Lee From America has some feelings

Credit: Photo by @leefromamerica via Instagram

When I scroll through Instagram, I always pause to take in the smoothies. Not smoothie bowls, mind you, the straight-up smoothies. Layers of purple and orange and pink, fruit and seeds, drippy nut butters—the smoothies are so over-the-top, they literally overflow from their glasses. I can’t stop thinking about these drinks. I want to know more. How long does it take to make one? Can I even drink one from the glass? Like the over-the-top candy and frosting-caked milkshakes from Black Tap in New York City, Instagram smoothies are works of art that are theoretically edible, but I don’t know where to begin. I decided to consult my favorite Instagram smoothie-maker, blogger Lee Tilghman, also known as @leefromamerica, for some insight.

According to Tilghman, an intricately layered smoothie can take about 45 minutes to create. That might sound wild, but this isn’t your average dump-fruit-and-yogurt-into-blender kind of smoothie situation. While many smoothies are basically just blended fruit, Tilghman often incorporates frozen steamed vegetables like zucchini, sweet potato, and cauliflower into her creations. Not only do frozen vegetables add fiber and carbs without tons of sugar, they also thicken her smoothies, essentially emulating the texture of frozen bananas.

“I don’t plan [my smoothie design] in advance, but I definitely pay attention to color and texture.” Tilghman told me in an email. “Coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds and white chia seeds are my favorite toppings.”

I’ll be honest: I’ve tried to make one of these smoothies. Between the drippy almond butter and fast-melting blended fruit, I made an absolute mess, and I didn’t even get a good photo out of it. Don’t ask how it went when I tried to take a sip; I can just show you the blueberry stains on the shirt I was wearing at the time. I wondered if there was something I was missing.

“It’s definitely messy,” Tilghman told me when I asked about the smoothie-consuming process. Obviously, she has a perfect solution. “I put it on a plate and eat it with a spoon!” Fun as it is to actually style and photograph such a smoothie, all that dripping fruit still winds up on your table, and there doesn’t seem to be a way around that. Tilghman finds that a full smoothie cleanup takes about 15 minutes.

I asked Tilghman why she thinks these kinds of smoothies do so well on Instagram, and her answer had a few parts. For one, she says “they look insanely delicious,” and that’s true—a layered smoothie overflowing with toppings is bound to perform better than a bowl of plain oatmeal—but it goes deeper than that. Tilghman feels like people are drawn to the elaborate drinks because they remind readers of milkshakes they probably grew up enjoying. But unlike a loaded milkshake, one of these smoothies is actually packed with nutrients. Says Tilghman, “People want to see healthy food that also tastes and looks like comfort food.”

This point really stuck with me. Mainstream food culture is pretty divided these days, especially on social media. Our feeds are permeated with deep fried cheese-filled frankenfoods chased with raw, sugar-free juice cleanses, and personally, I’m over it. Tilghman’s observation that a smoothie—especially one that’s packed with fiber, carbs, and fat—can be seen as something to lust after is fine with me. Even if I have some cleaning up to do after.