Her secret recipe: Delicious, vegan recipes that are easy to cook or bake and also taste great.
On her Instagram channel Fitgreenmind, this young woman from the German state of Saarland shows just how easy vegan nutrition can be.
In PLANTBASED. Live Podcast on the Food Stage of the OMR Festival in Hamburg, Germany, she answered questions from us and Fiete Gastro co-host Sebastian Merget.
In our interview with Maya, she tells us:
- how she built a community of millions on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and Co with her Instagram Reel
- about managing her everyday school life alongside content creation
- how to create your own successful food reels
- her favorite vegan meals
- how you can cook tofu in the most delicious way
- why she is vegan
- her recommendations for the top tools and apps to create aesthetic food videos
and much more
If you want to hear the full interview, including answers to further questions, (available only in German), click here to listen to the PLANTBASED. podcast. Enjoy! PLANTBASED Podcast pure listening.
(Note: This interview was conducted in German and has been translated to English for you below. Translations are intended solely as a convenience to the non-German-reading public. This is Vegan has attempted to provide an accurate translation of the original interview, but due to the nuances in translating to a foreign language, slight differences may exist.)
Hi Maya, how do you like it at the OMR Festival? What were your highlights?
Maya Leinenbach: Hard to say. I am the first time here and am totally flashed by all the booths, how much is going on here and also culinary here is totally a lot going on, also vegan. It’s really very, very cool! There is such a huge selection here. I almost couldn’t decide, but I had a vegan African wrap for lunch. It was extremely delicious!
At 17, you already have 1.8 million followers on Instagram. How did you do that?
Maya Leinenbach: Of course, that won’t happen overnight, but I’ve been there since the beginning of 2019. And mainly responsible for that, I would say, are my Reels, which then went through the roof. And I started out with photos and regular videos, but then through the Reels it really went through the roof and I’m focusing on vegan recipe videos.
Where do you get the inspiration for your recipes from?
Maya Leinenbach: From everywhere. I really think you can find inspiration anywhere. When I’m with my grandmother or when I’m eating on vacation, but I also look on the Internet myself and just like to try out a lot.
Do you also have other creators you follow who you say are your absolute favorite bloggers?
Maya Leinenbach: Not one or the other. I have a few that I look in from time to time, but also just posts where I don’t even know who is behind them, where I then come across the account. So it’s very broad.
I recently cooked something with natural tofu. It wasn't really delicious... - Do you have any tips for what I can do a little better next time?
Maya Leinenbach: Tofu doesn’t really taste like anything. That’s a good thing, though, because you can season it however you like. And what I really like to do is put it in the oven before I cook it. This gives it a good consistency: a bit crispy on the outside. And then put it in a good sauce, like a sweet and sour sauce or something. So then it can taste really good!
You are 17 years old, a content creator, cookbook author, and you have to entertain a community of millions every day. What is a typical day like in your life?
Maya Leinenbach: There is no such typical day. Generally, I film all my videos on Saturdays and then edit them on Sundays, which means I’ve already pre-produced the content for the week. And during the week there might still be collaborations or something like that, which I then do during the week. And of course I’m at school in the morning, sometimes until the afternoon, and after that I usually do a little sport and then take care of comments or DMs in between and try to plan it that way.
How much time goes into stuff like comments and DMs every day?
Maya Leinenbach: Hard to say. I always do that in between, but unfortunately I don’t manage to answer everything. I’m trying to do as much as I can, but it’s probably going to take a few hours all together.
Have there been concerns from your family that you might neglect school?
Maya Leinenbach: Actually not at all. I’ve always been a pretty good student and I knew what I had to do to get good grades. My parents weren’t really worried about that.
Speaking of school, you've kept everything on your channels in English since day one. Why did you choose this and how do you speak English so well?
Maya Leinenbach: I decided to make my content bilingual because of course you can reach a lot more people with English than just with German. And I’m always trying to improve my English. I think it’s quite good, but there’s definitely room for improvement. And I learned it at school and I think through Instagram I practice it pretty much every day and it also helps to improve my pronunciation and all sorts of things.
What tools do you use to cut and edit your Instagram Reels?
Maya Leinenbach: I started with iMovie. This is very good for starters because it’s pretty easy to use, but of course you only have limited options. Then, I use Adobe Premiere Pro now and it’s pretty good. You have a lot of options there, and once you’ve learned it, it’s pretty easy to use
Can you currently live on the income from your cookbooks and channels?
Maya Leinenbach: Since I’m 17 and still live at home, I don’t need much, but I also put a lot of work into it. It’s almost a full-time job and of course something comes back, and I’m very, very happy and very grateful that I also have an after-school [income] through Instagram.
Have you thought about doing this full-time after school?
Maya Leinenbach: Absolutely. So that’s a really cool platform that I have there, a cool community, and I really have the goal of expanding Fitgreenmind even further, making it a brand, maybe with our own products too, and going further and further in that direction.
