In a social landscape littered with fakes, narcissists and meanies, Miss Piggie Eats is an accidental influencer who credits her dedicated following to her honesty, sincerity and genuine passion for food.
Jennifer Yu came to Glendale at age 6 with her family from Seoul, and together with her brother became absorbed in Sesame Street as a way to immerse themselves in the English language.
"Growing up I was always a good eater — I was never picky," the elegantly poised Yu tells L.A. Weekly over a huge plate of spaghetti and meatballs at Vernetti's in Larchmont Village.
"As a kid I would and could eat anything and was open to trying everything. I'd try whatever my mom suggested and got really excited about it. She'd say, 'When you try new things, you're so happy!' and my eyes would light up. Eating all those foods when I was younger, my brother always used to call me Miss Piggy. His palate is pickier than mine. I was chubbier as a kid, too, so I just started sharing everything Miss Piggie Eats."
As an adult, Yu got into sales and mortgages at the right time and became successful, but she realized it wasn't her passion, just a good way to make a living. Her love of food kept beckoning her. With the support of a loving husband (who aside from being an attorney is also her personal photographer on those many food journeys), she packed up the calculator and just started documenting everything Miss Piggie Eats on Instagram, the most popular social media outlet when it comes to food.
"I never expected it to become so popular," she says. "It's a competitive space and it's harder to grow in this industry. For me, to be completely honest, I never entered this thinking I'd be Insta-famous or an influencer. I just got into it because I love food so much. And going to different places, I thought, why not just document this journey, and then while doing that, I eventually grew and became open to this world. I didn't know by doing this what I was getting myself into. I never realized it would open up so many doors and I'd end up where I am today."
The first sponsorship to come knocking thanks to her highly engaged Instagram following of more than 45,000 was Google, who made her an ambassador and armed her with one of its Pixel phones. The company recently treated its ambassadors to a thank-you trip to the artist community of Marfa, Texas.
Yu soon starting doing videos because she was comfortable in the huge world of the Korean tradition of Muckbang and was familiar with it before Instagram burst on the scene in 2010. Muckbang is a live online broadcast in which a host devours massive amounts of food while interacting with their audience.
"I won't take on brands that don't coincide with me. It has to be brands that I love," Yu says while splitting noodles among plates.
"I like Mike's Mighty Good Ramen, which is an organic noodle company. It's instant noodles but healthier. It's all organic and I've been passionate about that company and have been working with them for over a year now," she says. "I'll create content for them, like a video or photos on my page. I've worked with Panera Bread. I've grown up eating Panera Bread, so it's familiar to me. The Habit is another one — having grown up in Glendale I've always loved it. It's one of my favorite burger joints."
And restaurants love it when Yu comes in, noticing an uptick in business soon after.
"It helps the restaurants," she says. "I'm giving my true, honest opinions. My followers will message me and tag me when they go to places and say, 'We went here just because of you and truly enjoyed what you had.' They thank me for introducing them to these places they would have never known about. That's what keeps me wanting to continue doing what I'm doing.
"People will come up to me in restaurants and tell me how much they love the videos and photos and posts. Many are new to town and don't know where to eat or explore the dining scene. That just puts a smile on my face."
As she navigates events such as the recent Latin Food Fest, fans will recognize her and want to grab selfies, to which she always graciously acquiesces.
"I love her energy, sense of style and taste," one of her biggest fans, chef Sammy Monsour of Preux and Proper, tells L.A. Weekly. "She's fun, intelligent and takes great photos. Whether it's a post about Flamin' Hot Cheetos in Texas, or a snap of her legendary noodle pull (anywhere) in Los Angeles, I want to eat with her."
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And Yu is truly thankful for all the experiences. Her biggest thrill is meeting the chefs and hearing their stories.
"I don't do it because of the numbers," she says. "Everybody does this for different reasons. Going to a restaurant and trying it before anybody else is a thrill, and talking to the chefs is what keeps me going. That's what makes me happy."
So what's Yu's advice on how to make it in the influencer world?
"I would just say go for it. Especially now in this competitive world, it's so much more saturated than before, you have to continuously stick to it. You have to be diligent in posting and engaging with your audience and stay true to yourself. Anytime you want to mimic or copy somebody, you'll lose people. Just be yourself."