Since the advent of the Internet, websites and blogs have proliferated, and content creation has become increasingly accessible. A growing number of tools makes it easy to share thoughts, ideas, and experiences with audiences around the world. The benefit? Everyone can find valuable and relevant content that inspires, educates, and entertains them.
Four Richmond-based women – all of whom are parents – are tapping into their knowledge and unique understanding of the world to directly impact families. Their digital missions are wide-ranging: to make it easier for home chefs to nourish their families, help others find their strength in difficult experiences, raise children with a global mindset, and make memories on a budget.
For each of these women, the online content they oversee demands significant time, attention, and talent. Over time, their labors of love have grown to reach larger audiences, and their content has become increasingly important for their readers. Ultimately, these publishers are carving out space for communities that can empower one another to lead better, more intentional lives.
Brittany Mullins: Eating Bird Food
In 2008, Brittany Mullins created a blog about one of her passions: good food. “It was very lifestyle-esque,” Mullins says. “I started it more as a food journal, which is what a lot of dietitians and people in the nutrition space were doing at the time.” She didn’t realize then that the blog would grow into Eating Bird Food, a successful recipe site that has since garnered millions of visits.
When Mullins started her blog, she had recently graduated from George Mason University with a degree in marketing. She would have studied dietetics had that been an option; instead she launched a career in digital marketing and used the blog to explore her growing interest in nutrition.
In 2014, Mullins shifted from her full-time role in digital marketing for Relay Foods (an online grocery delivery service that is no more) to developing her website full-time. “My goal was to prove healthy eating can be tasty and attainable,” Mullins says. She provides recipes the average at-home chef can make with wholesome ingredients that can be found at most stores.
Mullins identifies on the site whether recipes adhere to particular eating approaches, like paleo, vegetarian, dairy-free, or gluten-free. She doesn’t, however, promote one plan over another. “I’m a flexitarian, and my guiding principles are to eat whole real foods and mostly plant-based foods,” she says.
Because the Eating Bird Food following has requested it, Mullins provides nutritional data with the recipes, but she takes a holistic approach to recipes rather than focusing on calories. She recently posted a recipe for a Snickers-like bar made with dates, peanut butter, peanuts, and chocolate. “I got comments that one of the bars has more calories than an actual Snickers bar,” she says, “I responded that it may have more calories, but it doesn’t have the preservatives and ingredients you can’t pronounce.”
For most of her life, Mullins has loved food. “When I was a kid, I wanted to be a restaurant owner,” she says. She never received formal culinary training, though. “I’m all self-taught,” says Mullins. “I learned a ton from cooking with my mom, I’ve learned a lot from the Food Network and experimenting on my own, and I’ve learned about Jewish cooking from my mother-in-law.”
Mullins occasionally has the equivalent of writer’s block when coming up with recipes, but says she couldn’t possibly run out of ideas. Sometimes, she uses a base recipe with variations that take into account whatever produce is in season. She updates a baked oatmeal recipe, for instance, based on what is fresh and tastes best: a peach version in July, an apple version in August, a pumpkin version for September.
Fortunately for the busy mom of an active one-year-old daughter, her family eats all the recipes she tests and photographs. “I don’t stage my food crazily, so we’re eating everything,” Mullins says. “Even if they’re semi-flops, we’ll still eat them.”
Mullins tends to do all of her cooking for the week in batches on particular days. Pre-COVID, she had a food assistant with her, and they could make five or six recipes in one day. Because her daughter was born with a congenital heart defect, however, Mullins is keeping her bubble as isolated as possible and works on the recipes on her own or with her mother-in-law. With a busy toddler in the house, it can be difficult to complete as many recipes each day, but she is grateful to be able to work from home.
Mullins emphasizes the role her team has played in the success of Eating Bird Food. “I couldn’t do all of this by myself,” she says. With the help of an operations manager, social media coordinator, videographer, and graphic designer, Eating Bird Food has grown tremendously. During the spring, when COVID kept people at home and needing to prepare food for themselves, the site crossed the 1.5 million monthly user mark (with 3 million pageviews). More than 330,000 people follow Mullins on Instagram, and she has a sizeable and growing number of followers on Pinterest and Facebook.
Eating Bird Food does have a strong local following, but most of her visitors come from big cities across the country. The site also has a growing international following. “I’m getting a lot of requests to post recipes in the metric system,” she says.
Mullins says she is grateful for the opportunity to pursue her passion for helping other families prepare delicious whole foods. “Seeing comments on recipes makes my work worthwhile, knowing I’m helping people save time in the kitchen, eat healthy, and make things their family can enjoy.”
