Plant-based food content was once the preserve of those who knew in which dark and hidden corners of the internet to look. It was for niche communities with a small number of followers, all sharing knowledge about the vegan diet’s benefits. That was the age of the blog and YouTube channel, before the social influencers of Instagram and TikTok.
Things are very different now: plant-based foodies have taken the internet by storm and are spreading the vegan lifestyle far and wide in new, creative ways.
The content is also a far cry from what it was in the early 2000s, and fmcg brands can’t get enough either, as they continue to collaborate with and support a new cohort of plant-based chef-influencers.
As social media becomes more wider-reaching and democratic, these vegan chefs are gaining vast audiences, even reaching pop culture status, and are paving the way for sustainable food.
But who has amassed the biggest audiences and how are they using their social influence to bolster the plant-based movement?
YouTube sensation Rachel Ama shot to fame a few years ago with her viral vegan recipes based on her heritage as well as her travels. Selected as the Observer’s Rising Star of Food 2019, she has since garnered more than a million followers across Instagram and YouTube, and become a recurring TV star, taking part in programmes such as the BBC’s Kitchen Starter Pack.
Ama has also released multiple cookbooks, partnered with several big brands including Knorr, and released her own jerk sauce line recently. Her easy-to-pull-off recipes have been a go-to for those on a busy schedule still looking to get their five a day with minimum effort and maximum taste.
Max La Manna
Zero-waste chef Max La Manna has been working in the food industry for more than 15 years, starting as a dough boy in a pizza restaurant, before working in different kitchens across the globe, including Los Angeles and Syden, Norway.
But the American-born, London-based chef started gaining notoriety for his online recipes that focused on using as much of each ingredient as possible. His zero-waste approach carved a unique platform for him online, which then catapulted him to TV and publishing stardom. A regular face on the BBC, Channel 4 and the Food Network, he is also the host of BBC Earth’s Regeneration Food show.
Gaz Oakley, also known as Avant Garde Vegan on YouTube and social media, is a Welsh chef who, despite only turning vegan a few years ago, has already amassed a loyal fanbase.
The appeal comes largely from the relaxing and playful vibe with which his videos are infused, with regular cameos from friends and family.
But it’s the top-notch video editing and production quality, as well as his elevated take on highly nutritional plant-based cooking, that has kept his huge legion of followers – nearly 1.6 million on YouTube and 775k on Instagram – coming back for more.
Regular TV appearances have turned the Bosh boys into familiar faces by now, but the Sheffield chef duo, Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, have been building their brand for years.
Starting with a YouTube channel eight years ago and a subsequent Facebook page that raked in millions of likes, the Bosh universe has now expanded to include product development and lots of supermarket listings, meal kits, cookbooks – their eponymous vegan tome is among the top 50 bestselling UK cookbooks of all time – TV shows (ITV’s Living on the Veg), cookware collections and more.
A Times profile summed them up: “the vegan Jamie Olivers.”
Derek Sarno of Wicked Kitchen
Wicked Kitchen co-founder Derek Sarno has been a pioneer of plant-based cooking and product development for years. Alongside his brother Chad, the duo turned all vegan lifestyle stereotypes upside down and made plant-based food actually look badass – a quick peek at their social media is enough to convince the most religious meat eaters to go vegan.
But Sarno’s CV shows what an undeniable force he has been in shaping the vegan food offering in supermarkets across the country, from being executive chef and director of plant based innovation at Tesco – where he oversaw plant-based product sales increases of around 25% in just a year and helped double the vegetarian and vegan options of their 2017 Christmas range – to recently scoring a major listings deal with Asda to stock Wicked Kitchen.
