Foodnette’s Jeanette Mai on How She Explores Food in Quarantine

At Wing, we are always thinking of ways to wholeheartedly pursue the activities we’re passionate about. This comprehension of one’s own passions is especially necessary during today’s unprecedented situation. With many of us stuck at home, spending time on exciting pursuits can help get our minds off the pandemic. For Jeanette Mai, the founder of the food blog Foodnette, this was a little bit more difficult. As restaurants shut down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, her passion for trying new food in new establishments became much harder to embrace. I sat down with Jeanette Mai to learn her response to these challenges, and what she’d learned from the experience.

Foodnette is an Instagram blog by Jeanette Mai

Many of the food brands that sponsored Mai were small businesses in her area of residence. As a result, the virus heavily affected her main partnerships. This was bad news —it basically meant that she had very little access to the food that she wanted to try and post on her blog.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Foodnette wasn’t active during lockdown. Mai persevered, and the alternatives she found to going out for new food can prove to be valuable lessons. They may be especially useful for anybody who find themselves stuck in a monotonous routine of meals.

Background: Foodnette

Before I explain what I learned from my conversation with Jeanette, I’ll provide some context. For those who don’t necessarily follow the Orange County food world, Foodnette is a blog that follows Jeanette Mai’s foodie adventures. She covers a range of foods, from the starchy boba drinks of local tea shops to the fried delights of night markets. Ultimately, it celebrates food products that others may have otherwise overlooked. And it does so through wonderful photos that showcase Mai’s personality and the foods’ uniqueness. For anybody who revels in enjoying novel and aesthetic food, the blog can be incredibly insightful.

To Mai, Foodnette started out as a personal project and a way for her to monitor her diet. She took joy in taking and editing photos to add vibrancy as well. The combination of these two saw her audience steadily growing. The blog especially took off as her school friends shared the social account with others.

Foodnette also benefitted from Mai’s increased food exploration in college. She’d started the blog in senior year of high school, but when she started attending University of California, Irvine, she found more flexibility in terms of being able to explore restaurants. She’d join clubs that went out to eat together and take full advantage of those opportunities. Eventually, she was doing enough brand partnerships with certain restaurants that she could bring her friends on a sponsored meal.

These food adventures, during which she would take camera pictures with positive and personable vibes, was the backbone of her Instagram page. For her other content page, her more recent Tiktok, Mai started creating different types of posts that appealed to a younger audience. One example of this is the “behind the scenes” post. These were where Mai would go to the backend kitchen of restaurants. There, she would take a video of the food process for her audience.

When COVID-19 hit, however, Mai had to completely backtrack a lot of her endeavors. Within this new social distancing environment, her journey of food exploration with friends and clubs screeched to a halt.

COVID-19 and Mai’s Response

The shutdown of local restaurants, alongside Mai’s autoimmune disease that placed her at high risk for COVID-19, meant that Mai couldn’t go on her foodie adventures for quite some while. Because she couldn’t go outside, Mai would have her housemate go pick up groceries.

When asked how she’s getting a variety of food despite being stuck in quarantine, Mai specified that she was meal prepping a lot more often (To learn more about meal planning, check out Wing’s article on it). While she wasn’t necessarily a veteran at cooking, Mai said she found herself mastering one ingredient at a time. This was especially facilitated by the fact that COVID-19 caused a lot of ingredients in supermarkets to completely run out. As a result, she had to make do with what she had, and this actually helped her become more skilled in cooking.

Mai kept everything super simple, because it wasn’t possible to follow different recipes when she could barely get ingredients. This became reflected in Foodnette as well: her content saw her emphasizing how to cook with one food. This focus actually made her content even more accessible for cooking beginners.

“None of the other videos were helping me, because my skill level was just not there,” Mai said about other beginner cooking content. “I’m posting very simple things, which I hope can help someone struggling with cooking.”

For any beginner cook reading this post, following Mai’s footsteps may be a recipe for success. Even if, post-pandemic, the shelves of supermarkets become more stocked, focusing on one ingredient or process at a time is a surefire way of slowly learning more and more without overwhelming yourself.

The Evolution of Foodnette

For Foodnette, Mai’s content began to change to fit the new normal of COVID-19. For her, her deep connection with local vendors meant that she felt extremely sympathetic for the struggles of small businesses.

Initially, Mai continued to post using food delivery apps and her housemates, who picked up brands she partnered with. However, she ended up moving to San Luis Obispo, where exploring food was more difficult. This was not just because of COVID but also because there were more fast-food restaurants than small businesses she could partner with.

“I had to shift my plan to make more brand deals that were virtual,” Mai explained. She said she started collaborating with brands that had more DIY (do-it-yourself) characteristics. These included a Milkbox product that allowed her to make boba at home. In this way, despite not being able to go outside for boba, she found herself bringing her passion for food into her home.

Learning from Foodnette’s Response

Foodnette’s adaptation to these challenges provides some tangible advice. In quarantine, going to eat your favorite foods can be pretty difficult. Exploring your options can be even harder. This was even more pronounced for Foodnette, the blog built upon a foundation of food loving.

Overall, Mai handled the situation by keeping an open mind and expanding the way she approached her passion. For individuals who may have a knack for trying new foods, the solution really is to be flexible, as Mai demonstrated.

Finding ways to make do with what you have, such as meal prepping around a single ingredient or ordering ready-made DIY packages to create your own food, can allow you to continue pursuing a passion for new food without forcing you to unnecessarily endanger yourself by going out all the time. If you want to see how a pro does it, then you might just have to go see Foodnette.

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