Photo: Michelle Chu
Rebekah Pierce: Lemonade Mindset
Years ago, Rebekah Pierce started Average Girl Magazine, a monthly print publication whose purpose was to celebrate and empower ordinary women and help them become extraordinary. She was inspired to create the magazine in part by her cousin’s experience with domestic violence, which ultimately ended in murder. The magazine was a labor of love, but when her daughter was born ten years ago, Pierce was feeling overwhelmed and discontinued it.
In the meantime, Pierce went through challenges of her own, including ending a volatile relationship. While processing the trauma of her difficult marriage, Pierce worked to rebuild her own voice. “I vowed to create uplifting content that would speak to other women and speak to me,” says Pierce. Through that promise to herself, Pierce developed a brand centered around encouraging next-level thinking and the idea that people can change their thoughts to change their lives.
In February 2019, Pierce published a quasi-memoir, self-help book, I Love Me More, which provides insight from her own experiences as well as tips and resources for people to learn to love themselves and live their lives fully. That fall, Pierce launched an online magazine called Lemonade Mindset, she says, “out of a desire to continue to provide daily
inspirational content for women.”
The purpose of Lemonade Mindset is to encourage readers to believe in themselves and live more fully. “Trauma creates messages that prevent us from tapping into our greatest gifts,” says Pierce. “I had this recording in my head telling me
I could never be anything, that I was just a poor Black girl from Stockton, California.”
Pierce realized she had to change her internal messaging to be able to foster empowerment and strength among her readers. In other words, she sees herself – as well as her readers – on a path to healing. “I want to create content that helps readers in their daily journey to believe they can change their lives,” she says.
Lemonade Mindset started as a subscription-based magazine, but during the pandemic and the period of social unrest brought on by racial injustice, Pierce decided to offer it for free, at least for the time-being. “I will not put one more burden on a person,” Pierce says. “We have to practice what we preach.”
Through Lemonade Mindset, Pierce addresses the many challenges we face. She has written, for instance, about the Black Lives Matter movement and debate surrounding the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue. Last summer, Pierce addressed racial injustice from her perspective as a mother. “I’ve been trying to find language to express what’s going on in the world – as a playwright, novelist, essayist, teacher, as a mother of an 18-year-old Black boy who can
now drive,” she says.
In the June editor’s letter, she writes, “When my son tells me that he is going out with his friends, time stops. I fight the internal choking deep in my stomach. My breath ceases. I am forgetting how to breathe. Will my son come back to me? Will they see only the color of his skin and not the content of his character – his 3.6 GPA, his dream to become a doctor, his big, loving heart? History tells me it will be the former. That he will become the next face/name in the mural/wall.” She goes on to write that we all need to stand together and fight for justice for all of our sons.
Pierce has taught English and humanities for more than twenty years at Virginia Union University, and she works with her students to help them understand whether and how to enter into difficult conversations effectively. “Many people are afraid to say anything, and many people aren’t ready,” Pierce says. “But the choice to avoid confrontation will eventually kill you.”
Pierce has chosen to engage in conversation about racial justice because she is living it every day. “As a socially conscious writer, I’ve learned that sometimes controlled anger is necessary,” Pierce says. “I have to speak my truth.”
Lemonade Mindset addresses these weighty issues, and the publication also provides other value to its readers: inspiration to live their best everyday lives in small and big ways. “Healed people heal people,” Pierce says. “I want to provide the power of positive thinking and healing for our readers.”
Aditi Singh: Raising World Children
Aditi Singh is a people person. “I love learning about people and cultures,” she says. “I have a love for the world.” Another one of Singh’s loves? Writing. Although she is a computer engineer by training, Singh has long been a student of writing, working to refine her prose by reading multiple books about improving her craft.
In 2007, before blogging became the vastly popular pastime it is now, Singh started writing about her life. After her son was born several years later, she blogged about her experiences as a mother and then moved into freelance writing.
While writing for various websites, including Huffington Post and Richmond Mom Collective, Singh got to know many parents and came to realize the importance of learning about the experiences of people who are different from each other. “Division happens when people don’t understand or try to understand each other,” Singh says.
Singh herself grew up in Kuwait; her parents had moved there from India shortly before she was born. Because of that experience, Singh understands what it’s like for kids to live in a culture very different from the one in which their parents grew up. “I was a global citizen before it was trendy,” says Singh.
In 2016, Singh’s personal experience, interest in writing, and love of learning about people and their cultures came together when Singh launched Raising World Children, a blog she developed to help parents adopt a global mindset when raising their families. “I’m hoping the work we create helps children acclimate to different cultures and helps parents better understand their children.”
