With a camera and a sweep, Katie Lee satisfies the appetites of the Bruins.
Dedicated to documenting the different foods available to UCLA students living on the Hill, the third-year Asian Studies student said she created her Instagram food blog “ucla.swipes” in September 2021. The platform began as a fun pastime to show family members their daily meals, but this quickly gained traction among other students and amassed more than 3,000 subscribers, she said. After receiving encouragement from Instagram accounts for UCLA and UCLA Housing, which shared her posts online, Lee said she decided to take on the role of unofficial food blogger on campus.
“When I came to UCLA, I always heard about food, but there was nothing on Instagram or anything online that I could find about food,” Lee said.
In order to efficiently collect content for the account, Lee said she starts each morning by checking dining room menus online and workinghis daily schedule around his meals. After finding well-lit seats, she then works to present appetizing veneer and quality photographs, she said. Although she has her own personal preferences when it comes to food, Lee said she prioritizes finding new dishes that everyone can enjoy so she can revisit for others to consider sampling.
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For Lee, UCLA’s reputation for having the The No. 1-rated dining halls in the country stem from the wide range of dining options available to students, so she said she prioritizes helping others navigate the often overwhelming variety. Proud to find hidden gems in every cafeteria, Lee said one of her most popular items was featured The Bruin Cafe’s acai bowl, an item most didn’t know existed on campus.
“I love when someone comments, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’ Or someone will come back to me and be like, ‘Oh, I tried what you posted, and it was really good. Thanks for telling me about it,’ Lee said. ‘These comments make me happy.”
With food trucks on the Hill and restaurant chains on campus accepting meal plan tickets, Lee said she began expanding her content to accommodate these changes. From reel turning to In putting together Instagram guides, Lee said her goal was to help students take advantage of their options and show what they could get for a shot at each of these institutions. Lee’s friend, third-year human biology and society student Jenna Tam, said she was inspired seek out the Creamy Boys and Salpicon food trucks after seeing pictures on “ucla.swipes”.
As someone who tends to stick to the same cafeterias every day, Tam said she found the Instagram account useful in learning about themed dinners in dining rooms she doesn’t usually venture to. Special events such as Bruin Plate’s “Garlic Fest” or Epicuria’s “Taste of Italy” aren’t widely advertised, making it hard for students to know what they’re missing, Tam said.
With her Believing that UCLA food is vital to campus culture, Lee said she is motivated to cultivate student camaraderie through the mutual enjoyment of food by always maintaining an upbeat atmosphere on her platform. Whether about B Plate’s salmon or The Study at Hedrick’s long queues, “ucla.swipes” directs students to a niche, but relatable dialogue about campus food, Tam said.
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Lee’s roommate and frequent meal companion, third-year psychobiology student Irene Chang said she watched as the self-proclaimed foodie improved her food photography skills throughout the year. In awe of Lee’s ingenious use of dining room ingredients to curate aesthetic plates, Chang said his favorite posts are those in which Lee uses B Various fruits and jams from the plate to decorate slices of toast with designs such as hearts or the school logo.
“There was a (post) where she made a drink in a dining room and then got all the ingredients (and a) step by step (on) how she makes her final product,” Chang said. “I just think things have more of a more personal touch from him.”
Going forward, Lee said she hopes to continue spreading positivity through her passion project and engage students through Instagram’s interactive features like Story polls. After she graduated and left the dorms, she said she plans to continue her food blogging activities on her second food photography account, where she will further develop a personal identity as a content creator.
“I just love how photography can capture that moment, and when I think back to that moment, I can remember the feelings I had, and that brings me happiness,” Lee said.