And when it comes to judging this abstract thing called success, I look at progress — I look at my recipes and writing and photography from a year or a month ago. I see it gradually improving, evolving, getting closer to how I envision it… and even though it’s nowhere near “perfect”, seeing the progress is enough.

As a part of my series about social media stars who are using their platform to make a significant social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katarina Cermelj — or Kat for short, as she’s known to the readers and followers of her food blog, The Loopy Whisk. Kat started her blog in 2016 to share the recipes she created as part of her predominantly gluten and dairy free lifestyle, and has since grown her community to over 300K food enthusiasts from all over the world. Her mission is simple — teach people that gluten free, dairy free and vegan recipes aren’t merely pale, disappointing mimics of the “real thing”, but are actually taste bud-tingling, drop-dead-gorgeous flavour explosions in their own right.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always loved food — and believed that food plays a central role in our lives. When I was little, I remember helping my mum in the kitchen… of course, “helping” at that time involved mainly licking any spoons and bowls within my reach! Later, I started experimenting in the kitchen myself, and quickly discovered a passion for creating my own recipes. That was later combined with my love of Chemistry — I am currently completing an Inorganic Chemistry PhD at the University of Oxford, so my recipe development definitely gained a scientific perspective.

Then, in 2015, I started having health issues and after feeling absolutely miserable for months, it turned out that most of my problems could be solved by eliminating gluten and dairy from my diet. This, luckily, made me feel better — but I was also faced with a new problem: what should I eat now?

Don’t get me wrong, I like quinoa and smoothies and salads just fine, but the idea of no longer being able to enjoy cake, brownies, cookies and pie — it was just heartbreaking. I did try my hand at the gluten and dairy free recipes floating around the Internet, but got mixed results. And when I say mixed results… the bin was full of my “experiments” for a while!

Eventually, I started developing my own gluten and dairy free recipes — ones that were delicious and beautiful and tasted just as amazing as I remembered them. And when my friends and colleagues tried my bakes, most of them couldn’t believe they truly were gluten or dairy free or vegan! That really showed me that I was onto something there.

Also, I had been reading food blogs for years, so I thought to myself, “I can do that too!”. And so, in November 2016, I published my first post on The Loopy Whisk… and now, a bit over two and a half years later, here we are!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

About two years into blogging, I was invited to a local radio station to talk about gluten free baking and The Loopy Whisk in general. Aside from it being a wonderful experience that would never have happened had I not started a food blog, it was incredibly interesting seeing the radio show host’s reaction to trying my bakes. I was asked to bring a few treats along, and one of them was my gluten free chocolate cake that I’m incredibly proud of.

Now, my family, friends and colleagues enjoy my recipes on a weekly basis, so they’re used to my gluten free bakes tasting as though they’re made from regular all-purpose wheat flour. But the reaction of the radio host was just incredible — she’s obviously had a few unfortunate experiences with gluten free food, as she definitely went in expecting to be super disappointed. Instead, she absolutely loved the cake, could not believe it’s gluten free and was over the moon when I left the rest of the cake for her and her team to enjoy. And it was all live, on air — so people listening could hear her reaction as she went from “oh no, this is gluten free” to “OHMYGOD this is the best chocolate cake ever”. It was really an incredible experience.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh goodness, most of my mistakes happen in the kitchen for sure! For instance, I’ve had a cake collapse on me — and in that moment, it felt like the end of the world. The combination of a runny buttercream because of a warm kitchen and a touch too delicate sponges just isn’t a good one! Lesson learned, for sure.

In that moment, there may have been tears and a small meltdown involved. But then I put on some music and baked another cake, and it turned out beautifully. I later shared this mishap on Instagram, and the messages that poured in were just incredible. So many people sharing their own fails and meltdowns. It’s funny, baking is such an emotional activity. And it’s also incredibly powerful in bringing people together, even if it’s just to share their funniest kitchen disasters.

So aside from, you know, learning to chill the buttercream before assembling a cake, the much bigger lesson or experience was that food has this magical ability of uniting people, not just when we sit around a common table but even when we’re scattered all over the world. And with social media nowadays, this ability is definitely amplified.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the core focus of our interview. Can you describe to our readers how you are using your platform to make a significant social impact?

Well, if you think about it, the average person probably eats two to four or five times a day. For many, the most stressful part of that might be figuring out what food they’re in the mood for. Now, imagine not being able to eat whole food groups because they make you feel ill or could even send you to hospital! In addition to being potentially harmful, that can be a huge source of anxiety or even social isolation.

And it’s not just the people with dietary restrictions that are affected, it’s also their friends and family and co-workers, especially when it comes to social gatherings or similar. Additionally, there’s this prevalent stigma about gluten free, dairy free and vegan food — people are for some reason still convinced it tastes bland and boring!

My mission through The Loopy Whisk is to bring awareness and plenty of delicious recipes suitable for people with all sorts of dietary requirements. I’m not looking to convince people to convert to a particular way of eating or to expound on the superiority of a particular diet. My focus is very much on creating a friendly, inclusive community where people talk about food and baking and cooking, and the challenges they face because of their dietary restrictions (or the dietary restrictions of a friend or family member) — and then helping them overcome at least some of these challenges.