Raising World Children now functions with a team of people from around the world, including the managing editor, Minali Bajaj Syed of Kuwait, and writers from Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and India, as well as across the United States. For the past three years, the site has featured more than 200 global guest writers and covered an impressively wide range of topics: setting up a good homeschool experience, getting kids outside, practicing yoga, helping kids become more inclusive, and fostering an appreciation of diversity. Other posts provide opportunities for readers to learn about and better understand specific cultural traditions.
The readership of Raising World Children has grown dramatically; Singh now sees up to 5,000 visitors a day. “People have loved the work we do,” says Singh, “and they want to share it with their friends.”
In addition to overseeing Raising World Children, Singh has published award-winning books, including a parenting book, Strong Roots Have No Fear, and children’s books: How Our Skin Sparkles; Sparkles of Joy: A Children’s Book that Celebrates Inclusion and Diversity; and Small or Tall, We Sparkle After All: A Body Positive Children’s Book about Confidence and Kindness. She is currently working on an upcoming book, Raising the Global Mindset, a collaborative work with twenty-five contributors.
Singh also coaches authors who want to publish books and partners with writers who tackle global issues. “I love to collaborate with other people,” Singh says, “and I want to shape the future by bringing diverse voices to the world.”
Singh describes herself as a multi-creative. In addition to writing, she teaches Indian dance and, along with her husband, raises her two world children, ages ten and six. “It isn’t always easy to juggle everything, but I do as much as I can alongside raising my kids,” says Singh.
Dina Weinstein: RVA on the Cheap
Dina Weinstein knows how to live frugally. When she was growing up, her mom helped support her and her sisters by running a thrift shop. And when Weinstein’s kids, now nineteen and seventeen, were younger, she worked at a summer camp so the kids could attend at a discounted rate. And for seven years, Weinstein and her husband, a professor, lived rent-free as dorm parents. “Who doesn’t like saving money while enjoying life?” Weinstein says.
A Boston native, Weinstein moved from Miami to Richmond several years ago. She is a journalist by training, with a degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and she started writing freelance for local print publications, including Richmond Magazine, Style Weekly, and most recently, Henrico Citizen.
Two years ago, when she discovered the owner of RVA on the Cheap was leaving to pursue other opportunities, Weinstein took advantage of the opportunity to run the site, combining her insights into living frugally with her writing talent.
RVA on the Cheap is part of a network of 30-plus sites that first started in Miami. The Living on the Cheap mission is to create smart, well-researched content that helps local readers find ways to enjoy their city’s offerings on a budget.
Overseeing RVA on the Cheap has provided opportunities for Weinstein to think creatively and work continuously to develop compelling content for people who want to have fun, explore the city, and entertain their kids without spending excessive amounts of money.
Weinstein’s posts have been particularly helpful for families during the pandemic who may feel less secure in their finances, but are eager to find ways to safely and inexpensively enjoy the city. With so many activities canceled and places of business closed, Weinstein has sought opportunities to provide alternative suggestions for things to do. When social distancing measures led to the shutdown of local museums and art galleries, for instance, Weinstein published a post about the murals of Richmond that people could enjoy outdoors.
“I have had to come up with alternative ways to do this,” Weinstein says. Several posts have addressed fun, inexpensive activities to do at home, such as birthday party ideas during socially distanced times, or live-streamed events kids can enjoy when in-person activities aren’t feasible. Posts about date-night activities have recommended safe alternative options, such as a scenic drive or an outdoor picnic at one of Richmond’s scenic vistas, like Libbie Hill, when the weather permits. “People still want fun, even if they’re strapped for cash,” Weinstein says. “They still want to enjoy themselves.”
Weinstein works hard to serve all people of Richmond in a relevant way. She does that by covering a wide range of perspectives. For instance, Weinstein has a roundup for President’s Day about local historical sites that provide insights into what life was like for enslaved people.
Other posts include information about free educational resources locally or online, guidance on eating well on a budget, coupons for products, and resources related to saving money.
Through RVA on the Cheap’s social media channels, Weinstein finds another avenue through which to serve her readers. She has shared posts from the Legal Aid Justice Center and the Poverty Law Center, for instance, to support those struggling through the pandemic.
Managing RVA on the Cheap is a very different experience from the journalistic writing Weinstein has done for much of her career. “As a writer, you have to understand the publication you’re writing for and their deadlines,” Weinstein says. “With this platform, I’m able to change anything anytime.” Those frequent updates ensure local families have constant and timely access to activities and events they can enjoy without breaking the bank.
Photo: Claudia Arzate Storper