Remy Morimoto Park, also known as Veggiekins to her 100k+ Instagram followers, is a Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese blogger and influencer based in New York City. Through Veggiekins blog and Instagram, she shares vegan and gluten-free recipes, holistic, non-toxic living tips, and her own journey to well-being through recovery.
The pastel pink hues of Park’s Instagram feed will instantly put you at ease. But her Instagram followers don’t just come to Veggiekins for its aesthetically pleasing array of yoga poses, houseplants, and handmade ceramics. No. This carefully curated feed digs much deeper into what it means to be “well” – and for Park, that means recovery from alcohol, substances, an eating disorder, and OCD.
Park spoke with The Temper about how her Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese heritage has intersected with both her struggles and her recovery, what it’s like to run Veggiekins blog and Instagram, and even some of her most popular Asian-inspired vegan recipes.
Hi Remy! How did you start Veggiekins?
The origin of the blog is actually rooted in my recovery from Anorexia Nervosa, which started around the age of 7 or 8 years old. It was on and off until my senior year of high school, and I really only took my recovery seriously when I started college. I have also been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (the rate of comorbidity between OCD and eating disorders is high) and started to abuse both substances and alcohol around the age of 13.
During my first year of college, I decided to take advantage of the handful of free therapy and counseling sessions provided by the university, mainly to work through lingering disordered eating behaviors. I was then introduced to an eating disorder specialist who helped me focus on recovery while also completing my degree. I was adamant about continuing my education, and knowing the alternative was inpatient treatment, really took recovery to heart.
What is now Veggiekins Blog was then just an Instagram account that I used to document my intake to share with my doctor and hold myself accountable. Around the same time, I was also able to get sober through therapy and meetings, and by the time I graduated from college, I was in recovery from Anorexia and sober from all substances and alcohol.
How do you think your heritage has affected your recovery journey?
My immediate family is very culturally American, but I distinctly remember my family’s move to Asia from New York having a tremendous impact on my body image and attitude about substances. As an Asian American who was significantly taller, moving to an international school in Taiwan where bodies were, on average, much smaller, I always felt “big”. It was hard not to compare myself to my peers at the time, and even though I was only 7 years old, I remember wondering why “baby fat” was a normal thing back home in the US, but the kids at my new school in Taiwan didn’t seem to have any.
Comments about weight and appearance are also a lot more common in Asian communities and a slim build is the ideal body type, so I heard comments being thrown around about appearance and bodies constantly. I remember being told by adults (at age 7) that I was chubbier, but shouldn’t worry because I grew tall, it could even out. My parents never made comments about my weight, but I would receive comments about my body from extended family and family friends. Sometimes I was told I looked slimmer, always in a slightly more positive tone.
The Asian tendency to make body and appearance-related comments definitely amplified my existing body image issues and had a significant impact on my self-worth. Self-deprecating comments, which are also considered fairly “normal”, may have also masked how serious my eating disorder was.
International school culture in Asia involved a lot of underage drinking, drug use, and going to clubs. At the end of my middle school years, I started to spend most of my weekends, and sometimes weeknights, out at bars and clubs. Alcohol and drugs were always involved. The very first time I went to a club with an older friend of mine, I overestimated my alcohol tolerance, drank far too much at the $18 open bar, and was given my first hard drug, which I was told would help to dull my drinking induced nausea. After that night, I no longer thought that substances were scary, and was open to it all. The easy access to substances and alcohol made it very easy to use, and it very quickly became a coping mechanism for me and a new disorder of its own.
Mental health is not something openly discussed among Asians/Asian Americans. It’s not that I was ever discouraged from sharing my emotions, or opening up to my parents, but I had internalized the idea that being depressed, or feeling controlled by weight, drugs, and alcohol was somehow a sign of weakness. I knew of the challenges my grandparents experienced immigrating to the United States and felt ungrateful when I compared my struggles.
On top of all of that, my parents had been nothing but supportive and compassionate towards me, so I felt guilty for creating problems or asking for help. I don’t think I was aware of traditional Korean, Japanese or Taiwanese beliefs around mental health, but it is not uncommon for mental health issues to be interpreted as personal failures in all three cultures.
On Veggiekins, you are known for your creative vegan recipes. What drew you to veganism?
I initially went vegan about a year after working through my eating disorder recovery. Prescribing to any kind of lifestyle change, specifically one that involves food can be tricky to manage while in eating disorder recovery but what I found was that veganism actually helped to reconcile my relationship with food.
Although I had technically “recovered” and restored my weight, I found that my interest in veganism made me excited about food. I became interested in going to the farmer’s market, exploring new fruits and vegetables, learning new ways to cook and prepare food, and sharing that with friends and family. I felt connected to the food, knowing that my choice to eat vegan also had a positive impact on the environment and of course, the lives of animals. It made me feel good about eating and gave me purpose.