I want to give people the ability to once again enjoy the food they’ve been missing, and it tasting just as wonderful as they remember it. I want them to be able to celebrate their birthday with a proper birthday cake that tastes decadent and looks amazing, to make the fudgiest brownies at 11 pm when that chocolate craving strikes — to basically live their life without the fear of having to go without, of missing out, hovering over their head like a cloud of misery.

Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?

In general, the e-mails, comments and stories that really get to me are usually from family members and friends of somebody with a food allergy (or even several allergies and intolerances). Food is one of the ways in which we show our love, and it’s incredibly frustrating when you can’t express that love and caring because you don’t understand a dietary restriction or don’t know how to work around it.

I’ve lost the count of e-mails and messages of people thanking me for allowing them to make their spouse’s favourite dessert, or a birthday cake for their children, or a special treat for a friend just because.

But the most impactful story was that of a mother, whose young son had SPD (sensory process disorder) in addition to a whole host of food intolerances, which meant that his food choices were severely limited. She gave my healthy paleo brownies recipe a try, and the sheer joy in her words when she described how much her son enjoyed them… it was just breathtaking.

Was there a tipping point that made you decide to focus on this particular area? Can you share a story about that?

My own health issues and then my eventual success in creating gluten and dairy free recipes were definitely the main factors that set everything in motion. Considering my own initial problems with gluten and dairy free cooking and baking, it was a safe assumption that others struggle as well. And if I could help, even in a very small way… it was a no-brainer that I had to give it a try.

And once I started experimenting, I realized just how much I enjoy the challenge of creating delicious food with a limited ingredients list. Sure, even regular baking can be tricky, but take away eggs or butter or all-purpose wheat flour, and you encounter all sorts of different challenges. Rather than feeling intimidated or discouraged, I found that I genuinely enjoy that.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

I think educating people about dietary restrictions and requirements is one of the core issues. Many people consider food intolerances and allergies to be a “fad” or an arbitrary personal decision, rather than an actual, serious medical condition.

The first step to solving this is simply starting an open-minded conversation about food allergies, and letting go of the preconceived notions about what it means to live with them. These misconceptions are so prevalent, even restaurants and grocery stores occasionally show an alarming ignorance when it comes to catering to the requirements of people with food allergies. I’ve seen water bottles being rather pointlessly labelled “gluten free”, and have heard numerous stories of servers picking croutons off a salad for a coeliac customer, completely ignoring the issue of cross-contamination.

Making allergy friendly foods more accessible is also very important — while we’ve definitely seen an improvement in terms of the variety of products available in the recent years, most allergy friendly products are significantly more expensive compared to the wheat-, dairy- and egg-containing “regular” versions. Additionally, many foods you would expect to be “safe” to eat even with dietary restrictions often aren’t because of (usually completely unnecessary) additions of gluten and dairy to pretty much everything. On that note, making ingredients labels clearer, easier to read and accurate is also highly important, but unfortunately not always the case.

Finally, people with dietary restrictions themselves can do a lot to educate those nearest to them and thus get the ball rolling. It doesn’t have to revolve around serious conversations and oversharing your digestive issues as a consequence of consuming an “unsafe” food — just sharing delicious gluten free or dairy free or whatever free food with your friends, and explaining how important it is for your wellbeing, can go a long way.

What specific strategies have you been using to promote and advance this cause? Can you recommend any good tips for people who want to follow your lead and use their social platform for a social good?

My focus is very much on educating people and sharing the message through delicious, mouth-watering recipes on my blog and social media, primarily Instagram. There is no magic formula or secret behind using these platforms to promote a cause — you just need to create content that people are interested in, with a generous pinch of your own personality and authenticity.

Food and photos of food are incredibly popular right now, especially on Instagram as a primarily visual platform. In addition to being a passionate baker and recipe developer, I also love photography — so a food blog and sharing photos of my creations on Instagram is just a natural fit.

As for tips… I think it’s very easy to get lost in the numbers game, once you start using social media seriously — you know, chasing followers and likes. While numbers are important insofar as they allow you to reach an audience and spread your message, it’s much more important to stay authentic and maintain a rapport with your community. A large audience of millions has no value to your cause if they’re not engaged and genuinely interested in what you’re saying.

So my three main things to keep in mind when using social media to support a cause are: (1) be authentic, (2) connect with your audience and (3) generate high quality content. Oh, and don’t try to please and reach everyone — know what your niche is and who your target audience are. The saying “if you try to please everyone, you don’t please anyone” is very true when it comes to social media.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. It’s a lot of work, more than you expect.

