Anything But Salads was founded upon our co-founder, Calista's, personal journey through illness back to health, wellness and balance. Here she shares her journey and her inspiring story with you. We hope you feel as moved by her words as we do everyday when we work with her in our offices. 

I've been asked a lot... What is Anything But Salads (ABS) about? Why does it exist? What drives it? What does ABS stand for?

ABS is all about providing high quality functional health and superfoods to you. We're all about accessible and affordable health and synergistic ingredients. We think empowerment comes with choices and right now, the pickings are slim. But the usual elevator pitch aside, this is what, how and why ABS truly came about...

It's a story about a girl who was sick. Really sick.

That girl was ME.

I have always been into health and wellness. Truth be told, I was never a really skinny individual. I matured early - at age 11, I had the body of a woman. Since I come from an Indoneisan-Portugese-Chinese heritage, I had curves a normal Asian/Chinese teen would not. In my family's terms (who are strictly Asian in thinking and traditions), I was "fat".

Perhaps many of you can identify with this senseless Asian dilemma - if you're not skin & bones, you're "fat" and "need to lose weight". How many of you have heard those god awful labels? How many of you have experienced the unfair judging of your physical self? How many of you feel insecure as a result? 

I'll be the first to share, that I endured all of that. At some point in my life, I have been called "fat", "ugly", "fat bitch", "thunder thighs", "cholesterol bomb" etc etc. You name it, I've probably heard it.

In order to prevent such verbal abuse being flung my way, I became extremely conscious about my health and wellness. I watched how much I ate. I exercised. I lifted weights. I drank lots of water. I did everything everyone told me would work. I was disciplined. But where did that get me?

No where. If anything, it resulted in my having a tumour in my intestine at age 24.

Clearly, there was much more to health than just food quantity and exercise.

The year leading up to the discovery of the tumor was painful - in all senses. I sought conventional medicine for help. That was a HUGE mistake. Given standard medical protocol, which involves a symptomatic treatment elimination method, I was given a cocktail of medicines in various doses, throughout the one year. When things didn't get better, I was told by the doctors that I was "crazy" and that I was imagining symptoms and therefore, manifesting them in my physical self.

During that year, I couldn't eat without pain. I could not wear my clothes as I had a perpetual bloat in my tummy - I looked 3 months pregnant! Eventually, a scope revealed a tumor the size of a 2 inch sausage. It was positioned at the opening between my small and large intestine. It was removed and the doctor treating me had the gall to say "I suspected that from the get go". A test for cancerous cells revealed it was benign. I thanked God.

The years leading from that surgery involved an absolute new appreciation for foods. I could no longer stomach conventional, processed foods. I had to "eat clean". But I didn't know what "eat clean" meant. I was in UK at the time, and a visit from my childhood friend resulted in a trip to Saf, London's first raw food cafe at the time, and a gloriously painless meal. I was stoked. I finally found a cuisine I could eat.

Thus began my self-study into the world of nutrition, foods, food preparation methods, alternative medicine, detox, health and wellness. I juggled my final 2 years of law school with courses at Saf - it meant shuttling to and fro between Bristol and London on the weekends to get my culinary skills whilst memorizing or writing legal papers on the midnight train back.

At the time, I was in a 6-year relationship with my was-fiance. He was based in HK. I was to come back to HK post-graduation. I did. When I got back, I struggled with finding foods that I could digest. I struggled with eating healthy. There weren't many options except salads drenched in commercial dressings with canned foods. I spoke to my co-founder and best friend of 10 years, Noel, and asked if he would be my angel and start a health foods venture with me. Having seen my journey and experienced my pain vicariously through the sufferings I endured, he agreed. And so we began.

Now you know why our business is called "Anything But Salads". We were so sick of unhealthy salads masquerading as health foods. There was much education needed. We knew all people needed was the OPTION to eat better. But firstly, they needed options.

It was time to make a difference.

I gave up my career in law and threw myself wholly into entrepreneurship. Since then, there was no looking back.

ABS began as a snacks business. It was our primary vision. We knew we wanted portable health. We knew that lifestyle changes had to be simple and fitted easily into any lifestyle. Unfortunately, the market wasn't ready for healthy snacks. Instead, ABS received many requests for catering. So we took a detour and went into catering and pioneered the healthy meal delivery model in Hong Kong.

Personally, I went in blind. I didn't know what catering or meal deliveries entailed. All I knew was that people wanted healthier foods and I was determined to give it to them.  My life during the year of ABS catering was ridiculous. On hindsight, I don't know how I did it. I hardly slept (maybe 1-2 hours if I'm lucky); I was in the kitchen all day long. I ran deliveries myself. I came up with recipes myself. I managed inventory, PR, marketing and didn't have a life. I worked hard. The vision was greater than myself. I just wanted to do good.

As much as we were successful - I remember at one point, being booked out in full months solidly by customers who requested specifically tailored meals to suit and meet their personal health and wellness goals. I remember acting both as chef and nutritionist at some point. In other cases, I was part-therapist, part-friend, part-chef. My was-fiance warned me about burn out. I didn't care. I just wanted to do good.