Now we've talked a lot about what you do, but we haven't talked about the big "why" yet. Maya, why are you actually vegan?
Maya Leinenbach: I became vegan because I had to deal with veganism for school and was totally skeptical about it at first. But in the end I was convinced by the environmental aspect and of course also the animal suffering aspect, because animals have actually always been close to my heart. My sister has also been a vegetarian for a very long time and I thought I’d give it a try and ended up staying vegan for these reasons.
How did your classmates react to your food channels?
Maya Leinenbach: So I never said, “Follow me on Instagram,” or something like that, but that came with increasing reach. And they all think it’s pretty cool and also support me, try out recipes from time to time. Sometimes I am also spoken to in the school corridor. That’s always very funny.
Were there any negative reactions to your project from those around you, like envy or something? And if so, how do you deal with it?
Maya Leinenbach: Of course, if you have a large reach, you can’t prevent a few stupid comments from coming, but I have to say that there is actually very, very little hate and, above all, not against me, but rather against veganism. And I can [deal with] that quite well. I gladly accept constructive criticism, but if it’s just something pointless, then I don’t even go into it.
Were there situations in the business context where you were underestimated because of your age?
Maya Leinenbach: I don’t think so. Because I’ve been working with my management for over a year now and they also work very professionally and are also very active in a lot of negotiations, I’m not so directly involved in it, but I think because [I have a large reach and following] and also show that I can do it professionally, I will be taken seriously.
You have up to 9 million views on your reels on Instagram. What are the most important success factors for Instagram Reels if you want to start them for yourself in the food context?
Maya Leinenbach: First of all, you have to get the user’s attention at the beginning of the video, because the first few seconds are really crucial for people to continue watching. And for food videos, I would say show the finished recipe at the beginning or ask some sort of spurring question that gets you hooked and then make quick cuts throughout the video and just make it fun with a few jokes that keep it light and be yourself, be authentic and then it will be good.
What does a potential partner have to bring to make it into your feed?
Maya Leinenbach: First of all, I have to like the product so much that I have it at home and use it myself, otherwise there is no point in recommending it to my community. And then of course I also have a few values that I value, for example sustainability or that the quality is good, that you really have a product that lasts a long time. And I always test that very extensively. And when I’m really satisfied, I also have fun recommending it to my community.
I read an interesting quote last week from the Federal Minister for Digital and Transport, Volker Wissing. He said, "If you look at the number of photos of food on social media around the world, you see a tremendous energy consumption." And one should question whether this is really necessary. Where does the topic of sustainability start for you and where does it end?
Maya Leinenbach: Sustainability is of course a very, very big topic and I think everyone can take a look for themselves where to start. Whether it’s that you don’t eat meat once a week, or you try to eat vegan twice a week, or sometimes take the bike instead of the car, or save plastic. There are many, many places where you can say to yourself, “I am now trying to pay attention to this and live a little more sustainably here.” And once you start with a few small steps, it will [progress naturally and you will] then do different things for your own sustainability. But I think uploading my own photos to the internet is the last thing I would stop to live sustainably.
You already inspire millions of people with your food channels. How do you approach your immediate circle of friends and acquaintances with the topic of "vegan nutrition"?
Maya Leinenbach: I don’t want to proselytize [or point my finger], I want to inspire people and show that cooking vegan can be easy and delicious. And they don’t have to be completely vegan, but maybe just try cooking something vegan. And those are always the comments that make me the most happy, from people who say they don’t actually cook much and aren’t vegan at all, but they just tried my recipes, thought they were delicious and now they do that sometimes.
What food trends do you see in the future?
Maya Leinenbach: I think vegan in general is a big trend. So there is more and more in the supermarkets or on the Internet. And also the topic of healthy recipes, sustainable recipes, zero waste. It’s all a bit on the rise and that’s also what’s my main focus, of course.
How is the support from your family?
Maya Leinenbach: I always write a shopping list for my videos and then my mother usually does the shopping for me because I also go to school and it doesn’t always work out that way. And of course I clean up the kitchen after I’ve cooked. And if I do all the videos on Saturdays, for example, we always have a big buffet in the evenings that everyone can eat from. So it’s a little community thing when I’ve cooked.
Now we've talked about all the recipes you've created, but what's your favorite food?
Maya Leinenbach: This is always the very hardest question in interviews.n general, So [I like] pasta dishes and that changes constantly, depending on what kind of recipe I just posted. And as of now, I made vegan souvlaki over the weekend and it was delicious.
What are your personal wishes for the future?
Maya Leinenbach: Of course, I would like to continue using social media with Reels and YouTube videos, and my big dream is to someday have my own products in the supermarket – like vegan and healthy convenience food. So that’s my biggest goal now for the next few years
Finally, is there anything you really want to share?
Maya Leinenbach: I think just be open to new things, whether it’s social media, if you want to set up your own account, or whether it’s vegan recipes or whatever. Be open to new things, try new things.