@_jacobking CURRY CHICK’N + BUSS UP SHOT ROTI 🇯🇲 written recipe below 👇🏾 👇🏾INGREDIENTS👇🏾 *curry* -2 tbsp coconut oil -4 garlic cloves -1/4 inch ginger -1 large white onion -3 spring onion -1 scotch bonnet -2 tbsp 🇯🇲 curry powder -1/2 tsp all spice -1/2 tsp turmeric -1 can coconut milk -2 large white potatoes -2 large carrots -1 cup veg stock -few sprigs fresh thyme -salt + pepper to taste -1 tbsp browning -few dashes of maggies seasoning -1 handful of rehydrated soy chunks -1 cup vegan chicken stock (by oxo) or use veg stock *roti* -1 cup bread flour -1/2 cup water (120ml) -1/4 tsp dried yeast -1/2 tsp sugar -1/4 tsp salt -oil to rub, roll + fry the roti 👇🏾METHOD👇🏾 *roti* -mix flour, sugar, salt and yeast then gradually add the oil and water then knead for around 5 minutes then cover and rest. -break the dough into equal pieces, oil up your hands and spread the dough flat. Cut strips across the flattened dough then roll it into a flayed roll. -Now curl into a ball and then flatten out again using your oiled hands. Fry on a high heat for a few minutes each side. *curry chick’n* -fry onion, ginger and garlic in coconut oil for around 5 minutes then add the dried spices and fry for another 10 minutes. -add diced carrot and potatoes with some browning and maggies, along with coconut milk, stock, spring onion, scotch bonnet and thyme. -simmer for 20 minutes, whilst it’s simmering hydrate the soya chunks in stock then add them to the curry and simmer for another 10 minutes. -squash some of the potatoes to make the sauce thicker if necessary, or simmer for longer. -serve the roti, crushed alongside the curry and eat with your hands 😊 #curry #currychicken #chickencurry #jamaicatiktok #jamaicanfood #roti #bread #recipe #recipes #caribbean #caribbeantiktok #chicken #chickenrecipe ♬ Ye - Burna Boy
Jacob King, also known as Peng Vegan Munch, started making content in 2019 and quickly rose to fame with his chilled and innovative approach to vegan cooking. His easy recipes comprised of just a few ingredients but exploding with flavour were made for social media virality – think of French toast burrito or peri peri ‘chicken’ and rice.
He now has more than 400,000 followers on Instagram and his TikTok page is growing at a rapid pace, currently with just over 100,000 followers. King is also a part of the vegan influencer boy group, Plant Boiis, a self-described collective of “lads” in the UK from different backgrounds whose main aim is to “challenge the stereotypes around vegan boys” and show that being vegan and masculine aren’t mutually exclusive concepts.
@sepps_eats Vegan Panna Cotta with Nonna 🇮🇹 - a classic Italian dessert that reminds me of holidays in Italy growing up. Made with @droetkerbakes 💙 - we loved making this vegan one together. AD #PassItOn #littlemakesabigdifference ♬ original sound - Giuseppe Federici
Another proud member of the Plant Boiis crew, Sepps Eats aka Giuseppe Federici is putting a spin on Italian cuisine, proving the cheese-heavy gastronomy (and its aesthetics) can still be enjoyed by the vegan community without having to compromise.
Recipes like his ‘chicken’ parmigiana sandwich made with tofu, or a classic spaghetti alla melanzane, have earned him collaborations with some of the top Italian restaurants in London, such as Norma.
The star of his Instagram, though, is his Sicilian nonna, who he often cooks alongside, both on social media and on national TV.
The Loopy Whisk
Much like Italian food, baking is an area in which plant-based eaters have traditionally felt like they had to compromise as the substitutes for things like eggs, butter and full-fat milk didn’t quite do the job and the focus always seemed to be on ‘healthy’ rather than indulgent. That’s not the case any more and much of the credit should be given to Oxford-based Katarina Cerlmelj, aka The Loopy Whisk, a self-proclaimed “food science nerd” with a focus on sharing lots of beloved recipes like carrot cake and cinnamon buns.
The demand for the vegan versions of these sweat treats was clearly there – she has one million followers on her Instagram alone.
Some fans of Radhi Devlukia might have come across her socials via her uber famous husband, motivational speaker Jay Shetty, but they have definitely stayed for the food and health content. With a heavy focus on Indian and other south Asian cuisines, Devlukia is the millennial and gen Z embodiment of what the plant-based movement was all about when the likes of Deliciously Ella first came about – super-healthy, colourful foods that are good for the body and the soul, neatly packaged in short and enticing videos made for platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
With her first cookbook on the way, a newly launched sparkling tea brand, and already more than 2.2 million Insta followers, Devlukia is well on her way to becoming one of the most recognisable faces in the industry.
Couple Roxy Pope and Ben Pook, creators of So Vegan – one of the world’s leading vegan recipe channels – want to make people’s lives easier by debunking the myth that vegan cooking requires complex and out-there ingredients.
And as parents of young children, they also want minimal fuss and maximum nutrition. Their channel is for everyone, but it is particularly helpful for other parents navigating the plant-based lifestyle for the first time.
Aside from cookbooks and social media content, the duo also launched the So Vegan app nearly two years ago, which is often seen on the Apple app store homepage, and frequently partner with big brands such as Hotel Chocolat.