How To Cook with Trash

Carleigh Bodrug PlantYou

If the name Carleigh Bodrug doesn’t ring a bell, it might be because the 29-year-old cook isn’t a food celebrity in the traditional sense. Bodrug doesn’t own a restaurant; nor does she star in her own cooking show on the Food Network. But on TikTok, where she goes by the handle @plantyou, Bodrug is a veritable star. With a devoted legion of 1.6 million followers eagerly awaiting her recipes (plus another 984K on Instagram), the plant-based influencer is nothing short of a cooking phenom. 

Bodrug’s recipes are colorful and sustainably-focused, executed with a personality that’s effervescent and enthusiastic. Over the songs of Shania Twain and Aretha Franklin, she chomps down on trash can nachos, saucily reprimands vegan food-hating trolls, and grinds up green smoothie recipes “for people who hate green smoothies.” Bodrug’s fans find her relatable precisely because she’s not a chef—to them, she’s just another person who figured out healthful vegan cooking after growing up on a farm eating a “meat-and-potatoes diet.” 

Bodrug’s most popular TikTok series, “Scrappy Cooking,” owes its success to her upbringing on a small hobby farm in Ontario, where she learned zero-waste, stem-to-root cooking from her parents. 

“Growing up on a farm, my parents did not waste and they were very cognizant of the circular role of food,” Bodrug says. “Leftover food scraps went to animals or were repurposed, and we didn’t throw out much, so that ignited my creative cooking.” 

After transitioning to a plant-based diet, Bodrug grew frustrated with gorgeous, complicated vegan Pinterest recipes that didn’t feel practical. That led her to invent her own simple recipes, which she started posting on Instagram as @plantyou in 2015. By 2019, she was able to quit her day job and transition to a full-time, self-employed social media business. 

On February 15, the popular food influencer’s eight-month project and longtime dream became a reality. Her eponymous cookbook, PlantYou: 140+ Ridiculously Easy, Amazingly Delicious Plant-Based Oil-Free Recipes, featuring 140 fun, accessible vegan recipes, debuted. We spoke with her about the key to a successful social media business, why she advocates for flexitarianism, and how her series, “Scrappy Cooking,” is helping thousands learn zero-waste cooking.

LIVEKINDLY: Your story is so relatable, because so many people are coming from the same place as you: a meat-heavy diet. But there was a profound catalyst for your going plant-based: Your father was diagnosed with cancer, and then after his recovery, the World Health Organization declared the very meat you all grew up eating as a carcinogen.

Carleigh Bodrug: My dad was angry, because the Canada Food Guide at the time literally had a plate with your meat and your dairy on it—this is what we were encouraged to consume, which was the very thing that could have contributed to the cancer, and obviously, was not going to help. Almost immediately from that point, my immediate family transitioned to a primarily plant-based diet, and I transitioned to an entirely vegan diet.

LIVEKINDLY: What do you think about the growth of flexitarianism and how that can benefit our world and our environment? 

Bodrug: So my number one message is you certainly do not need to go plant-based overnight or entirely at all. We need millions of people doing plant-based eating imperfectly, not a few perfect vegans—that’s what is going to pressure the food industry to do better. And I also believe lab-grown meat has the potential to abolish factory farming. We’re all going to see a more plant-based, kinder world, which is the whole goal. The goal is not to be perfect, right? That’s my whole message.

LIVEKINDLY: Culturally, I would never tell someone they can’t eat the food they grew up with. As a Korean American, I would just want to see more protein-packed, vegetarian options at spots like Korean barbecue. How do your recipes help people eat more flexitarian?

Bodrug: People have a lot of nostalgia connected to the food they grew up eating. I want people to know that when they go plant-based, they don’t have to give those foods up.

A lot of the recipes that I create and that are in the book are based on recipes that I grew up eating. We ate chicken wings every Thursday night, so my dad and I spent two days testing vegan chicken wings, and they’re one of my favorite recipes in my cookbook. Other foods like tofu can really shock people as a great vegan cheese substitute, like my lasagna with tofu ricotta and my baked feta pasta with cherry tomatoes. In both of those recipes, the vegan cheese is so creamy it almost has a cream cheese consistency. I swear you could give them to a cheese lover and they would not know that it’s not cheese—people on my website go crazy over it.

LIVEKINDLY: Your series, “Scrappy Cooking,” has helped home cooks reimagine food waste, turning squash seeds into plant milk, and strawberry tops into vinegar. Why are you so passionate about cooking with what so many people consider trash?

