I Want to Be the Smoothie-Bowl Queen of America

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Lee Tilghman's Instagram.Photo: Courtesy of Instagram/leefromamerica

Lifestyle content is all about aspiration, which is code for making people envy you and shop accordingly. In our series I Like This Bitch’s Life, the Cut bitterly admits that it’s working.

In the world of ostentatious Instagram food porn, items like gilded doughnuts, preposterously meaty sandwiches, and massive ice-cream cones still reign supreme. Well-lit and sparse photos of avocado toasts and hemp-seed-laden overnight oats are confined to a different realm of the social-media platform — the wellness world, with the likes of [lowers voice to a whisper] Amanda Chantal Bacon, and it was always assumed that never the twain shall meet. But then there’s Lee From America.

For the uninitiated, Lee Tilghman is a food stylist and recipe developer based in Los Angeles whose Instagram is populated with over-the-top creations that are also nutritious — and not in the diet-y “we used a pound of Stevia and two watermelons to make a birthday cake that only has 100 calories” way that’s come to be interpreted as “healthy.” Tilghman uses plentiful amounts of raw fruit and vegetables, wields nut butters with abandon, and makes avocado toasts that will wreck your weak-ass versions.

But what Tilghman is most known for are her smoothie bowls, which is a trendy food that’s exactly what it sounds like: a smoothie in a bowl. Tilghman is a smoothie bowl Michelangelo, wielding a Vitamix blender and frozen fruit like a master’s paintbrush and paint. I did not know it was possible to be genuinely moved by a smoothie until I saw her work (although that overwhelming emotion might have just been me needing a snack).

From what I can tell based on following Tilghman for the past year and change, she used to live in New York until her beautiful smoothie bowls propelled her to fame and Los Angeles, where she now makes even more beautiful smoothie bowls and does yoga on the beach for a living. The actual narrative is likely more complex, but in the world of lifestyle Instagram, we tell ourselves stories in order to be able to say … I like this bitch’s life.

Admitting that I like this particular bitch’s life is cathartic for me. In most of my outward-facing interactions in regard to food, especially this type of food, I try to be as laid-back as possible, to the point of adopting a cool-girl skepticism that I don’t necessarily feel. A typical food-related tweet I’ll send is something like this, in which I wrote, “Don’t even talk to me until I’ve had my morning cup of queso.” I don’t even eat cheese, much less queso. I’m a vegan for ethical reasons and rarely consume processed foods because they make my body feel bad. Most of the food I eat is just an ugly version of what Tilghman makes. (I’m a busy working woman on-the-go and as much as I’d love to spend time hand-crafting smoothie bowls, it is time I do not have.) I love my spiralizer, am digesting chia-seed pudding as I type this, and I’ve been known to carry a small baggie of nutritional yeast in my purse. I’d go on, but I don’t want you to hate me more than I hate myself. In sum, I’d say that I’m a Liz Lemon in the streets, and a Gwyneth Paltrow in the sheets.

There are a multitude of reasons why this is the case, but mostly, it’s because I know that when a woman speaks about being conscious about food and wellness, she can be highly scrutinized, to the point of being mocked — as uptight, high-maintenance, a buzzkill, someone who cares too much. (On the flip side, Jennifer Lawrence’s PR people firmly cemented her as America’s sweetheart with a red-carpet McDonald’s order.) But when I look at Tilghman’s Instagram, I don’t think about any of that. I think, fuck, that looks good.

I think that maybe one day, when all the magazines are replaced by blogs and the bloggers are replaced by robots, this could be my life: delicately arranging my morning smoothie bowl in my yurt on the beach, the sound of waves accompanying my proud and precise application of berries and coconut chips, my Twitter feed deactivated, my iPhone thrown into the ocean where it belongs.

I still need some time to come around on the yoga though.