COMMUNICATIONS & BUSINESS MANAGEMENT TO FOOD WRITER
Ann changed from working on a psychological research study at a university to following her passion in food writing. She talks me through recognising her negative discomfort, imposter syndrome and breaking the loop of asking the same life questions. Ann wanted a different answer to life when she left her university career, this is when she discovered her creativity and is now happily embracing the faster pace of life.
Ann Storr is a food writer and the Founder of StorrCupboard. StorrCupboard is an online platform full of inspiring recipes and food knowledge to help you use up your leftovers; the aim is to reduce food waste and save a bit of cash - win, win!
She frequently blogs, shares three recipe ideas each week and encourages her followers to reach out to chat about all things food waste. She is also happy to answer any weird and wacky (food waste related) questions. You may have seen StorrCupboard featured in the Evening Standard as well as Psychologies.
You will see snapshots of recipes that you can find on her blog through this article - I hope you enjoy!
Let us start with what you do.
I describe myself as a food waste writer. I help people through my blog to reduce their food waste at home. I also support myself financially through a variety of PR and content sales jobs, ideally in the food industry.
Where did you start out?
I worked at monster . com the summer that I left my undergraduate and throughout my postgraduate to support myself, and I hated it. I felt there was no broader purpose to the job and was poorly treated. This was my first experience of the workplace, apart from cafes and casual positions.
I wanted work that had a larger purpose than me, so that's why I started looking for work at non-profit organisations after studying. I ended up getting a job on a psychological study at a university in a small interdisciplinary department, where they focused on nature and nurture studies.
That sounds interesting, how did you come across that job?
I actually interviewed for a different job on another research study, which I didn’t get. They said they had a team that was a better fit who was hiring, and I got the job.
I was involved in communications and business management, but I was encouraged to learn and ask questions and interrogate what was happening in the study. There was a vast amount of science and maths involved in my job, and I’d always discounted science as being dull. I hated science at school, it was poorly taught and binary.
This wasn’t the case at the university, it was constant learning. The more I learned about the study, such as why we were looking at ageing and the effects of ageing, then I would be able to communicate that better to different audiences.
My job was to write communications and design presentations, I’d have to work out the content and decide on how to alter it for the audience. It would be one iteration for the scientific peers, and another iteration for the public. There would be another version for the newsletter to the participants of the study so it would include, for example, the researchers need a blood sample and the reasons why.
I learned through working at the university that the best science is creative. You can have a set of statistics in front of you and four people at the table can have a different perspective, and they're all valid. I learned a lot from that creative scientific process.
I loved learning. I was there for 11 years, and I did all my growing up there. I finished university, left home and bought my first property with my now ex, and had kids. I did struggle with the hierarchical structure that you find at a university, in particular, one of my bosses was quite a casual person and would get antsy with my casual responses back.
It was my level of involvement that kept me engaged, but at the same time, it was too rigid for me. I was always uncomfortable and not a positive discomfort.
How did you feel entering a job with no scientific background?
I had massive imposter syndrome, which I only realised a couple of years ago.
I always felt quite stupid. I knew that came from me rather than the university. I struggled to see the value of my contributions - it is only now I can see that my contributions were massive. I suppose my value correlated with the university pay grading; I was the least well-paid person on the team until the day I left.
I don’t think people realised the more significant components of my job. I would be helping people apply for money, and that was a very complicated process. I was hiring and firing and other aspects too. These people at the top were professorial, they didn’t see how complex my job was to take out all the bones and communicate what’s left. Sometimes they did, not all the time.
I did everything apart from interviewing the study participants, and on the smallest salary you could imagine. I was stuck in this loop, convincing myself that the work was engaging, management is supportive, and my kids are young. I was stuck.
How did you become unstuck to move on to the next things?
The university studies run on pots of funding and rounds of fieldwork, and there wasn’t going to be enough for another. I think they gave me a gentle shove because I was too scared to make that decision. I was already looking for different work outside and doing a bit of work in the food industry. I was putting out the feelers to move on, but I wasn’t quite earning enough.
I also spoke to the university before I left explaining the amount of work I did. I said the amount of salary I wanted for the amount of work and they said that it was never going to happen. I was underpaid, and we all knew it so we came to a mutual agreement that I should move on.
I got some work to tie us over so we could remortgage, by this time I had already started doing work with Riverford who I still get contract work from now.
