cure. I was 15 years old when I was told that PCOS has no cure and that I would have to live with the pain. Well I’m here to say today, that it does have a cure. The cure is eating right. Now I’m not saying that doctors and pharmaceuticals don’t have a place because they do help people, what I am saying is that we are eating ourselves sick and then turning to medications that can only do so much. I don’t promote any particular diet but I do promote staying away from processed, sugary and greasy items and choosing to commit to taking responsibility for our health and the health of our children, who look to us for guidance and protection (even protection from lifestyle diseases).
Why did you choose to open a health-focused business in Sangre Grande?
Sangre Grande will always have a special place in my heart. It’s where I grew up. My intention was to bring something different to the people of Sangre Grande. We have health food stores in areas such as South Trinidad and Port-of-Spain. Before I had the store, if I needed something from a health-focused store I would have to go as far as Maraval to get it. I know that Sangre Grande is a bit far from everything. I really wanted to offer people something they never had before and allow them the option of having something like this in the community.
How has a store like this impacted on the community?
I have been overwhelmed with the responses I’ve gotten since the store opened. At first people came slowly. They didn’t know we were here and exactly what we are about and what we offer. People would pass by the store and look but not venture inside. After a little while however, curiosity got the better of them and people started coming in more and more. People would come in and not buy anything and then a few days later they would come back with three friends and buy a whole bunch of stuff. I cannot tell you how wonderful it makes me feel when my customers tell me how a product I recommend has helped them. We have an on-staff nutritionist and other advisors who help guide our customers to what is best for their particular needs, we also work with the advice and guidance of medical doctors for special cases.
What plans do you have for the future?
My hope is that the Health Cottage Whole Foods Store will grow in Trinidad and throughout the Caribbean. Soon, I hope to launch a catering branch of the company. With the help of our nutritionist I plan to give customers the opportunity to have daily meals delivered to them. Good health food and snacks, straight to your home or office. If you don’t have the time to cook healthy dinners or make healthy snacks for yourself and/or your children, we will do it for you. I would also like to launch a healthy eating school initiative. My heart breaks to see how our children are taught to eat. I would love to be a part of educating them and helping to open their minds as to what is the right way to eat. I would love to be a part of teaching them that healthy doesn’t mean that it has to taste bad. Apart for those goals, I also hope to work more closely with local farmers. We deliver fresh organic produce, milk and eggs to our customers in Trinidad right now. I would love to expand to Tobago in the near future. I have so many plans including a yearly health convention where I intend to invite international speakers to talk on the benefits of whole food eating. I intend to showcase our local organic farmers and other local organic products at the convention. Boy, do I have plans! I believe Trinidad needs a change in the way we see food. People are dying from lifestyle diseases at a rapid rate and I feel burdened to help.
What gives you the most fulfilment from your profession?
The most fulfilment comes from seeing my customers happy. When someone comes to us sick (and people come with all kinds of illnesses), and say that he or she has tried everything and is about to give up hope, I would consult with my team and give the customer an action plan. Many times that person would return in a week or two to thank us, talking about how he or she is feeling better, and of course, wants to get more stuff from us to continue healing. It makes me happy that I’m making a difference in whatever little way I can. I honestly wish I could do more. All in all, I love my job and the passion I have to help people is what drives me to keep reaching for the stars.