“I was thinking if I cheated on my fear, broke up with my doubts, got engaged to my faith, I can marry my dreams.” These words by Beyonce, my favorite business mogul, embody how she accomplished her success and what it takes for other women to reach her level of influence. Beyonce is a well-known celebrity and many other celebrities strive to handle the spotlight as eloquently as she does. Due to the Internet, everyday people are looking at her handbook to learn how to handle the large audience they have gained through apps like Instagram, YouTube, and Tiktok. They are not gaining audiences just because they sing or rap, they are gaining audiences because they cultivate togetherness around topics such as food.
During quarantine, I decided to declutter my Instagram feed by unfollowing accounts that didn’t teach me, entertain me, or please me. I went on the prowl for accounts that focused on business, finance, book recommendations, etc. I never believed that I would be following accounts that showed people cooking in their kitchens and eating their meals soon after preparation. These were not the cooking tutorials my mom watched. One day, I heard the audio of a video begin with, “When I eat grits it’s butter and sugar. Say what? And that’s my business.” I was listening to Tabitha Brown, a vegan food influencer and business mogul. She has gained a social media following of over 4 million and has been featured on large television networks. She represents a new age of chefs, the ones who gain influence with a phone. There is no defined strategy for becoming an influencer but Tabitha’s profile reveals that building upon the greats, using motivational videos, easy recipes, unwithering faith, and actions that pay it forward to the next generation, is now a way to make your mark on an industry.
Tabitha Brown will be a household name just as Julia Child was in her time and still today. Tabitha Brown uses technology to reach her stardom and she is unique. People resonated with Child because she made the extraordinary ordinary. Many women stayed at home to cook and through television she fulfilled their desire of wanting to make extraordinary meals at home. Tabitha Brown does the complete opposite in order to fulfill a new desire. Families want quick meals to fit their ambitious and busy lifestyles. They want ordinary meals to feel extraordinary. Tabitha Brown did just that with her famous vegan recipe for a fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This ordinary meal was made to be extraordinary because Brown presented it with motivational words attached. Brown had just finished a hard day and she leaned into the camera to tell everyone how her sandwich healed whatever troubles she experienced. Many people resonated with the idea of coming home from a long day and needing something to culminate it. Brown offered her motivational words while devouring her meal. The jelly can be seen dripping from the two pieces of skillet toasted bread. The sandwich did not look Instagram-worthy, but it definitely felt worthy to her viewers. Brown is clever to not reveal all of her secrets. She is seen eating the sandwich with a vegan chili that Brown tells her viewers to find in a previous video. The viewer is already entranced so they go on the prowl for the how-to-video on making vegan chili. The YouTube platform makes it easy to continue watching the current video while searching for a past one. I know this from experience. It took me 3 minutes to find the chili video as I watched her eat a sandwich I could make in 3 minutes. Everyone can post videos on social media so staying relevant in this industry and harnessing engagement is no easy task. Julia Child dominated her era because she never dared to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on national television or leave any step out of her instructions. Tabitha recognized that to dominate this era, she would have to change the game. Many people feel that becoming an influencer is easy because everyone can do it, but you must know the background of Tabitha Brown to believe that influencing is hard and attracting an audience is even harder.
Everybody knows it takes one video good video to go viral. Many do not know that it took Brown years before her one video would change her life. Tabitha grew up in Eden, North Carolina where she was raised to eat whatever animal was cooked for dinner that day. As Brown grew more into herself, she realized that continuing these same patterns helped in the decline of her health. Her daughter, Choyce Brown, recommended that she try and go vegan based on a documentary she watched online. Tabitha agreed and went on a 30-day challenge. The switch drastically improved her health so she began sharing recipes and restaurants that helped her continue on her vegan journey. These videos remained a hobby for years, while Brown picked up jobs at call centers, became a salesperson at Macy’s, and drove for Uber. She worked tirelessly during the day but continued to create more video content of her trying vegan foods. She also shared what recipes she was not fond of. Brown recalled how hard it was to maintain the demands of her audience. People didn’t want to see one episode on Monday of every week, they wanted a new video every day. Platforms like Instagram, allowed her audience to send requests daily. She handled the multiple demands in her life by using her lunch break to record videos. Tabitha’s journey to stardom is allowing the viewers to take authority over food. In the past, people ate at the recommendation of the chef, just like Tabitha ate whatever her parents decided to serve. This era has taken control and demanded from the chef what they want. A chef no longer needs an educational background for food, they just need to be consistent and please the masses.
