If you haven’t already heard about Christine Wong, you’ve probably come across her striking food photography on your Instagram feed. In fact, if you don’t follow her, go ahead and do that now, we’ll wait.
Christine crafts vibrant vegetable dishes, stunning smoothie bowls, and ratatouilles that make you question why you don’t always slice your eggplant into perfectly thin coins. But her mission goes beyond brightening your scrolling experience. Through social media and her recently released cookbook, The Plantiful Plate, she’s helping us all eat more plants with less plastic.
Christine also happens to be a graphic designer, health coach, creative director, and activist (casual!) We were so excited to talk to this multi-hyphenate about her path to becoming a #plasticfreefoodie and how she’s using her platform to inspire positive change.
All photos from @conscious_cooking
When did you first start cooking?
I got into cooking because of my kids. I wanted them to have the best food without all the junk and additives, so I started cooking for them using all real ingredients.
As they grew my repertoire grew, and I eventually started a basic blog to share recipes with fellow moms. Through that I got more curious about what is healthy to eat and what’s not—I wanted to make sure I was sharing good information—so I enrolled in the year long program at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. The program opened my eyes to plant-based eating and the impact that our diets can have, and from there I pretty much stopped eating meat.
What role has Instagram played in your career?
My goal is to get more plants on people’s plates; whether you’re a vegan or not, it’s just important to eat more vegetables. So that’s why I started my Instagram page.
The vegan community on Instagram is really amazing—a few years ago I saw my friend Jade of @panaceas_pantry recommending a documentary called A Plastic Ocean. I remember her saying, “If you watch this, your heart will burst into a million pieces.” So I thought, “I need to watch this.”
That documentary changed my whole view on the environmental impact of not only what you eat, but also how you buy your food. Before that I was already trying to cut down on plastic and packaging—bringing my own grocery bags and avoiding processed items. But I would definitely still get sucked into wanting convenience and not really thinking about it.
There was this one part in the documentary that was a real eye opener where he goes to a variety of restaurants to get takeout, and asks if they have anything he could take it in that isn’t plastic. I had never even thought about the fact that you could ask that!
Nowadays if I get takeout for my family I will bring a reusable container to see if they can fill it. It’s like a challenge and it’s gratifying when it works out. I also do a lot of shopping in Chinatown and the little grannies always thank me for bringing my own bag. They appreciate it because it’s one less bag that they have to pay for.
What part of your work are you most passionate about right now?
I love all aspects of my work, but the plastic free part is really important to me because I think that spreading awareness is essential. It’s so gratifying when people send me messages and say, “I stopped buying water bottles because of you,” or “I got produce bags and I love showing them off.” It’s nice to be able to inspire that change—just small simple steps.
I also work for a company called Lucky Rice that produces Asian food festivals. Just by bringing my salads to work in jars every day I feel like I’m promoting awareness. But on the larger scale we strive to make our festivals—which often host up to 500 guests—plastic-free. We use all compostable disposables, and in New York we’ve been able to work directly with Common Ground Compost. At our last event we had volunteers telling people which bin to put each piece of trash in. I think that was an eye opener for our guests, and they all got really into it. They appreciated that we were making that effort. I also love working at Lucky Rice because I get to celebrate my culture. I get to celebrate Asian food every day and it’s very exciting.
Outside of Lucky rice I love volunteering with Plastic Oceans. I’m working on a project with them that will be announced next year—creating that alliance has been amazing.
What role do you think bloggers, influencers, and artists like yourself play in the sustainable food movement?
I might piss off a lot of people by saying this, but I think it’s our responsibility to influence and inspire in a very authentic way. A lot of bloggers obviously make money from their platforms by promoting products that they may or may not use or need, and I get it. I understand that to make a living from blogging you need to do that, but I chose not to. I’ve veered away from products–all the processed food and stuff. Whether it’s vegan or organic or whatever, at the end of the day it’s still packaged in plastic. That to me does not fly.
As an influencer I make a point to ask the brands that I think I am aligned with whether they can package what they want to send me without plastic. Sometimes it’s radio silence afterward, and other times they say, “We’ll see what we can do.” And then if they do I can say, “Look how awesome this is, they honored my request to not package it in plastic.”
My friend Watt who makes these amazing raw vegan cheesecakes knew about my whole plastic-free thing and it led her to use glass jars for her packaging. People will tell me things like, “I was thinking of you the other day, and it made me choose a plastic-free option.” It’s nice that I can give them that little reminder—as long as I’m not doing it in a nagging way.
What’s your advice for someone trying to reduce their plastic consumption?
It’s about being prepared. For example, if I go to an expo or a food fair I always bring my own cup. I went to Plant Based World Expo this weekend and it was super easy to get samples in the little stainless steel shot glass I brought. I had snacks in it, I had drinks in it, and it was the easiest thing that you could carry. It’s just about being mindful in any situation because being zero-waste doesn’t mean that you can’t go out and have fun.
If I do buy something in plastic in a store I will ask if I can return it later for the store to reuse. In Chinatown they always say yes, Whole Foods not so much. You have to make the choice yourself and it has to be easy—it has to work for you. I usually don’t mind carrying my jars all over the place and clinking around, but I still sometimes don’t.
You published a beautiful plant-based cookbook earlier this year—what was important to you when choosing what to include in the cookbook and how to present your recipes?
I wanted it to be for everybody. It’s not really meant to be a vegan cookbook even though all the recipes are vegan, because I think that people just need more inspiration for putting plants on their plates.
I made it really easy to mix and match all the recipes. I think a lot of the intimidation around cooking at home is the idea that if you don’t have one ingredient for a dish then you can’t make it. I want people to be able to swap things out and not worry about it. It’s about being creative and having fun with what you’re eating and making.
One time at a conference a woman came up to my booth and said, “I’m such a lazy cook.” And I was like, “Me too!” As much as I love Ottelenghi’s recipes, if there’s more than 20 ingredients then I’m not going to make it. But I can be inspired by those recipes, and make something that works for me.
I said to her, “If you can make a smoothie you can make nut milks, you can make pesto, you can make hummus, you can make all this stuff that’s super easy to have on hand.” I’ve hosted meal prep classes where we’ve made dinners for families of four for a week in two hours. Just having the mix and match mentality and using fresh ingredients makes that possible.
I watched A Plastic Ocean just before I started writing the book and I decided to only use plastic-free ingredients. I am lucky to be in New York where I can buy my tofu from a guy in Chinatown who happily fills up my container. But for the most part I just shop from the bulk bins and the farmer’s market.
Who is inspiring you in the sustainable food space right now?
Last night I went to a launch for the author Amanda Little who just wrote a book titled The Fate of Food, and it made me realize how much more I have to learn about sustainability and how we are going to feed our growing population.
One recipe that so many of my friends (online and off) have made is my Ratatouille’s Ratatouille. It can be adapted seasonally, so in the summer I make it more traditionally with a tomato base and squash, eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. In the winter and fall I’ve done it with a curry base and sweet potatoes, radishes, and beets. It’s a very flexible recipe but it’s an impressive main course, and everyone loves it.