Was food always an interest of yours on the side of working at the university?
It was when one of my brothers gave me a School of Life book called How to Find Fulfilling Work. He recommended it after he had used it himself and it was amazing. This was when I started realising that I was creative - I never thought of myself as a particularly creative person.
I would always look for a job that earns this much money, would allow me to do the school run and so on, which is what made me stay at the university. The book made me realise that if you keep asking the same questions, you’ll get the same answers, so I had to ask different questions.
There were activities in the book like, write a job description based upon yourself. What personal specification are you? What must your job have? Do you want to spend 50% of your time outside? What are the core things you are looking for?
Another thing was, where do you lose track of time? On one Sunday, as I was batch cooking my way through loads of random food for the week ahead - I had a long commute at that time, four days a week and needed to feed the kids - I realised that was where I lost time.
I would also tell anybody who would listen about how the Riverford vegetable box has changed my life. I had been a customer for about 6-years, it makes us eat more veg and saves us money. I thought, why don’t I get in touch with my old distributors to see if they have any work. I could go along to learn and help and I was willing to work for free. That’s when I found out that they are always looking for people to work weekends and do event work. It was ideal.
What would the work involve?
Standing in the middle of a field and selling subscriptions basically. I did my first event with them, and they remembered who I was. I did a day of sales with them, and it went so well that I was buzzing. It was also tiring but overall, excellent. It started as a few days here and there, and it turned into full-time work. That is how I got my first gig in the food industry.
How did you get into buying your food from Riverford?
I needed their supply boxes, and I connected with what they were doing for food waste and soil environment. That’s when I decided to send the email saying, do you need any help?
I still do work for them now!
How did StorrCupboard come about?
I had this previous blog, long since deleted, it was a bit about my virgin box and what I’d be planning for meals and other random thoughts. Around the same time, I went to a course at the School of Life about women’s confidence at work, and it was amazing.
They made me realise who I have around me. I’ve got a tight group of women from school, there are four of us. We were all doing separate businesses, and we said, why don’t we start talking about work together? So this is when we began peer-mentoring each other. One of the friends is brilliant with visuals, and she helped form my brand.
I also went on a course that got me thinking. If I had one grotty leftover, plus one other thing, could it equal a nice dish? I talked it through with my friend, and she agreed it would work. I then spoke about it with my sister-in-law, she works in magazines, and she was very supportive and offered her thoughts. She said if you do this and this and do it four times more regularly than I had planned, it could work.
It has been a slow process. I want to help people go through a shorter process that I did. I want to help people learn and to give them a handy tool.
What was your inspiration for starting?
My dad was a war baby and grew up under rationing until he was 16 - we did not waste food growing up.
I made it possible for my family to eat well because I had the time, the skills and bloody-mindedness to do it. I know it is possible for others too.
I can remember being at the supermarket with my brother and, this could have just been my perception, but I felt like he was looking at my shopping and thinking look at you buying all this organic food when you say you have no money. And I was looking at his shopping thinking I know you throw half of that food away.
Storr Cupboard is all about creating a tool that enables people to be less wasteful, more creative and have the confidence to use food in different ways. The work really engages me and provides something valuable back to the world.
Have you always been confident and creative with food?
I think it's developed over time. I would cook cakes and other bits on the weekend when I was younger. I have three older brothers so I would offer them my cakes, I quite liked that.
I remember one of my friends came over just before I left university with a picnic of pates, olives and sun-dried tomatoes. I had a panic thinking I’m not eating these foods; they were new to me. I realised once I left university that I needed to make the conscious decision to stop drinking Ribena and eating sweets.
I went from cooking the same few dishes when I went back to work after having my eldest child - we were eating the same old stuff and a lot of takeaway pizza. I thought if I get the vegetable box then maybe I’ll be inspired to cook something a different.
I think learning to be more confident with food has given me the freedom to be creative, and I want to give that to other people.
How do you structure your food schedule?
I have a meal plan, and I recommend people start with what they have got at home first and work outwards. This is the way you waste less food, save money, and you might find that you try something different.
It’s said that 23% of people in the UK are living in food insecurity, so a lot of people can't waste food. I try to keep recipes simple and avoid sophisticated ingredients as I want it to be for everyone.
What is your main inspiration for your recipes?
I should have a content plan for six months, but I really don’t. It’s just been Easter, and I wrote the blog on leftover chocolate based on a Sue Quinn recipe from Cocoa: An Exploration of Chocolate, with Recipes that was gifted to me.
