This week I chatted to the brilliant entrepreneur Daisy Breakell (she/her). We talked about her business Dishes By Daisy, her advice on starting a business, and toxic language surrounding food. Dishes by Daisy boxes are now available to order online. You can get a selection of delicious baked goods, including New York style chocolate cookies, chocolate muffins, and a selection of incredible brownies. Daisy told me that while brownies are her favourite desert, the “cookies have been really popular, they’re very thick and chewy and absolutely stuffed with chocolate!” Her website also includes recipes, including a vegan blueberry loaf, cinnamon roll bread-and-butter pudding, and her infamous chocolate brownies. I started following Dishes By Daisy on Instagram last summer, after trying out her banana bread recipe, which was absolutely delicious.
Daisy is 22 and in her final year at Exeter, studying English. With 18,000 followers on Instagram, and over 400,000 on tiktok, Daisy describes this degree of support as “surreal”. We discuss, however, the way in which online baking can be both a joy and a challenge as she faces fat-phobic, ignorant comments about her food. Daisy and I despaired together about some of the comments she receives, but she maintains, “I’m going to eat whatever I want no matter what strangers online say”. A positive, joyful attitude towards food is a key element of Daisy’s business.
Daisy began her Instagram account (@dishesbydaisy) just over a year ago. She said initially it was “in a way just something to do during lockdown, I love cooking and I wanted to improve”. Daisy told me how it amazed her that the account catapulted from a few hundred followers to about 5,000 in the first month. “Remember how in the first lockdown we suddenly had a shortage of flour? I think everyone was rediscovering or getting into baking, and I feel so lucky people became interested in what I was making. Without that first lockdown I may never have found this, and so I’m grateful that I found something good in what was and is such a difficult time”. Daisy reminded me in our conversation of the amazing support for small businesses that has emerged over the last year, and the promotion of “shopping small” and locally,“supermarkets will be fine, but its small businesses who really need help, and I think it’s so great that we’ve seen this movement of support.”
I asked Daisy if she had grown up baking, she remembered baking with her grandma, but only really finding the freedom in cooking when she started university, before which – she laughed – it was mostly just pasta. Despite being such a brilliant baker now, things can still go wrong: “a few months ago I tried to make red velvet brownies and they were the most disgusting things! They looked like omelettes! It is so hit and miss – all the recipes for the things I sell I know off by heart, but when trying new things, I would really recommend following the recipe exactly!” I admitted to Daisy that I myself have been known to take the throw-it-all-in method, and admittedly that leads to varied results… Daisy is currently experimenting with vegan and gluten free baking, she told me, “I wouldn’t want to ever sell anything that I wouldn’t want to eat, I don’t want to let people down on taste – I hope to get it right, so that you can’t even taste the difference.”
I asked Daisy about her experiences as a woman on social media, working with food, and the kind of toxic comments she receives. She said, “it is not so much about how it affects me, but I do really worry about what kind of comments my followers might see. A fair amount of my audience are in recovery from eating disorders, and are trying to relearn to how to approach their relationships to food. It’s on tiktok mostly that people say really damaging things. It’s hard because I don’t want to make it impossible for people to comment about recipes, and mostly people want to say lovely things. But I don’t know how to ensure the safety of my followers from comments which could be triggering.”
Trolls on social media loom the threat of being “fat” and “unhealthy” over Daisy’s posts. “Toxic diet culture and obsession over calories mean people think they should criticize my food because they think it’s “unhealthy” and make all kinds of claims that if I carry on I’ll get terrible illnesses, which is just completely untrue and not based in science at all”. We talked about how being a woman accentuates this hostile attitude, “I see men do these eating challenges and get praised, if women did some of these food challenges the world would go mad!” There is an account on tiktok, Daisy tells me (without naming any names) which is very similar to Daisy’s but run by a man, and his comment section focuses only on praising the food, not criticising the perceived “(un)healthiness”.
“It’s all based on appearance”, Daisy tells me, “I get comments like: “be careful you don’t get fat” or “its only ok for you to eat like this because you’re not fat”. I just know that if I was bigger these comments I would be far more aggressive. I think we are starting to learn though, and there is the Health at Every Size Movement, we’re getting that size is not an indicator of health, and how you look is not a direct reflection of what you eat.”
It was fascinating in talking to Daisy, in revealing how the culture of fat-phobia is so tangled up with selling, buying, and eating baked goods. “I have to be careful about how I frame my own relationship with food, and be really thoughtful about how to talk about it. I am much more conscious about the negative framing of food in phrases like “I’ve been really greedy today””. Daisy and I both cringed at the marketing of foods as “guilty pleasures” or “sinful”: “There shouldn’t be negative words around certain foods – people think all carbs are bad, but different people need different things for their bodies and one rule does fit all.”
I asked Daisy what advice she’d give to anyone starting out a business: “Research! Research absolutely everything, it might sound boring, but you have to get sorted your costing and spreadsheets, get your hygiene certificates if it’s a food business, talk to the local council – just cover all your bases.” Daisy has been certified by the Food Standards Agency for food allergy and intolerance assessment and traceability. “Don’t be afraid to haggle down prices to find the best option, and ask people for feedback on products – find out what they actually want.” Daisy herself has had to learn that it is an investment starting a business. “It is going to take a while to break even and then to make a profit, but I want to make sure I’m using high quality ingredients andrecyclable packaging, and these are things I would never cut corners on.”
Brands have approached Daisy about sponsorships and partnerships, but she tells me, “big companies can sometimes be ridiculous, and I’ve learnt that I don’t have to say yes when they offer me a product worth only a few pounds in exchange for hours of my time and work. I really like partnering with independent businesses whose products I actually like, and I wouldn’t expect them to pay me. For example, No Chocolate, a woman who handmakes vegan chocolate, who was one of my first collaborations.”
In the future, Daisy told me, she hopes to supply wholesale to cafés, and she is already in conversation with cafes locally, and back in her hometown, as well as exciting possibilities that she had to keep under wraps – so keep your eyes out for things to come!
Daisy’s Instagram recommendations:
- Another Exeter student: @foodandfitnesswithkat
- @_nelly_london a body-positivity account and more!
Check out Dishes By Daisy:
- Instagram @dishesbydaisy
- Tiktok: @dishesbydaisy