After AU: Alumna Kathy Patalsky, author and professional food blogger
In the third installment of the alumni series “After AU,” Kathy Patalsky sits down with The Eagle. Patalsky graduated from AU’s College of Arts and Sciences in 2005 with a degree in Health Promotion. Although she never imagined life as a blogger, she has seen massive success with her two blogs, Healthy Happy Life and Finding Vegan, as well as with two cookbooks, “365 Vegan Smoothies” and “Healthy Happy Vegan Kitchen.” She currently lives in Los Angeles as a full-time food blogger and author.
When did you create Healthy Happy Life?
I started it back in 2007 when blogging had really just started to emerge, so I kind of started at the beginning of the whole blogging trend. I started it because I had just moved up to New York City with my husband. I didn’t have a job yet, and I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do in New York. I started looking at other websites and blogs, and I was really fascinated by the people who were making these websites, so in my spare time I started a website that focused on healthy children’s characters called the Lunch Box Bunch. I started to write books and I illustrated them -- I just got really creative and inspired by all this free time that I was blessed to have. The real thing that started to be successful was the blog that was actually attached to that brand. As the months went by, I stopped focusing on this children’s brand that I had created, and I started to focus on the blog.
Did you have any blogging or writing experience before launching your own site?
I’ve always been an avid writer. All of my favorite subjects in school always involved creative writing or research paper writing. I love writing, and I always excelled in that, and you kind of gravitate toward the things that you excel in. But blogging was something you just kind of dove into back then. There were no books on it, no articles, or anything on how to start a blog [or] how to do social media. I’m self taught, especially with things like photography. I was really just teaching myself as I went.
What has been the most exciting part of your career? What has been the most challenging?
The most exciting parts are just the diversity of the people and the things that I get to experience. The blogging community and the food world are so vast. There are conferences and activities, and you can mingle with other bloggers and brands that you’ve worked with. Getting access to those really exciting social activities and working with some of my favorite brands — magazines that I read, products that I use in my kitchen every day — and the idea that I get to use these in my blog and make money collaborating with these amazing companies is really exciting.
The most challenging part is definitely the unpredictability of being a self-employed entrepreneur. You never know what your day is going to be. You really don’t know how much money you’re going to be making every month. And of course, working from home is something that takes a long time to really get used to. At first I hated it. I’m a really social person, so not having coworkers and [not] having to get dressed everyday and go to an office was something I missed at first, but if you learn to embrace it, it can actually be very fabulous.
How do you find inspiration for your writing?
The things that really inspire me are the conversations I have with my girlfriends and talking about wellness issues, nutrition, body image. Everything that you talk about with your friends, those are the things I like to talk about on my blog. All my blog readers know me like I’m their friend. I really like to keep it very real and honest, so whatever I’m talking about in my real life you’ll probably find on my blog.
Do you feel that your experiences at AU prepared you for this career?
I do. I found AU after kind of jumping around majors. I had been to three different colleges before I finished up at American. When I got to American, it was finally coming back to my passion, which is nutrition and wellness and food and fitness. Being around that group of students, and especially all the professors, was just like a lightbulb going off. I finally felt like I fit in, and I soon found my passion. It wasn’t necessarily like, “This career is going to make me the most money,” or “This is the career that will sound the most successful.” It didn’t really matter to me. I just loved that I was dealing with subjects I loved. I loved going to my nutrition classes. Besides just preparing me academically, I think it really helped me realize what my passion was and that I was in the right field. Of course, all the faculty there were very open-minded about the things that we could do with our major — it wasn’t just one place they were filing us into. That kind of outside-the-box thinking that they have for career opportunities was really good for me and helped me design my own career.
Did you mean for blogging to become your career?
No. I would never in a million years guess that this would be my career. Sometimes I still stop and think, “Maybe I should go get a real job.” There’s still a struggle with trying to get it to be a socially-accepted job category, but I think it’s getting better.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up, and I run to the computer and I start working on my other website, findingvegan.com. That involves editing through the hundreds of submissions that are received daily. That’s work that just has to get done on a daily basis, so I’ll do that type of thing, and then I’ll do a lot of social media work. Once I’m done with all the stuff that has to get done in the morning when everyone is offline, then I’ll start to dive into my creative work, which is being in the kitchen, using my camera and working on any creative projects that might be going on. I’ll basically just hop around from social media to my projects and whatever I’m currently working on until my husband gets home. I don’t have a commute, so I do work long hours. I do try to schedule things outside of my house at least once a week, just so I get out [and] I’m talking to other bloggers and other people. I am a one-woman show. I do all my own social media, I do all my own emails with brands. It’s a lot.
What advice would you give to today’s AU students who want to start their own blog or website?
Blog about something that you love, first and foremost, because you don’t want to get sick of it after a few months, [and] you don’t want it to be something you just started to be interested in, and after you find out everything, you want to know you’re done with it. Blog about something that is really entwined in your life, that even 10 years ago was really part of who you were. That can be such a wide range of things.
You also want to pick a topic that is interesting to other people and will be successful. You don’t want to choose something too niche that’s not going to be successful. Food blogging is a great industry because people are always looking for recipes, and it’s a very hot topic. Fashion blogging, design blogging, DIY blogging — all that stuff is really popular right now. The second thing is that you want to really commit yourself. Most people I talk to who just start their blog get really frustrated because they’ve been blogging for two months, three months, and their traffic is just not going anywhere. You just have to keep at it because you never know when BuzzFeed is going to pick up on a post, or something is going to go viral. Just one post goes viral, and it really starts to ignite your entire blog. You have to keep posting two to three times a week, at least. You just have to do it, no matter what.
What do you hope college students take from your website?
I hope that college students can get some really easy, delicious recipes because I know that it’s really hard to eat healthy when you’re in college. You’re studying late, and things aren’t open late, and then you just end up throwing things in the microwave, so I hope that they can find some recipes [on my blog]. I hope that it also professes some message about the plant-based diet world and the entire environmental movement — it’s such a hot topic right now for so many good reasons. I also hope that they start their own blog.
Blogging is such a great part-time thing for anybody to do even if you’re not doing it as a career. It’s a great way to express yourself, you can meet other people online who are blogging about the same things as you and, you never know, it could turn into something that is your career.