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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Penn chapter.

Around three months ago, I, an avid meat-lover, decided to become a vegetarian. It was something I had thought about for a long time, especially as I became more aware of the meat industry’s impact on climate change. However, I could never bring myself to cut meat out of my diet because it tasted so good – even though I felt physically terrible, fatigued, and unenergized after eating it. 

For years, I put the short term gratification of eating meat above its physical effects on my health before eventually deciding I would at least try a plant-based diet. Since then, I haven’t looked back. 

During this time, I’ve been learning more about what it means to be vegetarian and the privileges inherently associated with vegetarianism. Stereotypically, a vegan/vegetarian is described as being pushy, overly preachy, and condescending. In fact, studies have found that the “attitude” of certain vegans/vegetarians discourages people from going plant-based. 

The vegan/vegetarian community can and should be more respectful of other people’s personal choices and cognizant of their circumstances and access to food. These privileges may not be specific to just veganism, but rather, concern the ability to make any food choices at all. Food justice activist Karen Washington has a great interview where she discusses the intersectionality between social inequality, sustainability, and food apartheids. 

A single app has been unexpectedly instrumental in changing my perspective on food and wellness: TikTok. Specifically, vegan TikTokers Joanne Molinaro and Tabitha Brown have made the biggest impacts on my food journey. 

Joanne Molinaro, also known as @thekoreanvegan on TikTok, posts videos making vegan versions of traditional Korean foods like japchae, perilla leaf pancakes, and jjiages. Although all of her cooking montages are beautifully shot, what makes her TikToks so comforting are the stories that accompany them. The stories she tells are usually about her parents, who survived the Korean War as refugees and immigrated to the United States. As a Korean-American myself, her stories about her family are not only tear-jerking, but also deeply recognizable in my own experiences. Molinaro also talks about how she became vegan and how her storytelling tries to illuminate the racism and xenophobia that she and her parents have experienced.

Molinaro also talks about the relationship between her veganism and Korean identity. In many ways, she feels as if the two have strengthened each other as she spends more time researching traditional Korean food recipes in order to veganize them; she has also had more conversations with her parents about their life experiences. Molinaro has taught me a lot of things about making delicious and beautiful food, but more importantly, she’s encouraged me to explore my cultural connection with Korean cuisine. As Molinaro herself puts it, ”I veganize Korean food. I Koreanize everything else.” 

Although the specific ingredients and methods used in Korean food are undoubtedly traditional, I’ve gotten far closer to my heritage by understanding the cuisine’s deep-rooted cultural significance. A while ago, my mom made one of my favorite Korean dishes, janchi guksu, a noodle dish served with warm, flavorful broth and vegetables. She explained that because of the word janchi, which means celebration, janchi guksu would be served at banquets and festivals. Guksu, or noodles, would symbolize longevity in whatever the event would be celebrating, such as one’s life or marriage. 

More often now, my parents share the cultural and historical meaning behind the foods I know and love. Even though I miss Korean BBQ and other Korean meat dishes, I’ve become more reflective about the food I eat as a result of Molinaro’s videos. 

Tabitha Brown, @iamtabithabrown on TikTok, shares her vegan recipes to nearly 4.5 million followers on her platform. Her calming voice matches the soothing energy in her TikToks, and the casual style of her videos is very comforting to watch. Brown is also a brand ambassador for Whole Foods and has her own show called All Love coming soon

In addition to her recipes, Brown frequently posts “affirmation” videos where she shares positive encouragement and life advice. This, along with her signature phrases – “cause that’s our business” and “like so like that” – have helped her form a very close relationship with her viewers. Her recipes are also simple and easy to make, but absolutely delicious! My personal favorites are her “pulled pork” oyster mushrooms and avocado egg rolls. 

Brown has shared the significant impact veganism has had on her life through her TikToks and interviews. After she gave birth to her daughter, she experienced chronic pain and fatigue for years before deciding to be vegan. Today, she shares her joy and positivity through her recipes, one TikTok at a time. 

Brown has helped me rediscover my love for food and reminded me that food can be comforting and healing – both physically and mentally. More than anything, she’s encouraged me to have a safe, healthy relationship with food that doesn’t come from a place of shame. I’ve been learning to listen to my body and forming eating habits that are healthy instead of restrictive.

My relationship with food has changed a lot within the past few months, and it’s something I don’t expect to stop evolving anytime soon. Molinaro and Brown have been some of the most influential people in challenging and changing my own perspectives. Through their one-minute daily TikToks, I’ve witnessed how a simple meal can invoke some of the greatest memories and emotions. 

Jean Paik

U Penn '24

Jean is currently a freshman at UPenn studying Political Science. In her free time, she loves listening to R&B music, having picnics with friends, and going to used bookstores.