It’s hard to imagine just how much time recipe development, photography and food blogging require. There is this idea that “influencers” and bloggers are super lazy, living their lives snapping away cringy selfies and exploiting their followers by promoting bogus diet pills. Which couldn’t be further removed from reality. You can find so much high quality content, so much value, useful information and thought-provoking discussions on the blogs and social platforms of “influencers” — drawing from their personal experience or from their educational or professional background. Of course, there are exceptions where duck-face selfies and diet pills abound, but those shouldn’t take away from the wealth of knowledge you can find on other blogs and social media accounts.

And it’s so much work, much more than people might assume. In my case, developing a recipe, styling and photographing it, editing the photos, writing and publishing a post… all that can take anywhere from 5 hours to even days and weeks, depending on the complexity of the recipe.

2. There’s incredible value in networking.

The second nugget of wisdom just is how important it is to network with fellow creatives, bloggers and social media pros. These amazing people are just brimming with knowledge, tips and encouragement, and all you need to do is simply reach out. As an introvert, reaching out is sometimes scary, but after a while — when you see how the response is always welcoming and incredibly helpful — it becomes easier and easier.

3. Expect criticism — both the creative and the rude kind.

You will inevitably face criticism from the very people you’re trying to help and engage with, and that’s okay. People won’t like your message, your photos, your writing or your appearance — and yes, sometimes they will be very rude in how they express that. The anonymity of the Internet is a powerful thing and can result in extremely rude and just plain hurtful comments.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to ignore them, especially at the beginning. But over time, every negative comment is outweighed by tens or hundreds of positive ones, and eventually you learn to laugh at the insults and move on without them affecting you.

4. Create your own path.

Take all the advice and information about starting a blog or establishing a social media presence with a generous pinch of salt. There are so many articles and so-called social media or SEO gurus out there (usually trying to sell you something) that it’s often difficult to distinguish the genuinely useful information from complete nonsense.

At the end of the day, it’s down to your own experiments, observations and sometimes just your gut feeling to decide what path is right for you. What doesn’t work, change it. What works, leave it or improve it, if possible. And even if you’re going completely against what everyone else is doing… if it works for you, just keep doing it.

5. In the end, it’s all 100% worth it.

It will sound super corny, but it’s truly unbelievable just how gratifying it all is. How helping people makes the hours of work and meltdowns when your cake collapses or the panic when you think you’ve accidentally destroyed your website… it makes it all worth it. It may at times feel like you’re just sending your thoughts out into the vast nothingness of the Internet — but your message does have an effect, it does impact people’s lives, and there is something incredibly… powerful and just plain amazing about that.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Oh goodness, enormous influence might be stretching it a bit, but thank you. I think a wider movement would be simply an extension of what my current “mission” is — going beyond this focus on food allergies and dietary restrictions, to… well, all food and everyone. Getting more people into their kitchens, getting more people to try their hand at cooking and baking. Our relationship with food is pretty shaky, it’s improved a lot in recent years, but many people still rely on ready-made meals or have a disordered view of eating.

There’s so much joy to be found in cooking, eating, and sharing food. It can be a form of therapy, a creative outlet, or just a wonderful experience. Because… it goes beyond just making a meal or baking a cake. It can help young fussy eaters start enjoying a wider variety of foods, it can heal the way we view food, and cooking from scratch is undoubtedly better for our wellbeing than microwaving pre-cooked meals.

In a way, I think we’re already seeing this movement in its initial stages, and that’s to a large extent because of food bloggers and social media. People now see home cooks and bakers in their own kitchens creating accessible masterpieces — it’s no longer just trained chefs in front of a camera. It’s your everyday food enthusiasts with (usually) no formal training, and that is showing people that they can do it too. You don’t need a diploma or ten years of experience in a professional kitchen to make pesto from scratch or bake your own bread. If this Instagrammer or that food blogger can do it, then chances are — so can anyone.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Now, I’m a huge perfectionist, so my chosen quote will probably sound absolutely hilarious to many people in my life, but one of my favourite philosophies to live by is “strive for progress, not perfection”. Honestly, I’m my own worst critic, always seeing mistakes in my work, or a hundred and one details that could be improved or corrected.

But I’m very aware that there is no such thing as perfection — and even if it was attainable, the reality of actual perfection would probably be rather boring. Instead, I no longer obsess over the mistakes I see (okay, I still obsess a little bit) but rather strive to correct them and treat them as learning opportunities.

And when it comes to judging this abstract thing called success, I look at progress — I look at my recipes and writing and photography from a year or a month ago. I see it gradually improving, evolving, getting closer to how I envision it… and even though it’s nowhere near “perfect”, seeing the progress is enough.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are so many people who inspire and motivate me, but the one that stands out is Joy Wilson, from Joy The Baker. I’ve been following her blog since the very beginning, and she was definitely one of the reasons why I decided to jump into this world of blogging. She has this wonderful way with words, that makes you smile and think and feel all the feelings all at once. It’s like she’s not sharing just wonderful recipes with you, but also a little bit of herself with every post, and I really admire that.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find all my recipes on my blog at theloopywhisk.com, and I’d love to connect via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter where you can find me as @theloopywhisk.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


The Social Impact Heroes of Social Media, with Katarina Cermelj and Candice Georgiadis was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.