Joseph Dunaway ’12 on food as a tool for wellbeing

man standing against a brick wall

How do we balance all the ever-growing responsibilities of a busy life and still preserve sanity? This question, asked by thousands running on sleepless nights and too many coffee cups, is one no one seems to be able to answer. Life often seems impossibly unmanageable.

Joseph Dunaway, ’12 Syracuse alum and founder of Knifehand Nutrition, a plant-based meal delivery service,  found his answer for sanity through stress in cultivating health. During a time in his life when he was battling with overwhelming responsibilities, he found that taking care of himself through nourishing food and exercise made him mentally sharp and focused- able to tackle anything.

Dunaway, who graduated Syracuse with a degree in accounting, entrepreneurship, and management in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, is no stranger to managing hard work and intense responsibilities. When Dunaway first enrolled in Syracuse, he was an active duty Marine. In fall 2008 Dunaway received orders to be deployed in Iraq, withdrew from his classes, and lost over a year of classes. That same fall he married his girlfriend and became a father.

When Dunaway returned to Syracuse in late 2009, he was faced with the task of managing an immense array of responsibilities — parenting, getting a degree, his marriage, and more. “Being deployed magnified what was important: family, people, and connections. It was very clear that I wasn’t just going to school to take a couple of classes, but I had to help take care of my family and treated school as a fulltime job.”

Dunaway threw himself into his work and earned his degree through the realization that his capacity to care for those he loved depended on his success in school and ability to create a career for himself. His path was filled with obstacles: he went through a divorce that left him a single father and had to build his success on his own while co-parenting his two children.

Yet he graduated Syracuse and has since forged a remarkable successful career in accounting. 

When looking at Dunaway’s success, how did he balance the amount of stress and responsibilities in his life? How does one study diligently in school and forge a career while raising and caring for a family?

For Dunaway, the solution was maintenance of his physical health. “I put the blinders on and focused on what was important and what would help me better manage this stress. Going to the gym and eating healthy had a significant impact on my performance on work.”

Dunaway became a diligent gym-goer and started prepping healthy meals for himself fuel his energy and stay mentally focused.  When his friends saw how well he was managing under intense amounts of stress, they asked him to help them become just as healthy and learn how to effectively manage stress.

Dunaway started a small business preparing healthy, energizing meals for his friends at home in his kitchen. Delighted by the ease of a prepped meal and energy they gave to fuel their workouts and responsibilities; friends began recommending Dunaway until he was swamped with requests for his prepped meals.

Dunaway decided to turn his small side business into a full company and created Knifehand Nutrition. He first started going to the CNY Regional Farmer’s Market to sell his meals on the weekend, until his business grew so much in popularity that he decided to pivot his business model to be one that directly delivered to the consumer. This past year, Knifehand Nutrition reinvented itself into a food delivery service much like Uber Eats but with nutritious everyday meals engineered for mental focus and energy.

Now, Knifehand Nutrition has grown to partner with a restaurant consultant to make delicious meals tailored for training, recovery, or competing.  He has taken on several employees and is currently looking to hire a Digital Marketing Intern. The company’s success has been driven by Dunaway’s relentless hard work and passion to help others around him achieve the same success he has. “I asked myself what I wake up wanting to do: inspiring people and giving them the tools to do what they wanted.“

Dunaway is, as he himself stated, the “poster-child” for his company. His legacy of balancing military duties, completing school, raising children, and forging a successful career is an astonishing picture of the human capacity for handling intense stress and responsibilities. Knifehand Nutrition is a company he created to help individuals manage their own stress through diligent care of their physical health so they can focus and give themselves to what’s important.

Meet Dunaway at the Syracuse University Hult Prize competition, where he will be a judge on December 4.

Interested in adding to Knifehand Nutrition’s mission to help others harness their most successful life? Apply to the Digital Marketing Internship here and keep up with its work on LinkedIn here.

Story by LaunchPad Global Media Fellow Claire Howard ’23; photo supplied