Pink cornbread waffle pulled jackfruit sandwich. Flourless black bean avocado donuts. Pink almond ricotta and cashew mozzarella pizza. This is just a handful of recent highlights from the psychedelic spectacle that is @bjonr’s Instagram wall.
Six months ago, musical artist known as Bjonr, under his brand The Rustic Vegan, joined the ranks of high-profile Instagrammers riding the rainbow unicorn trend. But there’s much more to Bjonr than dazzles the eye. Also a musician, Bjonr is an innovator whose keen entrepreneurial spirit and genuine desire to change the world of food shines through in his work.
Sitting in his sunny Californian garden, he tells us more about his first forays into the food industry, and how he’s converting skeptics of the merits of plant-based living, one beautiful image at a time.
“Prior to going plant-based, almost a year and nine months ago, I did not know how to cook at all.”
This impressively swift progress can be attested to from a quick scroll up his feed, where slight timidity to experiment rapidly gives way to bold, dramatic concoctions which sparkle with finesse. “I have improved quite a bit in that short space of time, but it just took off. I didn’t expect it to take off that fast.”
For Bjonr, his very recent initiation into the world of food blogging started with health. He’d already tried out lots of diets and trends, but going plant-based ticked all the boxes, and he was eager to spread the word. “I think no matter which way you get into plant-based, you’re gonna reap benefits regardless. For me, I went for health but in return I’m helping animals, I’m helping the planet as well. So I think it’s win-win no matter what.”
It’s clear that his work doesn’t end with winning likes and followers: he is acutely aware of the bigger picture. “I’m reeling people in visually, without them knowing what it is, and once they realize, they go ‘wow’”.
Bjonr is no nutritionist, scientist, or doctor – and he doesn’t claim to be. Indeed, documentaries and scientific journals have their place: Bjonr himself was prompted to go vegan after watching the 2011 documentary, Forks Over Knives. But Instagram reaches the masses in a way few others platforms could ever dream of. Grassroots movements that start from the bottom often impart much wider influence than the scientific elite, and Bjonr is taking full advantage of that to burrow his way into popular consciousness. In a few short months, he’s catapulted himself to Insta-fame and managed to win over 25,000 followers.
Bjonr is also not a political activist, but that doesn’t mean he’s not changing minds. Over the years, animal rights advocates have often roused controversy by employing fear and guilt tactics to inspire the masses to turn to veganism. Bjonr has chosen a different strategy.
“No one wants to be lectured or told they’re doing something wrong. Nobody wants to be told they’re eating incorrectly… it’s not going to work,” he says. “If I told someone ‘meat is murder’… I mean, yes it is,” he says firmly. “But you don’t relate to that. We’ve been conditioned a certain way our whole lives.”
Equipped with ambition and a sharp mind for business, Bjonr is already thinking about how to go beyond the screen and reach new audiences. He believes that the same bombshell effect that captures people’s imagination on social media can be transposed to the supermarket and pique consumers’ curiosity there, too. “I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a product that looks like what I do in-store,” he says. “I just feel like if you walked in and you saw something like that, it’s the same thing as Instagram: you’d be like ‘whoa, what is that?’”
Of course, Bjonr is hyper-conscious that this venture needs to remain true to his overarching vision, which goes far beyond creating food that looks nice. “Sure I have friends that probably would invest, but do they really believe in the whole plant-based thing? Probably not, so that’s important to me as well,” he says. “I feel like it’s going to eventually happen, I just have to put more work towards that, not just wait for someone to go ‘hey, your stuff’s great, let’s get it in stores’. But everytime I go to a store and I pick up a package, it just reassures me that I can do this: why not?”
It was only months ago that Bjonr took the plunge from music to food, yet he’s already making his mark on this new industry. Bjonr’s life used to be music, and this linchpin of creativity is reflected vividly in his current work. From Jean Michel Basquiat to Wes Anderson, he garners inspiration from every corner of culture. The playful experimentation that is so immediately captivating on Bjonr’s Instagram feed comes to life when speaking with him. He does this as a labor of love: to quench a never ending curiosity.
It’s this enthusiasm that gets people inspired and talking. But some will inevitably ask: with a food system in the throes of crisis and millions undernourished, can pretty pictures have a real and positive impact?
Food bloggers are rarely regarded as serious catalysts for change, but maybe the industry’s long-held prejudices are blinding them to the potential harnessed by Instagrammers such as Bjonr. He himself is confident that the underlying message in his work is reaching audiences. “I’ve had quite a few messages saying like ‘I’ve been plant-based for this many days’ or ‘I’ve done this because of you’, it’s really quite humbling.”
Bjonr and bloggers like him are shaping the future of food culture, and they’re doing a fine job at that. He’s reeling people in with color, and they stay for the rest. “As much as I love music, it’s been my whole entire life, it’s a different feeling I get, just from doing food and helping people… because you know, you can change someone’s health and their life,” he says. “It’s a different feeling which I had never experienced, so I’m enjoying this more than anything else.”
interview by Ciannait Khan