One day, Tabitha was dropping off a passenger at Whole Foods and realized they had a large number of vegan items on the menu. She tried a vegan BLT and was amazed. She ate half the sandwich before turning on the camera to share with her few 100 followers the sandwich she found. Tabitha was expecting the same 100-1000 people to view her story and maybe engage with it. Within a few hours, her post had reached 100,000 people or more. She told her husband she was going viral. He asked, “What that mean?” Tabitha replied, “I don’t know what that means but it’s happening.” Whole Foods called Brown and asked her to be a brand ambassador. Whole Foods was the first, but it was definitely not the last. Brown continued to gain partnerships giving her a platform that has allowed her to reach far beyond food.
Brown’s job title is food influencer. The influencer aspect means Brown has to keep partnerships to maintain relevance while also making money. The Internet allows her to choose her partnerships and even include her family in her popularity and wealth. She is building an empire, just as the revolutionary Spago owner, Wolfgang Puck, did in his time. He has restaurants, frozen foods on the shelf, television appearances, documentaries, etc. It is noteworthy that Puck had to sacrifice his family to reach this success and his empire is solely built around food. Brown has a responsibility to her viewers to represent trustworthy brands but she does so by reaching an untapped market. Tabitha Brown teaches her daughter, Choyce, to talk about her insecurities and embrace them. Choyce has gained a social media following of her own, after playing a role in her mother’s brand deals. Brown and Choyce were featured in a commercial for Target as Target revealed its new partnership with Ulta Beauty. The two women were seen walking down isles in Target pointing out black-owned skincare brands that they love. This commercial was powerful because Brown pointed to items that were affordable during her lifestyle before becoming an influencer. She resonates with people of all ages giving her the nickname, “America’s mom.” It was unthinkable for Puck to include his family in the publicity of his empire, but it is family and responsibility that gives Brown influence. Her followers make it a necessity.
As America’s mom, Brown has to keep her content original and real. Due to the success of her business, she has begun traveling and experiencing new cultures and foods. Her viewers are interested just as Anthony Bourdain’s audience was intrigued by his experience with international cultures. Bourdain revealed that sometimes the scenes in his episodes were a false portrayal of the local culture. Brown’s role as an influencer allows her to take the director role in her content. Brown tells her viewers about the entirety of her vacations so they can mimic her experiences. There are chances that some of her videos may never be edited because she wants to talk to her audience in real-time. She often records her family trying a variety of meals at a new restaurant. She would secretly record the reactions of her children. This grabbed the attention of viewers with children, especially the parents of picky children. Brown’s family was often surprised with how well vegan food could taste. Sophisticated viewers wanted to see more of Brown on national television. This is important because having a platform online did not confine her to this one platform.
Brown appeared on the Ellen show. Many thought she would go on this show and cook a meal. Brown did what every other celebrity does when they go on The Ellen Show. She talked about her future project. This appearance was an advertisement for her new kids’ show, TabTime. She revealed that in healing herself, she knew she had a greater responsibility to heal the world. She figured that the way to accomplish this was by teaching children how to be healthy. Brown’s character is an African American avatar with an afro. She always begins by introducing her topic in a garden to emphasize the importance of nurturing the world, both figuratively and literally. Alice Water partnered with a local high school to provide a gardening class and cooking class to local children. Brown’s show allows her to bring this experience to children across the country. Parents are comfortable letting their children watch the show because they already know Brown from other platforms. The Internet has allowed parents to meet a person before they entrust them with their children. Many children, especially African Americans, were denied opportunities because our parents didn’t know the adults. Brown’s platform breaks this barrier.
Tabitha Brown is important because she is helping to write the blueprint of what it means to be a successful food influencer. She has built upon the greats like Child, Puck, Bourdain, and Waters but the Internet gives her more responsibility and a larger range of impact. Brown’s profession is fairly new so she has to find ways to keep her audience engaged and pleased. Brown’s authenticity does just that but that doesn’t make the rule book guaranteed or easy to follow and mimic.