Gabrielle Lorenzi pours a thick, homemade smoothie into a bowl almost every morning before adorning the beverage with a variety of colorful fruits.
Before indulging in her creation, though, she snaps a picture to post on her “foodstagram.”
Lorenzi created her Instagram account @yesletseat her junior year of high school as a way to share original vegan recipes and meals with friends and family. Two years later, the rising second-year applied mathematics student has garnered over 4,000 followers and regularly receives partnership requests and free products from food companies worldwide such as Nature Restore and Emmy’s Organics. Despite her account’s growth, Lorenzi said she is dedicated to holding onto her authenticity by only posting food she genuinely likes and said she looks at her account as purely a hobby right now despite its promising economic potential.
Posts about her diet, fitness and personal life can also be found on her blog of the same name and her YouTube account, but her Instagram remains the most popular. Lorenzi said she attributes her Instagram’s popularity to the personal updates she includes as a way to relate more to her audience.
“Sometimes I find myself trying to get a photo of every meal and it gets a bit obsessive so that’s when I try to draw back,” Lorenzi said. “I think I’ve found a healthy and normal amount for me, and I can find the time to enjoy my meal without trying to photograph it.”
A scroll through Lorenzi’s Instagram feed, which she updates three to five times a week, is filled with a variety of decorated acai bowls, brightly colored smoothies and vegan-friendly restaurants across Los Angeles, such as Pressed Juicery and Cafe Gratitude. Photos of her dining hall meals, particularly the salads she makes at Bruin Plate, also make frequent appearances on her feed.
Fellow UCLA vegans enjoy following vegan foodstagrammers such as Lorenzi to motivate themselves to stick with their veganism, said Gabriela Gutierrez, a rising third-year human biology and society student. Gutierrez, who transitioned to veganism her first year of college, would often search other UCLA vegans on Instagram to see how they stuck to their diet while on the dining hall meal plans.
“It’s hard to stick to a vegan diet, especially at the beginning, so seeing different ways to put together filling meals has been really helpful to me sticking to my veganism,” Gutierrez said.
Lorenzi’s high school cross country coach, who had each player track their performance based on eating habits, prompted her vegan diet. She saw immediate results in her energy levels, dermatological health and her running performance, she said, which inspired @yesletseat’s inception, she said.
“Friends would always ask me for my (vegan) recipes and family members always wanted to know what I was up to, so it seemed like the perfect idea to just post everything on one consolidated site,” Lorenzi said.
Lorenzi is not the only one sharing her vegan lifestyle with an online audience. Fellow UCLA students Anna Rooke and Alyssa Martinez, both rising fourth-year psychology students, run their own plant-based food accounts: @gratitudeandfood and @blissfullybeaming, respectively. Rooke said seeing people’s healthy meals on her Instagram feed in the morning inspires her to keep to a clean diet for the rest of the day.
However, Martinez said it’s easy for Instagram food influencers to become inauthentic, posting photos solely for its aesthetic appeal or for economic incentives provided by food companies.
“You can easily see that people post things they aren’t actually eating,” Rooke said. “I’ve seen oatmeal bowls on my feed with huge hunks of almond butter piled on – like I know you’re not eating that, it’s not realistic.”
Rooke and Martinez both said Lorenzi’s authenticity makes her account different from other health food accounts. Martinez said she appreciates that Lorenzi’s doesn’t just post pictures of her food, but also posts in-depth personal updates, making herself come off as more relatable. From venting about school-induced stress to expressing appreciation for friends and family, Lorenzi said she finds joy in sharing intimate thoughts with her followers.
“There can be a lot of inauthenticity,” Lorenzi said. “I have a relatively small following, but people still have an impact with what they’re posting – you never know what kind of power your words have until you put them out there.”
Martinez said she thinks Lorenzi’s authenticity has allowed her grow her following naturally. Other Instagrammers often inundate their posts with distracting captions, which can be a turnoff for followers, she said.
Lorenzi, on the other hand, said she owes some of her account’s growth spurts in part to Instagram’s own algorithms, such as its explore page, which enables nonfollowers to find her photos, and its live stories feature, which allows her to become more personable with more frequent updates. In her live stories, she spans a wide range of topics, such as showing off thrift store finds to demonstrating quick smoothie recipes.
“You can find growth without investing money in it, which is the power that Instagram has nowadays,” Lorenzi said. “People can just post pictures of their breakfast every morning and somehow you can accumulate 100,000 (followers) in a week.”
Lorenzi said she has no current plan on pursuing it more seriously than just a hobby, though. She instead hopes to pursue a career involving data analysis in the future, with dreams of opening up her own juice bar after retiring from a 9-5 job.
“My life with Instagram shouldn’t be any different than the way it was before,” she said. “At the end of the day, it all comes back to balance and reminding yourself to make healthy decisions.”