As expected, I burnt out. The business as it stood, was unsustainable. I couldn't continue working myself to the bone. Something had to change. So we asked our customers what they would like to see. They said healthy snacks was something they wished was in the market - something they could grab and go in supermarkets anytime they wanted. They wanted foods they could trust in commercial stores. They wanted my original vision.

So Noel and I closed ABS for 3 months. The business went into restructuring. In August 2013, ABS reopened as a snacks manufacturing company. We came back with a stronger vision and a bigger mission.

This time, I didn't just want to revolutionise the way some people ate. I wanted to revolutionise the way the world ate.

Today, ABS is all about democratizing health foods. We're all about social change and social advancement through foods. We believe that everything begins at its roots. For us, that means food. For you, that means options.

THIS is the real story behind Anything But Salads. It is the tale of a girl struggling to live in a world of commercially processed non-foods. It is a tale of a girl struggling to eat right. It is a tale of a girl wanting to do good by others and to make a difference in the world. It is a tale of a girl who had amazing support and who believed in the greater vision and "jumped on the band wagon" with her.

These are some of the brave and selfless souls who are part of the success of Anything But Salads. Special Thanks to:

The Great Spirit - for giving me life, protecting me, watching over me and giving me strength. For being the wind behind my sails; the sun in my darkest hours.

My Spiritual Teachers - HH Dalai Lama, HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, HH Gyalwang Drukpa, HE Ayang Rinpoche , Ernesto Ortiz- Thank you all for inspiring me to be a better human being & for giving me guidance on how to run a company that is both balanced ethically & spiritually as well as financially.

Ernesto Ortiz - President of Journey To The Heart; spiritual master; enlightened one and spiritual advisor to ABS. Thank you for your unconditional and unceasing Love & Support and for being our Guiding Light. We love you.

Dad - For your love, advice and support in all that I do.

Noel Tuan - my business partner, best friend for life, occassional dishwasher, one-man cheerleading team and the strongest supporter of me, my goals and my abilities. Thank you for loving me.

Delon Tuan - my Chief of Ops and professional chef, brother-from-another-mother, who gave up his successful career in a 2-Michelin star restaurant in Finland to help us make our health foods business a dream come true

Christopher Wong - my Productions Manager and professional chef. Thank you for walking in that one morning and asking for a job. Thank you for being you, for your quriky-ness and your courage in trying new things and pursuing personal evolution constantly.

Justina Rosario & her team - Our PR lady and Marketing Team. Thank you for helping us grow ABS and reaching a wider audience. 

Jesse Smith - Creative genius & Serial entrepreneur. Thanks for all that you represent, for the energy & creativity you inject into our brainstorms and for all the fun we've had together. Onwards & Upwards!

Seema Bhatia - Co-founder of PranaYum. Thank you for your unconditional support and love; for the special heart-cooked meals and delicious Chai teas.

Leonard Cheung - Culinary boy genius and clock tower/abandoned bus climbing companion; also the person who brainstormed the name "Anything But Salads" with me. Culinary inspiration. Thank you for reminding me to rest.

Nathan Moy - a.k.a The Provoker; my soul sister.

Sandra Comer - for listening & believing in me. You helped change my life.

My Clients - Eva, Maria, Ivy, Queenie, Audrey, Michele, Dominic, Vanessa, Carmen & more - thank you for sticking with me through thick and thin and believing in me today. I offer you my deepest gratitude.

My spiritual family - for sharing yourselves with me and allowing me to share myself with you

Benjamin Lee - serial entrepreneur, business advisor.

Laura Torrabadella - my soul sister & founder of Ekotrade International. Thank you for you.

Ada & Denise from Jireh - Thank you BOTH for being my inspirations. Denise - you are the woman I admire and love. Ada - thank you for paving the way for wellness in Hong Kong and for being the warm, encouraging and motherly in all ways of your wonderful being.

The team at Something Fresh - for supporting our products and sticking with us in the initial start-up phase

Punam Chopra - Owner and founder of Spicebox Organics - thank you for believing in us and for your constant support and loveliness. I am blessed to know you.

Art & Shelley - for bringing me so much joy; and for giving me a chance to tell you all about ABS and my vision and for all the fun and laughter.

Chan Ti Eu - a.k.a DJ Funky T; for enriching my life with songs and crazy tunes

Joyce Marot - for sharing her clients with me and assisting in PR for my catering business; for teaching me life lessons

Gaia & Gus - my darling dogs. For keeping me company through the long and boring days of me working solidly at home; and for cheering me up with licks whenever I am down & for teaching me patience when you both destroy the house for fun. *laughs*

My biological family - for teaching me what kind of values I do not wish to have and for teaching me tenacity, courage, truth and honesty. For showing me how much more I can be and how much more I deserve. For showing me the kind of person I do not wish to be.

and to any of YOU, whom I've had the grace and pleasure to meet and know. Thank you for making me what I am today. Through assisting me with my growth and development, you too, have contributed to the burgeoning success that ABS is.

Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can change the world.

All we need is hope and belief. 

Because anything, and I mean anything, is possible as long as you believe in yourself and God.

Thank YOU for making Anything But Salads possible.




For more personal stories of our team, read HERE.