You may recognize Francesca Bonadonna as the woman behind Instagram’s popular Plantifully Based food account. Her colorful and drool-worthy creations have attracted vegans and non-vegans alike across the platform. While her Instagram followers know her as someone who channels her creative energy through food photography and cooking, her creative skills also extend beyond the kitchen and onto the stage as a singer (she studied Vocal Performance in college, obtaining both a BFA and an MM).
Aside from her presence on Instagram, she is also active on various other social media platforms, including YouTube and a blog. Through her personal blog and YouTube videos, she’s not only able to share the real-time process of preparing tasty vegan dishes, but also share tips on how to go vegan, what to buy your vegan loved ones for the holidays, how to live a happy life, and so much more.
GUNAS had the pleasure of partnering with her for an Instagram giveaway last month and then for this interview, where we explored her journey to veganism, her passion for food, and life as a vegan social media influencer.
When did you go vegan? Was there an “a-ha” moment involved and what was the process of transitioning like for you?
I went vegan very gradually. In January of 2016, my main resolution was to get healthier. I began first by cutting out the cheese because, like most people, I was basically addicted. I used to eat 4-6 Polly-O cheese sticks a day. Eventually, I cut out all dairy from my diet. I never really liked fish, so I was just left with meat and eggs. Because I am Catholic, we do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent. So I decided on Fridays I would just eat vegan.
At the time, I was watching a lot of YouTube videos with vegan recipes and thought they looked really delicious. I began to try a few out and really enjoyed them. From there, that one day turned into two days, three days and so on. I started out only eating vegan one day a week and found I just felt amazing.
Eventually, on April 11th, 2016 I challenged myself to eat a vegan diet for thirty days. The more I learned about the cruelty beautiful animals have to face, the more it clicked that I couldn’t live a lifestyle that hurt others anymore. I stuck with it and never went back. It was a lot easier because I did everything gradually and, honestly, I didn’t even know I was going to go vegan. It was a very pressure free kind of thing and I think that’s why it was able to stick.
What was the first vegan dish you prepared? Do you have a favorite dish?
One of the first things I made was chickpea “tuna” salad. I remember being so excited to make it and I loved it. It’s so hard to pick a favorite but I love anything involving tofu. I like how it can be a vehicle for so many flavors and works well in so many things!
It’s amazing to know that you started with a simple chickpea “tuna” salad and now curate an Insta populated with tons of beautiful, delicious, and diverse dishes. Have you always been interested in cooking?
I grew up in an Italian family surrounded by many great chefs. Food is obviously a very big part of our culture. From a very young age, I was introduced to a multitude of flavors and foods by my two grandmas, two great-grandmas, and mom. When I was five, one of my great grandmas gave me flour and water to play with and we would make dough. It introduced me to the idea of cooking and creating. From everyone in my family’s influence, I learned to experiment in the kitchen, play and have fun. Now I get to make vegan versions of some of my favorite recipes from my family.
How do you want to continue growing as a cook?
I want to keep developing my own style of cooking, something that is unique to me. I also want to get more into making my own seitan and mock meats!
Are there any chefs or cooks that inspire your work and who you’d like to cook with?
I love Lauren Toyota from Hot for Food, Chloe Coscarelli, and Candice Hutchings from The Edgy Veg. I think all of them are great examples of talented vegan women who are showing people vegan food is not boring! The list of people I would love to cook with is a mile long but to name a few: Miyoko Schinner, Timothy Pakron from Mississippi Vegan, Sarah Sullivan from Sarah’s Vegan Kitchen, and all the other women I listed above, as well!
What would you say are some Must Haves for the beginner vegan cook?
Get yourself a good blender. Cashews make everything creamy. Nutritional yeast is going to be your best friend. Vegan cooking is easier because you don’t have to deal with raw meat and eggs, so just have fun!
What does it feel like to have such a huge following on social media? Did you ever expect to garner almost 70k followers on Instagram alone?
It’s pretty surreal! I never ever expected anything like this to happen. I started the Instagram as a food diary, really, and to keep myself motivated. The pictures were not good, I didn’t share my name or anything about myself and was really using it to find inspiration. But it is amazing now and has allowed me to connect with people from all over the world. It gives me a chance to do something I love and really feel like I am making a difference. I hate the word followers because I have always said these are my friends. Everyone who messages me I interact with, I try to respond to every comment and be as helpful as I can to everyone. I was looking for a vegan community and I am so happy to have one!
When did you decide to take the leap to YouTube?
In September 2016 I decided to start making YouTube videos. I have always loved the idea of making videos. I personally find it much easier to follow a recipe through a video than seeing it written down on a blog.
You’ve talked on your YouTube channel about having a non-vegan boyfriend. Can you summarize for our blog readers what it’s like to be in a relationship with non-vegan?
I am very lucky to have a boyfriend who is extremely supportive of everything I do. He is always excited to try my food, always makes sure there is something for me to eat wherever we go, and is always open to hearing my opinions. Because I don’t know anyone who is vegan, it is not that weird to me that my boyfriend isn’t a vegan. I also met him before I decided to go vegan and I was not going to break up with him just because I decided to make a lifestyle change. In my opinion, as long as your partner is willing to listen and respect your choice that is that all matters.
What’s a typical week like in the life of a social media influencer?
I try to be very organized. I upload two YouTube videos a week, Wednesdays, and Sundays. I post an Instagram picture five to six times a week. There is, of course, tons of recipe testing and creating. I also have to answer emails, photograph and edit pictures, film and edit videos, answer comments, write blog posts, brainstorm ideas, and continuously work on building my brand. Sometimes it can become overwhelming. I don’t have an office and work from home so it can be hard to turn my brain off at times. Some weeks are busier than others but I know I am lucky to get to do something I love.
Do you incorporate your vegan values into your wardrobe choices?
I definitely incorporate veganism into my wardrobe! I was actually pleasantly surprised to find out that a lot of my sweaters were just cotton or leather jackets were faux leather. Luckily, I haven’t had to change all too much about my fashion and the things I buy. The two biggest things are bags and shoes. But luckily there are brands like GUNAS that make gorgeous bags without any of the cruelty! Vegan fashion has come so far.
When did you first discover GUNAS?
It was on Instagram! I remember seeing the beautiful bags and your stunning Instagram feed and being blown away. Everything looked so high quality and just truly gorgeous.
How would #gunasgirls describe you?
As someone who is creative, genuine, and compassionate!
We’d like to give a big “thank you” to Francesca for taking the time out of her busy schedule to collaborate with us for the giveaway and this interview. Her creativity, strong work ethic, and kindness are truly inspirational. We’re so excited to see her grow as a cook, photographer, and vegan/animal rights advocate!