I split up from my husband last year, and I also signed up to an online course at AllBright, now is the time in life that I feel more confident and happy doing the work I want to do and at my own pace. I don’t want a quiet life, so it was vital for me to structure my time.
Through doing the AllBright course, I realised I need to dedicate time to researching recipes because if I don’t, my content suffers. For instance, I restructured my time with one of my PR clients who are a charity. We would always have our conversations on a Friday, which isn’t the best day to be productive. We needed to start earlier in the week, so now those Friday afternoon’s are my research time. I sit down with my cookbooks and get thinking what season we are in and the seasonal produce and what new books are coming out.
Monday mornings are now the time I set out for business development, this is as a result of the AllBright course.
How have you found the realities of changing from a structured profession at the university to running your own business and consulting?
It’s interesting because it’s only been in the last 6-months or so I’ve realised that StorrCupboard can be my business. I used to think that I had to focus on my PR consulting. I want to be a full-time writer and have other work around my writing.
The change in the workload is huge, and you have to turn down social invitations and things you want to accept. If you want an easy life, it’s not necessarily for you, but this is where you get the fun experiences. I found myself in Rome as a guest of one of my favourite food writers, sitting on her terrace being fed. Also going to events and meeting these people who I would read about in the Guardian food pages. It is so worth it, but you need to be prepared for lots of bumps in the road.
I’ve talked to people who moved from the NHS or the BBC, and university who loved working there, but at the same time are possibly too creative for it. The most challenging part can be bringing yourself to leave.
I’ve found that doing things that interest me gives me a different perspective, even though my career has been quite disparate, it has given me a different voice.
Learning soft skills have been a huge part of it, which has led me to meet some exciting people. For example, I met this fantastic food stylist through messaging online. I bought her book about 4-years ago, and she also teaches a Guardian Masterclass which I went to - I loved them both. We started talking over Instagram and then she invited me around her house to hang out and take photos. It was amazing.
I’ve found it essential in food writing to be generous with credit, as there is no such thing as an original recipe. You can find a recipe you like, and you might change a few elements and write where you have adapted the recipe from. Instagram is how I’ve got to know quite a few people actually. I would mention a particular person in a post, and they would reach out and say thank you.
What was it like posting your first blog? How have you found putting your work out there?
The time I did my first blog was agony. I had put off doing it before because I was worried about looking stupid and people questioning the point and criticising my writing. I can remember being sat around my friend’s table, where we started doing our peer mentoring when I came out and said I want to be a writer. They were glad I finally said it, they already knew!
There were these quotes posted on Instagram saying, the old you would not give up without a fight. Another said, there’s no such thing as a small first step. These enabled me to step away from aiming for perfection. I would previously think if I hadn’t achieved something by a particular time, it was too late to try.
I had to realise that for most people this is a long steady process. I have learned to listen to when people compliment me as much as I listen to those negative comments. It takes courage to accept compliments, criticism and constructive criticism. It’s been tough - lots of highs and lows. I don’t know where I’m going to end up, but I know I am happier here than I was two years ago or even three years ago.
It’s the starting that is incredibly hard. I’ve been misreading nerves my whole life, I thought they meant that I’m no good as opposed to it learning that this is important to me. That was a lightbulb moment.
I used to have this image in my mind of a little seedling - you don’t put the seedlings straight out into the garden. You look after them, and you nurture them. If you have an idea and you think people are going to shit on your dreams, then just don’t tell them. Only talk to people in those first stages that are going to nurture you and nourish your dreams. I only told my three most trusted friends in the world because I knew they would support me.
Someone once told me that imposter syndrome will always be there. Every time you move up, it will hit you, but you need to expect it; that will help you to be resilient. It was liberating when I realised that fear and imposter syndrome will always be there. What is important is how I choose to interact with it and use it to my benefit. It is learning to be vulnerable.
What would your main piece of advice be to yourself before you started Storr Cupboard?
Save money, and that will allow you to breathe out a bit more. Also, trust your gut. I didn’t trust my gut for a very long time, and it led to some unhappy places.
Finally, I would say take a deep breath and just start. Talk to the people that you trust and will be kind because you will take on the world when you have a little army behind you.
Starting is scary, and everyone is afraid but find out how you can dip your toe in.
Thank you so much.