Bodrug: I am so fired up about helping people not only eat more plants, but also reduce their food waste. “Scrappy Cooking” started with things I’ve been doing in my own home—I didn’t know anybody would be interested. I like to save money, I like food, and I like to reduce food waste. Something like 30 to 40 percent of all edible food in North America actually ends up in the trash, which is really, really sad. The food waste in landfills is creating methane, which really contributes to global warming. 

zero-waste cooking Carleigh Bodrug
Bodrug’s recipes are colorful and sustainably-focused. | Courtesy of Carleigh Bodrug

LIVEKINDLY: What was the recipe that inspired you to kick off the series?

Bodrug: One day, I threw up an orange peel candy recipe—I think this was probably eight months ago—and people just went nuts. So I just started churning them out, and I just posted my 38th episode, which is crazy. And to date, I’ve never seen such a reaction from my personal content on social media; people really like it. It’s been my favorite thing I’ve done to date, because it’s just so much fun. 

LIVEKINDLY: What do you hope viewers are getting out of “Scrappy Cooking”?

Bodrug: I hope it gets people thinking while they’re at the grocery store each week: “Okay, I’m buying this, but what am I going to use it for?” One of my biggest food-waste-reducing tips is to go to the grocery store each week with a meal plan. It doesn’t have to be something fancy—just a piece of paper, with what you’re having for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s really going to go a long way in reducing food waste, because so many of us go into the grocery store blind. We’re just picking up things, and then they wilt in our fridge, and end up in the waste. 

LIVEKINDLY: We’ve got a quick-fire challenge for you. Breakfast toast often doesn’t get finished. What do we do with that leftover bread? 

Bodrug: Bread is actually the number-one wasted food in North America, but it has so many potentials. My favorite way is to make a one-pan vegan French toast. Throw the bread into a pan, add mashed banana and plant-based milk to rehydrate the bread, plus cinnamon and a little bit of nutmeg. Throw that in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes and you’ll get a beautiful French toast. You can also create croutons and bread crumbs, and I’ve also done a low-waste stale bread chocolate cake.

LIVEKINDLY: One of your recent reels showed you taking wilted greens and turning them into smoothie cubes. Is the freezer your best friend when it comes to produce?

Bodrug: I feel like we all buy a well-intentioned box of spinach every week at the grocery store. And it’s about that planning again, but maybe you don’t get to it. So, okay, you don’t want to have it in a fresh salad, which I get, but throw it in the blender with a little bit of plant milk and freeze it into ice cubes, and you can put that in a smoothie, right? You can also cook up a vegan curry or a vegan soup and you’re not going to notice that the spinach has wilted. So it’s about being proactive about not letting something go to waste, and you’re gonna save money and reduce your food waste in the long haul. 

LIVEKINDLY: A lot of cooks have food scraps or composting down, but other aspects of the kitchen are still a major struggle. What are your sustainable, low-waste kitchen tips for them?

Bodrug: Look around your kitchen, and see what you have. Minimize and streamline, so you’re not overwhelmed with the number of pans you have. A lot of TikTok videos right now are showing how you can organize your fridge and pantry with clear or labeled containers, so you can visually assess everything from a quick glance, and know what you need to use soon. Having a really beautiful, streamlined kitchen means you can rely on its foundational elements. Also, shop your fridge and pantry before you head to the grocery store, so you don’t get home and realize you already have five cans of chickpeas.

LIVEKINDLY: It can get expensive buying for your kitchen, and achieving full sustainability can sometimes feel out of reach when you can’t afford all the containers. How do you approach a sustainable kitchen from a low-cost perspective?

Bodrug: Use what you have—if you have a plastic scrub brush, you don’t need to go and buy the aesthetic wood one with the beige bristles. It’s not so much about replacing everything in your kitchen with low-waste things—it’s about using what you have. Instead of replacing my plastic food prep containers with new sustainable options, I use a lot of mason jars to store food, since I already had them. Look around for what you already have in your kitchen that can be multipurpose, like glass containers from the dollar store.

LIVEKINDLY: Young people are at the forefront of fighting climate change. The World Wildlife Fund reported that 6 to 8 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food. Do you think Gen Z will nearly eliminate food waste in the next 10 to 20 years?

