Why One Blogger Gave Up Being a Strict Vegan for ‘Eating Clean’

Rachel Tepper Paley
·Editor
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What’s Cooking Good Looking blogger Jodi Moreno’s collard wraps, stuffed with roasted vegetables, quinoa, and brown rice. Photo: Jodi Moreno

Jodi Moreno’s blog, What’s Cooking Good Looking, seems to radiate wellness. It might be the wholesome recipes, like her ruby-hued beet burgers topped with a dollop of chimichurri-spiked yogurt. Or the clean, brightly lit photographs, which imbue their contents with a halo of health. Or perhaps it’s the elegant black-and-white photo of Moreno herself, sitting in repose alongside an explainer of her background as a “natural foods chef.”

What does that mean, precisely? “I try to eat and cook as clean and healthy as possible,” Moreno told Yahoo Food. “I guess ‘clean eating’ can be kind of vague — it means different things to different people. For me, it’s using high-quality ingredients, and less of things like gluten, dairy, and meat.”

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How Moreno does dessert: vanilla and cardamom–spiked chia seed pudding topped with honey-poached clementines.

Moreno started her blog in 2011, the same year the former professional photographer left her mundane corporate headhunter gig to attend the plant-based Natural Kitchen Cooking School in Princeton, N.J. “I realized I really missed being on the more creative side,” Moreno said. She’d always been obsessed with food, she reasoned, and culinary school could help transform her passion into a profession. “Also, I wanted to be photographing again and being in that world. Doing a blog was my way of bringing [all those passions] together.”

Since then, What’s Cooking Good Looking has earned a devoted following —more than 10,000 devotees on Instagram — and has been featured by media outfits including Saveur, PBS, The Huffington Post, and Shape. Moreno has even authored a cookbook, Grains As Mains. The site, Moreno explained, speaks to fans of the food lifestyles touted by Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, who deemphasize the role of meat in the diet. Moreno’s recipes tend toward the wholesome and healthy, but aren’t restricted by the labels “vegan” or “paleo.” 

“I feel like you don’t have to be super strict,” Moreno said. “When I made super strict rules for myself, I wasn’t happy. I didn’t enjoy living my life like that.”

Here’s everything else you should know about Jodi Moreno:

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Moreno’s farro and beet burgers.

1. Her Italian upbringing inspired a love of food.
“I grew up in an Italian home, so my grandmother and my mother were big cooks. My grandmother would wake up at four in the morning and start cooking for the day — there’s wasn’t an inch of the dinner table that wasn’t covered in food, even on a Tuesday. My mother was the same way. We had a home-cooked meal every night. Lots of lasagnas and things like that. I didn’t appreciate it until I went to college and realized I would have to eat out or start cooking for myself.”

2. Her healthy eating habits have evolved over time.
“I always loved food, but I was also always very athletic: I ran half marathons all the time. So I was always conscious about health and eating. Still, it was definitely a slow evolution. Now, I feel like everywhere you go, you see this focus [on health], but it wasn’t like that even five or 10 years ago. I feel like I’ve evolved as everyone else has evolved.”

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Moreno with her pup, Bayley.

3. She knew culinary school was in her future when her “hobby” got out of hand.
“I started cooking for my friends in college, and it didn’t start out so pretty. But everyone was always willing to have a home-cooked meal — it didn’t matter how it tasted! I kept doing it more and more, and [years later,] when I was working a very corporate job, I would come home and cook elaborate meals for myself and bring them into the office. People would be like, ‘Why are you here working in an office? You should be out cooking.’ So I did.”

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Soba noodles dressed with ginger tahini over crispy kale, shallots, and romaine lettuce.

4. She decided to become a natural food chef when considering various culinary schools.
“When I was looking for a culinary school, I looked at some of the more traditional programs, like the French Culinary Institute. I realized that I cook like that for fun once in a while, but it’s not how I cook on a daily basis. I realized that I didn’t want to do that. When I found the program, a light bulb when off.”

5. She’s all about keeping things “quick” and “easy.”
“As much as I love cooking, I try to keep it easy for myself so that it’s more accessible. Not even I have time to cook for an hour or two every single night for dinner. I leave that stuff for the weekend.”

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Sweet potato fries, anyone? Moreno bakes hers and sprinkles them with shiitake “bacon” and tahini.

6. She doesn’t like to use the word “vegan.”
“A lot of my friends read my blog and ask, ‘Are you vegan now?’ It’s how I eat most of the time, and it’s how I enjoy eating, but it doesn’t mean I can’t eat a bite of chicken now and then, when I want. I was vegan for a little while, and I just realized it wasn’t for me. I still craved meat sometimes! I’ve been trying to stay away from the word ‘vegan,’ because it’s like a huge lifestyle choice and people take it very seriously.”

7. She doesn’t think comfort food and health food have to be mutually exclusive.
“When I first started the blog, I realized that I had this way of twisting recipes to make something that used to be indulgent comfort food into this super healthy meal. When I was in culinary school, I learned how to make raw pastas and raw raviolis, and that really resonated with me. It was food I grew up with, but made in a way that’s good for you. And it’s still amazing. It kind of blew my mind.”

Other bloggers of the week to know:

How a stroke at 25 inspired a life change for The Domestic Man

The hardworking couple behind seasonal food blog Brooklyn Supper

Alejandra Ramos of Always Order Dessert, who takes inspiration from all corners of the globe

Who’s your favorite food blogger? Tell us below!