Jamie Fox – The Greedy Fox
Written by Kate Williams
In life, we are surrounded by an array of people who bravely face diversity, giving it a good kick along the way, for good measure. In my job as a journalist, I am lucky enough to meet with folk like this, whom I admire and am inspired by, and I feel honoured to be in a position to tell their story.
In my debut for Grow, I get to tell one such story of one such person whose dream career was dashed following a serious health problem. But, instead of giving up, he has faced his issues full-throttle and, in doing so, launched a successful business as well as improving his health…
At 30, Jamie Fox had thrown himself into pursuing a lifelong dream to become a trained chef. Long days of working in dull warehouses were behind him as he embraced his new-found career, landing himself an impressive role at Plymouth’s River Cottage Canteen. What happened to Jamie after that though was unexpected and life-changing but the father-of-two has managed to turn his life around. Again.
“After working for years in warehouse environments, I was made redundant and decided to follow my dream of becoming a chef. From the moment I started at college, I knew I was doing the right thing, food is my absolute passion,” Jamie explains.
“The plan was to move to Devon [from Bristol] once qualified. I was offered a job at Nathan Outlaws restaurant in Rock initially, but trying to find suitable accommodation in Cornwall for myself and family proved very difficult and Devon was where our heart was.
By chance we were at The Royal William Yard in Plymouth and spoke to the head chef opening River Cottage, was offered an interview and got the job.”
But six months into the job, Jamie’s dream was shattered when he was diagnosed with the life-limiting disease, Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
“A few months into my employment I began to have serious vision problems, now known to be optic neuritis – one of the symptoms of MS, where I experienced double vision. This would come in bouts lasting anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
“I also began to experience debilitating headaches and severe fatigue as well as difficulty in using my right hand. It became impossible to do my job. I was referred from an optician to the hospital and, after a number of tests, MRI scans and a lumbar puncture, a consultant confirmed I had Multiple Sclerosis.
“To be honest, we had no idea what MS was. Essentially, it effects your nervous system, so anything that has a nerve attached to it! Some days it’ll be my eyes, other days my legs or my hands just don’t work properly. There are days when I just have such extreme fatigue that I literally feel empty.
“We had dreamed and planned of a life in Devon with our children and developing my career as a chef and it felt like it had all been taken away from us. I think when you are diagnosed with a life-altering condition, you go through a period of grief for the life you ‘should’ have had.
“I felt down as I could not provide for my family, we had a newborn baby and a little girl. I was placed on so many medications that I lost all love for life and my passion for food.
“My lack of movement and side effects of drugs meant I put on five stone and the medication left me with a permanently cloudy head. For a time, I very rarely left the house.
“I knew that working for someone else was never going to work in the future because of the unpredictable nature of MS, I would constantly be letting people down and the thought of never working again sent me into a further depression.
“But a couple of years ago, I made the decision that I could no longer let his control my life. With two little rugrats on the loose, it’s just not an option.
“Two years after my diagnosis and having had to stop work as a chef, life became very dark. Rather than living I was just existing. Realising my body couldn’t sustain the rigours of full-time work and with the unpredictability of my MS, I really needed an outlet, a daily focus you find through work. It was then I really started thinking and wanting to do something I could work with my MS.
One night, Jamie was awake searching the internet for alternative treatments for MS and diet continually came to the forefront.
“There was so much conflicting information about different diets, most of which you had to subscribe to or pay for. I then came across the OMS diet, this one was not for profit. It essentially means living a vegan diet and cutting out all processed foods. I could no longer just exist I needed to start living again so I gave it a go.
“It was at this point I made a decision, I needed to get my life back. I decided overnight to stop taking the medication – which, knowing what I know now, I would strongly advise you see your doctor first – and manage my MS through diet alone. So I started cooking again.
“Initially, the energy boost and the way eating this way made me feel was incredible, I felt like a new man and slowly weaned myself off the 15 medications I was on.
“After a month or so, I found it quite difficult to sustain the diet. Eating healthy was obviously doing my body so much good but it wasn’t sustainable for me, so I started seasoning my food and ended up with little seasoning mixes in our cupboard that I had made. And The Greedy Fox was born.”
Anyone who has dieted – and let’s face it, that’s the majority of us – will understand it is the repetition that is the downfall. This is exactly what Jamie has managed to combat.
“Food can get pretty bland and pretty boring very quickly and this needed to be a change for life for me so I began to create seasonings to not just create flavour but for ease of use, reducing the time spent in the kitchen. It brought back my passion for food but for life too.
“Before starting The Greedy Fox, I had never seriously considered starting my own business, it was always a sort of pipe dream, something I always thought would never really materialise.”
Using no ‘hidden nasties’, The Greedy Fox now has a selection of flavours in the range with special merchandise in the pipeline. In essence, what Jamie created was a multiple-use meal kit with each pouch of flavour lasting for four-to-five meals without being tied to just one recipe. The website supplies over 100 recipes, all suggestions to accompany the flavours.
Jamie reflects on the ups and downs of, not only running a business, but doing it whilst suffering with a debilitating illness.
“Undoubtedly, the toughest part of running my own business is never knowing what daily obstacles MS will throw at me. This makes planning for the immediate future very difficult. Days spent in bed are days usually spent researching recipe ideas,” he explains.
“Hearing positive feedback though, from my personal story, is always the nicest part of my day. Obviously, seeing and hearing people using The Greedy Fox seasonings to create either my little recipes or free-styling and creating their own is amazing and something that makes me so proud.
“In the future, I would love to become involved in education around food and nutrition and it’s something, as a business, we are looking to become involved with over the next 12 months and beyond. We would also like to add more retailers our ever-growing brand.”
So many people in this world are dealt a rough hand but the ones, like Jamie, who fight back with gumption and discernment are the real treasures in our society.
“The Greedy Fox will always mean much more to me and my family than a business. It has given me back my life, a purpose and my pride,” Jamie says.
“Using food to manage my MS has given me back control of my illness. I am no longer controlled by doctors and medicines. Most of all, it gives me an opportunity to show my kids that no matter what life throws at you, you should get back up, be grateful for what you have and turn the bad stuff into positive stuff.
“It also means I am able to teach my children the value of working. I never wanted them to be asked what daddy does and for them to say, ‘Oh, he’s poorly.’ Now, when they are asked they say, ’My Daddy runs his own business.’ I work day-in-day-out in the business with my wife, Gemma.
“The MS could have broken many but it has only made us stronger. There are, of course, days when I need to listen to my body and rest, and there are parts of my life I have to adjust as my body doesn’t always do what its meant to do. There is no cure for MS but at least now I have my life back.”