Bodrug: Being on TikTok, I have a lot of hope, because the younger folks of Gen Z are very climate-focused—like nothing I’ve ever seen. So I do have a lot of hope for that generation really igniting change from a higher kind of lobbying level. We all need to collectively start focusing on reducing food waste, but more than putting the onus on the individual, we need pressure on big corporations who not only waste food, but also have wasteful packaging like single-use plastic. If we as a generation really put it out there that we don’t want to waste food, and we don’t want to deal with single-use plastics anymore, that’s what ignites change. The top 100 corporations create 71 percent of emissions, and the onus is not on the individual as much as it is on these corporations. 

LIVEKINDLY: Let’s talk about your life before TikTok. You were a radio host and news anchor before you became a full-time food influencer and cook. What gave you the courage in 2019 to finally say, this is the moment to leave?

Bodrug: The number-one thing was my meal subscription business. I started a subscription business through PlantYou, which was at the time called the Plant Ahead Meal Prep Program, where I was releasing weekly plant-based meal plans via PDF. They were just to encourage people who had no idea what to cook plant-based, and they offered five meal ideas for the week. People would subscribe for $7.99 per month, and that enabled me to take the jump. I’m a very cautious person and wanted to have some sort of safety net in terms of recurring income, because it’s very unpredictable if you’re just relying on brand partnerships, or viewership and ads. 

But I also felt so called to it. I kept saying to my parents, “I want to do this.” They were like, “Oh my gosh, are you nuts? You have a pension and—just wait until you’re on maternity leave one day.” And that ate me up because I wanted to do it so badly. Eventually, it got to the point where I was like, “Screw it. I’m doing it.” And I did it, thank god—I can’t imagine if I hadn’t. But it hasn’t been easy. 

Carleigh Bodrug in kitchen
Bodrug’s Scrappy Cooking series that’s setting social media on fire. | Courtesy of Carleigh Bodrug

LIVEKINDLY: It’s really great that you tell the people the truth. Because some people look at what you do, and they might think it’s easy, or just something that’s a part-time job, in your spare time. 

Bodrug: Yeah, it’s hard. I work seven days a week, probably 70 hours a week, and it’s hard when things don’t go right. I looked at my Instagram feed the other day, and I had 1,400 posts that I’ve posted. Somebody asked me for advice on Instagram, and I was like, “Honestly, I’ve posted almost every single day for four to five years.” It’s just being relentless. If you want something, you have to go after it. 

LIVEKINDLY: So how do you deal with the trolls? Do you just not read the comments?

Bodrug: I now have almost a million followers on Instagram, and I still read every single comment—like everybody does. My 2022 mantra was not to respond to trolls. I try to ignore them. There’s nothing you’re going to say that is going to reason with them. For every troll comment, you should respond to five positive ones first. I try to do that because the positive almost always outweighs the negative in people. I am so lucky. I love my PlantYou community—I swear, they’re the best people in the entire world. 

LIVEKINDLY: Okay, so in that nonexistent spare time, what have you been watching lately?

Bodrug: I loved Forks Over Knives and Game Changers—especially for showing your loved ones and friends who are athletes, Game Changers can help move the needle. On TikTok, I’m impressed with the storytelling of these amazing writers and recipe creators that really goes beyond veganism—and then once you have that connection beyond veganism, a viewer might be more apt to try out a recipe, right? I definitely credit The Korean Vegan, because the way she storytells, it doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest meat-eater on earth, or if you’re plant-based or vegan—her story hits home. Tabitha Brown—oh my gosh, you don’t need to be vegan to fall in love with her. I also love watching Lisa Kitahara of Okonomi Kitchen, Turnip Vegan (@turnipvegan), Danielle Brown (@healthygirlkitchen), Remy Morimoto Park (@veggiekins), Mary Elizabeth (@maryelouis), and Stephanie Manzinali (@that.veganbabe).

LIVEKINDLY: You have such a dedicated following of folks who love what you cook. What’s in the future for you—would you ever open a restaurant, or start a cooking school online?

Bodrug: I get asked this all the time, and you wouldn’t know it, but I have this massive fear of cooking for people. I have this massive platform, right? I have a cookbook coming out, but I am not a great cook, from a foundational perspective. I am just a normal person having fun with plant-based food and if you see me being able to do it, you can do it too. And that’s my message, and I think it’s resonated.

Carleigh Bodrug's curry
Here’s how to make Bodrug’s plant-based curry. | Courtesy of Carleigh Bodrug
fudgy avocado brownies
These fudgy brownies are loaded with avocado and dark chocolate chips. | Courtesy of Carleigh Bodrug