Every week, Nancy Chang ladles her nutrient-rich soups into glass jars that line the kitchen counter of her Oakland home. A bright green soup brims with broccoli, kale and celery, a golden cauliflower soup features lentils and turmeric, and beets blended with coconut milk and ginger create a striking magenta hue. Every Saturday, Chang packs up her jars and delivers them to residents in Berkeley, Oakland, and Richmond, with a mission to serve customers who are undergoing chemotherapy, facing other health challenges or just want a comforting homemade soup delivered to their door.
The goal of running a business making nourishing soups had been on the back burner of Chang’s brain for over 10 years. But her trepidation at the idea of becoming an independent entrepreneur made her try to forget the idea many times. Finally, earlier this year, Chang overcame her fears and started her own microenterprise home kitchen operation (MEHKO), Purpose and Hope.
The Oakland resident was inspired to start this business when her mother was diagnosed with cancer back in 2006. Chang saw the way her mother struggled to keep her weight up during treatments. First, she tried to eat hospital food, but eventually needed nutritional drinks like Ensure to get enough calories.
“I was feeling really helpless,” says Chang. “One day, a friend of my mom’s came by with some homemade soup. It gave her a spark of hopefulness that she could take care of her own body through food.” During her mother’s months of treatments, the two of them were part of a community of oncology patients and their caregivers in Houston, Texas. Chang, who was in her 20s, was struck by the generosity, kindness and unconditional love of the caregivers and patients sharing nutritious food with each other. “That was the first time I ever felt that food could be an inspiration,” she says.
“After I came up with my business idea,” Chang says, “terror tried to make me forget about it, but the idea kept following me.” She couldn’t shake the feeling that doing this was her life’s calling. Over the years, Chang took classes in nonprofit business and entrepreneurship and came up with a business plan at the Renaissance Center. She also studied holistic nutrition at Bauman College in Berkeley. Meanwhile, she worked at a series of corporate jobs, plus volunteered at food-related initiatives, such as Project Open Hand, The Charlotte Maxwell Clinic, Meals on Wheels, and at local churches where she helped prepare meals for unhoused people.
Chang credits her mentor at a three-month self-development program in 2017, Ali Jelveh, for supporting her exploration and encouraging her finally to follow her dream. He counseled her, “Just start and see if you can serve.” After she worked with him in a community service project (that did not have a food connection), Jelveh asked Chang, “If you could do anything, what would you do?” The answer was always a project to make comforting soups. Soon after, Chang connected with registered dietician Tinrin Chew, who has a certification in oncology nutrition. Chew confirmed that broth-based soups are most likely to provide the gut-health support that Chang was seeking, and agreed to review all her recipes.
Chang pursued the business in earnest after the pandemic began. Liba Falafel, where she’d worked at the front of the house, laid off all its employees and eventually shuttered, so Chang restructured her life to focus on Purpose and Hope. She crowdfunded $7,000 in startup costs, built a website, and launched Purpose and Hope with a private client in January. By March, the business was open to the public, and things picked up when she started getting referrals from health care professionals.
Meanwhile, even though California had passed AB 626 in 2018, which allowed MEHKOs to operate out of people’s homes, it was up to each county to approve it for their own residents. It wasn’t until July that Alameda County finally adopted the law. Chang was one of the first to sign up to have her kitchen inspected, and passed with flying colors.
Now she can officially make her soups in her Oakland kitchen. The soups feature organic beef and chicken bone broths that have been simmered for 24 hours (which she purchases from another vendor) as well as a vegan mineral broth she makes herself, with seven vegetables, seaweed, herbs, and spices. Chang sources produce, such as mushrooms and seaweed, from local farms, and uses reusable containers.
A frequent Purpose and Hope customer, Nina Flyer of Oakland, started ordering soups from Chang a few months ago after they met in a dog park. She didn’t have a health condition at the time but found the soups to be “delicious, and so filling they are like a dinner.” Recently, after Flyer had shoulder surgery, and cooking became difficult, having her favorite soups (triple mushroom and fennel, and maitake and sunchoke) delivered was exactly what she needed.
John Reykjalin, a Berkeley resident and cancer survivor, noticed her card at his acupuncturist’s office. “I am blown away by her hand-crafted soups,” he said. “The Cordyceps Burdock Root Miso is unusual, with a taste that lets you know you are eating something nutritionally jam-packed.”
A video on her website is somewhat aspirational, as it shows several people helping her make the soups, while right now, it is just Chang. But as she grows her business, she hopes to hire workers who are dealing with life challenges such as barriers to employment and housing. An additional way Chang gives back to the community is with her Soup Sponsor program. Donors can support her efforts to provide free soups to low-income women who have been diagnosed with cancer, in partnership with the Charlotte Maxwell Clinic.
Kim Wu, an acupuncturist and doctor of Chinese Medicine, has been recommending Chang’s soups to clients and friends, either postpartum or recovering from illness. “One gentleman, for example,” she said, “was diagnosed with colon cancer, and needed to be on a liquid diet prior to surgery.”
Recently, Wu was feeling under the weather and ordered some of Chang’s soups for herself. “In Chinese medicine,” she said, “certain foods, such as mushrooms are considered adaptogens, and have healing properties. Her golden milk powder (with turmeric and spices) is also anti-inflammatory.” Wu is just as impressed by Chang’s community focus as she is by her delicious soup. “Chang is a wonderful, kind human, whose mission is to serve others.”
You can order Purpose and Hope soups through its website. Orders are prepared every Thursday and Friday, and are delivered to customers in Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond and other nearby areas every Saturday. For same-week delivery, orders must be placed before midnight on Tuesday.