Q&A with Phoebe Lapine, Creator of Feed Me Phoebe
Meet the Natural Gourmet Institute's former Food Blogging Certificate program instructor.
Phoebe Lapine is one of those enviable people whose talent is undeniable. In her early 20s, she co-authored "In the Small Kitchen: 100 Recipes from Our Year of Cooking in the Real World," a cookbook for quarter-life cooks on a budget. She's also the creator, author and photographer of Feed Me Phoebe, a blog where she shares recipes for healthy gluten-free comfort food or what Phoebe refers to as "healthy hedonism."
In September 2013, Feed Me Phoebe was recognized by Food & Wine magazine as part of their first annual Digital Awards. She is also a regular contributor to Mind Body Green, Huffington Post, Food52, Kitchen Daily and Yahoo Health. The Natural Gourmet Institute chose her as the instructor to teach its Food Blogging Certificate Program. Read on to learn more about Phoebe and her food blogging career.
How did you initially become interested in food and cooking?
My mother was an OG crazy health nut, and also a wonderful cook. Before Whole Foods popularized a lot of niche ingredients, she was feeding me bowls of millet instead of Easy Mac. I was mostly resentful about this growing up. But eventually, in college, all that quinoa caught up with me. That’s when I really started cooking for myself and getting creative with the limited resources at my disposal. My first year out of college, I found myself seriously lacking in the social nourishment I had become so reliant on when my friends all lived on the same smelly hallway. So despite my one foot of kitchen counter space and entry-level salary, I started squeezing swaths of friends into my tiny NYC apartment and feeding them the few things that my budget and skill level allowed. My first blog and cookbook were born out of this ramshackle entertaining.
How did you conceptualize your blog, Feed Me Phoebe?
I started Feed Me Phoebe after my personal health journey diverged from the small kitchen angle. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and told that I had a serious sensitivity to gluten that perpetuated my symptoms (which included being clinically malnourished). I didn’t necessarily set out to create a blog about health and wellness, but as I tried to reconcile my new life of restriction with my old life of being a chef-y omnivore, I knew that there had to be other people out there who wanted health food that still hit all those comfort notes.
Feed Me Phoebe reflects much of your personal life, focusing on feeling good about your body and your food while embracing a balanced diet. How did your personal experiences help develop the branding of your blog?
At first, I really stuck to my comfort zone on the site, which was narrative-driven recipes. But behind the scenes I was battling all these heath issues that were completely affecting the lens through which I saw, consumed and created food. I was very wary of giving my readers content around gut bacteria when they had innocently come to the site for a beautiful stack of gluten-free carrot cake pancakes. So I began by just doing a Wellness Wednesday interview series on Google Hangout. It was low risk and low investment time-wise on my end. And I figured I would test the waters and start slowly seeding this type of content. Offline, I was using the advice from those interviews to design a year-long wellness odyssey for myself. And once I had the bones, and was lucky enough to find someone to pay me to write a book about it, I felt confident in launching The Wellness Project on the site. I was immediately overwhelmed by the support of my audience. As it turns out, people who like healthy food also like real talk about health – who knew?
Where do you find inspiration for your recipes?
A number of places. I will totally admit to being basic and finding much inspiration via my Pinterest boards. But a lot of it comes just from eating out in the world. I love to travel, and many of my recipes are influenced by the places I’ve been, regardless of whether or not my reinterpretations are authentic.
What gave you the confidence to leave your day job to take up blogging full-time? How did you know it was time to move on?
I got a book deal! It was a first time author’s advance, so not even close to being enough to live off of. And it being the height of the recession, my parents were much more skeptical of this decision. But I knew if I worked my butt off that I could cobble together a career in food. And thanks to the 100-person cocktail parties I catered using just my studio apartment kitchen, and the baking classes I taught to 9-year-olds, in addition to 101 other gigs, I made it work.
What has been your biggest challenge as a food blogger?
The constantly shifting landscape of the world wide web! When I started blogging in the fall of 2008, Pinterest and Instagram didn’t even exist. Today, people have become so reliant on social media platforms to build a blog audience and get eyeballs on new content. But ultimately those platforms are not your own. Just when you think you’ve cracked the code, The Man over at [insert startup here] goes and changes its algorithm. The second biggest challenge is working alone. There are many days that I miss the comradery of an office environment, and when you’re working in a kitchen half the day, it makes a co-working situation seem frivolous.
In addition to your blog, you wrote a cookbook, are working on a memoir, and contribute to various media. How do you find balance in all these projects?
Oy, forever trying. I rely heavily on my virtual assistant, Google Calendar, and schedule the crap out of my days. Not just meetings – but I find it even more important to block off time for creative projects. My latest book, which has forced me into a completely different writing gear than I’m used to, has been a real struggle. I try to change up my environment and go to a coffee shop when I’m working on the book so I don’t start procrastinating with the ingredients in my kitchen.
What is the best advice you have for someone who is just starting their food blog?
Per the above, focus the majority of your energy on your blog and make it the center of your online universe. I’ve seen plenty of people who become Instagram celebrities overnight. And you’re definitely not going to access that kind of virility if you don’t leave your virtual Wordpress home every now and then to play in the larger sandbox. But the problem with having, say, an Instagram account that has a much bigger following and level of engagement than your site, is that your platform is not fully within your control. The quality of your work will always speak for itself, regardless of where you’re showcasing it. And I think there’s something to be said about giving yourself time to find your voice and aesthetic in a safe space before broadcasting it to the world. If you were born taking amazing photos and writing engaging posts and developing flawless recipes, then my friend, you are a unicorn, and I salute you. But I know very few people who don’t improve with the small gift of time. I’m not saying screw social media. You definitely cannot break into the space without it. But there’s only so much time in the day, and creating for your site should be the first priority.