There’s a lot of mystery behind ‘influencers’ and what they actually do. Caitlin Sakdalan is the mind, soul and creative behind @befatbehappy where she shares her love and passion for all things F.A.T (Food and Travel).
Her rallying cry is to ‘stay hungry’ which means to feed your appetite, feed your soul, and feed others. She is more than a social media influencer; she is a storyteller who brings the world to our doorstep whether that’s introducing a new cuisine or taking an old favorite and making it new.
Her energy and enthusiasm have won her followers and accolades and I am excited to share with you a behind the scenes look at how Sakdalan became the influencer that she is today, how she is handing influencing via sheltering-at-home, and her exciting plans for the future.
Passion starts at home
Caitlin Sakdalan loves food. When most children are ordering off the kids’ menu, Sakdalan, age five, was ordering the macadamia-crusted Mahi Mahi. “My parents were gracious enough to allow me to do that,” laughs Sakdalan, who was born and raised in North Jersey.
As a Filipino-American, food connected her to her heritage and led to a growing passion for using cuisine to explore culture. While attending Fordham University in New York City, Sakdalan made it her mission to discover the different restaurants and cuisines that Manhattan is known for. She started @befatbehappy to be a visual archive of those excursions; little did she know her hobby would explode into a successful business that would take her around the world.
Get social, stay real
“Food bloggers and influencers weren’t part of the social media scene as much back then,” says Sakdalan, “I wasn’t thinking that it would become my personal brand; I was just sharing something that I loved.” Soon her 100 followers grew to a thousand which then quickly blossomed to 100,000 – but with success, came challenges.
“I saw how important it was to remain true to who I was and standing by my name @befatbehappy,” admits Sakdalan, who adds that the name was a way to embrace what she describes as her chubby childhood self. “When I became serious about where I wanted to take this and what it represented to me, I saw that my love of food and travel was perfectly represented by the acronym F.A.T.”
Wearing multiple hats
As Sakdalan’s following grew, so did the opportunities. She was asked to write about food and travel as a fresh voice for tourism boards and publications like Time Out and Business Traveler. “Writing about food and travel allows me to share my passion with a wider audience,” says Sakdalan, who also shares her social media know-how as a consultant to various companies and individuals. “I’m able to empower others and their brands with the strategies I learned from the ground up.”
Passion pays off
Sakdalan’s work paid off. In 2018, she was awarded the Best Hope Food Influencer of the Year by Influencer Awards Monaco, which has been described as the Oscars of Influencers and recognizes the rising stars in food, travel, fashion, and lifestyle.
“I was thrilled to just be invited to attend the ceremony in Monte Carlo! I never expected to win,” says Sakdalan, who started in the top 100 before being chosen as the overall winner in the food category by fans and a panel of distinguished judges.
Feasting and fun around the world
Soon Sakdalan was asked to travel and blog about her experiences. In 2019, she was invited to go to Israel with the international and non-partisan Israel education organization Stand With Us whose mission is to inspire and educate people of all ages and backgrounds in order to challenge misinformation and fight antisemitism.
“One of the things I learned was that though Israelis are very nationalistic, they remain deeply connected to their roots,” something that Sakdalan identified with. “I am an American, born and raised, but I also love my Filipino heritage – just as an Israeli loves their Moroccan or French roots.”
Sakdalan, who admits to having Israeli food maybe once or twice in her lifetime, quickly became a fan. “I crave the food now,” she laughs. For Sakdalan, the food represents the people and the culture that embraced her as she traveled around the country.
Influencing at home
When COVID-19 hit, Sakdalan’s schedule was packed with travel plans – all of which had to be cancelled. “Most of my videos and content were travel-focused, such as writing about the best food vacation in Laguna Beach, California,” says Sakdalan, who quickly pivoted to writing about what to eat and drink at home.
“Fortunately, many people are at home on social media and need an escape, so I focused on creating in-home content about making delicious food. I’m obviously not a chef but you don’t have to be one to make something enjoyable to eat, and that really resonated with people,” says Sakdalan.
Bringing home a classic
Partnering with familiar and much-loved brands allowed Sakdalan to create content that is geared to an audience that doesn’t want to sacrifice taste just because of limited grocery runs or cooking skills.
One such company is SPAM and SPAM Classic. “Most people don’t realize that SPAM has been a big part of Filipino cuisine after the soldiers brought it to the Philippines during the war,” says Sakdalan, who worked with the classic company to create original recipes and comfort food for all palates.
For the days when people don’t feel like cooking, Sakdalan has been featuring independently owned restaurants and chefs in order to highlight the ways people can support the hospitality industry during this challenging time.
“Many local businesses are doing take-out and grocery boxes, so I like to amplify that with my platform,” says Sakdalan.
A Vision for the Future
As Sakdalan’s audience and acclaim is growing, she is setting her sights on hosting her own food and travel show. “It will be based on the three core drivers of my life which is to feed my appetite, feed my soul, and feed others,” says Sakdalan.
Her advocacy platform @befedbehappy is centered on her drive to feed others. “I don’t think anyone should be food or water insecure. I was fortunate to know where my next meal was coming from and that’s not the case for many people,” says Sakdalan, who uses her platform to promote other organizations and brands that do meaningful work in this arena. “Ultimately, I would like to have my own nonprofit that focuses on this important social justice issue,” adds Sakdalan.
In the meantime, Sakdalan puts her action where her intention is. When the global pandemic hit, she volunteered with the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, one of the largest soup kitchens in New York City, to help them with their content development and social media impact. “Since March, the kitchen saw a 2,100% increase in food assistance need, so we started Operation HopeFULL to raise the much-needed funds to keep the kitchen open,” says Sakdalan, who quickly tapped into her influencer network and their partners to spread the word.
After successfully raising the funds, Sakdalan became the Chair of the Media Committee for the kitchen’s next large event: From Farm to Tray which uses healthy, locally sourced food to support their meal programs. “Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen has a special place in my heart because everything is made with love and they truly aim to feed people’s appetites and their souls.”
This is what an influencer should be – one who uplifts, inspires, and shares her joy generously so that all can benefit. By allowing her passion to influence her, she influences us to do the same.