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Student Feature: Food for thought

By Amy Wensley

Maddie Ross with her homemade sourdough bread.

Maddie Ross is a second-year student in the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA). If her name sounds familiar, it’s because you may have recognized her during your early morning scroll through your Instagram feed.

Ross, who created the successful food blog, C’est Madeleine (French for “it’s me, Madeleine”), has nearly 50K followers on Instagram (@cest.madeleine), many of whom are dedicated U-M fans.  Amy Wensley, U-M Arts & Culture Media & Marketing Assistant, recently interviewed Ross over a cup of tea.

AW: Where did it all beginfood, your love for writing, all of it?

MR: I started dancing in first grade and I fell in love with it. In middle school, it wasn’t that I fell out of love, it was that I took on this new perspective within it. You’re surrounded by mirrors all the time, and it was very hard. I’m very type A, so I fell into an orthorexia typedeal [Orthorexia is a medical condition in which the sufferer systematically avoids specific foods in the belief that they are harmful]. It wasn’t that I stopped eating, but it was an obsession with healthy eating. Unfortunately it’s really easy to pass this condition off as very healthy eating…people think “well she’s eating six meals a day, what could be wrong?” But when you’re a shell of yourself and you’re hangry all the time, it’s just not good.

My eighth grade year was when my parents stepped in. They and I knew that I couldn’t keep living that way. I remember being so stuck in it. That summer was extremely hard, so at the beginning of my freshman year in high school, I decided that I needed to do something—and that’s when my blog began to form. My family loves to cook. Both of my grandmas’ are the world’s best hostesses; my mom loves to bake; and my dad is a huge barbeque guy, so I decided to channel that through cooking and taking pictures.

AW: When did you decide to create an Instagram account for your food pictures?

MR: It’s crazy to think that it was 2014 when I started my Instagram account. I’ve since deleted the initial posts—they were just so grainy, cringe-worthy. It started out very slow as a private account. I was kind of embarrassed of it, but it also was my outlet. I was secretive about it, except with my friends…which is weird to think about now because it’s an essential part of my identity. Both of my parents are English teachers who encouraged me in my reading and writing, so I think it was a natural thing and where the initial interest in having a blog stemmed from.

Ross's homemade sourdough bread.

Ross’s homemade sourdough bread.

AW: How is it that you have reached nearly 50K followers? Do you know if the majority of your followers are University of Michigan/Ann Arbor based?

MR: I don’t know how the following came to be. I actually get asked that a lot, and I’m like “I just posted pictures of food, and it grew!” And it’s funny actually; I’ve had people come up to me and say, “This is a weird question, but do you have a food Instagram?” I’m like, “yeah, that’s me!”  Like, today in stats class, my project partner asked me. I don’t have the analytics for it, but I think in general my following is collegiates.

AW: Can you tell me more about your sponsors?

MR: When I first started out, it never crossed my mind that I could be sponsored. I was inspired about 2 years ago to become an ambassador for a nut butter company, and when I received that ambassadorship, the rest became history. I’m now sponsored by Siggi’s Dairy. Have you tried the Triple Cream? It’s to die for—so creamy and delicious. The lemon flavor is almost like ice cream. I am so grateful for my sponsors—I don’t have time to have a full time job in college, so being sponsored is a great side hustle. It’s really nice because I’m doing what I love, and other people value that time.

AW: What is your outlook on the positive and negative impacts of social media?

MR: I think social media is so powerful. It can really go both ways. I’ve worked really hard to channel it, follow uplifting people, and connect with people. So I’d say it’s been a positive experience for me. The hard balance is not being like “this” [buries head in phone]. I question myself sometimes like, “What am I doing right now, just mindless scrolling?” I preach presence and mindfulness on my account, and that can be hard for me because I justify spending lots of time on social platforms because it’s my job. I’m working to structure myself better by having specific times when I interact with social media. I’m a morning person, so I try to do most of my social media-ing then.

Plate with avocado, veggies, and egg made by Ross.

Plate with avocado, veggies, and egg made by Ross.

AW: What do you think of the Ann Arbor food scene? Do you have favorites around town?

MR: Ann Arbor’s a great place to be if your an Instagrammer and a foodie. Every week I’m like: I could go here, and here, and here. Honestly I need to limit myselfit’s so easy to spend money. For food favorites, I would say Blank Slate. Their ice cream is so good. Also, I really love Zingermann’s. I’m a huge bread person. I love their philosophy, their quality, how they use local ingredients, and how they give their workers healthcare. I’ve taken some bread classes there too, which are phenomenal. They’re part of the reason why I really wanted to come to U-M. My family used to come up from Ohio for the day, come just for lunch at Zingermann’s, and then travel back.

AW: As a sophomore in college, where do you see this going in the next 2-4 years?

MR: I wonder that a lot. Everyday it changes. It kind of scares me that social media changes so much, and you have to go along with it…otherwise you’ll be left behind in the dust. If you follow food people on Instagram like @leefromamerica or @shutthekaleup, you realize that these people are doing it for a living. So I go back and forth. I don’t want my account to become something that I do because I have to pay the bills, because I want it to remain an outlet, something I enjoy. I’ve been thinking that Organizational Studies would be a great major for me, and I’m hoping to apply this year. I think it would be so cool because I could craft my own path from the large choice of classes you can take—I could work with the logistical side of food, and then continue the rest of my writing and posting as my creative outlet. So we’ll see! It could all change tomorrow.