Veganism is a lifestyle of compassion, and it eventually taught me compassion for myself. This meant nourishing myself, fueling my body with high-quality plant-based food, and also being mindful of what I was consuming (and this applied to the way I shifted my perspective on alcohol and drugs too).
How has your heritage affected your choice to be vegan and the ways you engage with the vegan community?
When I first went vegan, my parents were supportive but believed I wouldn’t be able to enjoy our cultural foods anymore. My grandparents were less supportive and really believed that meat and animal products were superior to vegetables, grains, and beans. A lot of that comes from the way meat and animal products were delicacies, only able to be enjoyed by those who were wealthy. Being able to afford meat and animal products was a sign of success, whereas vegetables, grains, and beans were considered farmer, or “peasant” food even. I wasn’t met with much backlash, but it’s a running joke within the family that I’m a “cheap date”.
Interestingly enough, in Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese culture, there is some understanding about what veganism is through Buddhism. Buddhists typically don’t consume meat or animal products, so in Korea, it could be called monk, or temple food and in Japan, it’s Shojin. Taiwan has a large Buddhist population, and an impressive selection of vegan mock meats (everything from duck, to squid).
While my reason for going vegan is not religious, I’ve been able to take inspiration from Asian Buddhist cuisine to create cultural dishes that my family members recognize and it’s always fun re-creating traditional dishes and making them vegan. My family members might not be interested in trying a kale caesar salad, but are curious and connect more to vegan versions of sushi, or ramen, for example.
When I went vegan six years ago, I saw very few vegans that looked like me. Most vegans were white, and the food, and recipes online, were mostly western. Over the years I’ve connected with a more diverse group of vegans, and love sharing and recreating cultural dishes. It’s important that the vegan community is inclusive and diverse so that those interested feel welcome and see faces they can relate to. Eating vegan doesn’t mean you have to give up your culture (or the food!) so I do my best to incorporate my heritage into the recipes I create.
What other tools besides veganism have helped you through your recovery journey?
Connecting with others in the health and wellness world helped me through not only my eating disorder recovery journey but also my journey to sobriety. I’ve noticed that many people turn to wellness as a response to being unwell, so I’m able to connect with others who can relate to my history with addiction and disordered eating.
With that in mind, I find that the wellness community is mindful of language used around food and bodies, and many choose not to drink as a preference. Surrounding myself with a community that I can connect to without feeling peer pressured or left out has been really important for me.
As far as tools go, I think meditation, therapy, and yoga have been my go to’s because keeping my wellness in check helps to keep my mental health in check. Everything is connected mind-body-spirit-energy so when my physical health or emotional health is off, my mental health is more vulnerable too.
You are also a yoga teacher. How did you get into yoga? Do you have a philosophy for your practice?
I was introduced to yoga by my mom, who got her yoga certification after the age of 40, and very randomly too! I was never interested in it myself but started to learn about the yoga sutras and yamas (or five recommendations from Patanjali) through my interest in veganism. My mom would come home from her classes and share some of her learnings with us every day and the term Ahimsa, which translates to non-violence (including animals and all life) in Sanskrit, really made sense to me.
Still, I was never too interested in practice because I thought that yoga was too low impact, and in all my years of disordered eating and body image issues, I thought nonstop cardio was the only way to go. I didn’t think yoga had anything to offer me because my motivation was just working out, at the time.
During my recovery though, I had to stop exercising and shift my relationship with working out, so I finally found myself interested in yoga. It was a low impact way for me to move and also feel a connection to my body. The way yoga contributed to my healing inspired me to get my yoga certification and my understanding of what yoga is has changed so much. Sitting, laying down on your mat, and even just breathing is yoga.
What are some of your favorite Asian-inspired recipes you’ve developed?
My Asian-inspired recipes tend to be some of the most popular, because they’re different and perhaps more exciting than standard vegan salads and grain bowls.
My Quinoa Bibimbap is a riff off of a simple Korean recipe, involving rice, seasoned vegetables, and a spicy red pepper sauce. It is easily vegan friendly when made without egg.
Miso Mushroom Ramen is an easy, Japanese inspired recipe. While traditional ramen is made with pork or other meat-based broths, the mushrooms, miso, and kelp create a plant-based umami flavor.
I’ve been loving making my Crunchy Rainbow Soba Salad, which is perfect for summertime. This is more of a fusion recipe, with a creamy peanut butter dressing, fresh raw veggies, and Japanese buckwheat noodles.
Morimoto Park proves a healthy, sober lifestyle isn’t just possible, it can also be really beautiful.