Jessie Iacullo is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, studying Communications & English Nonfiction Writing. When she isn't busy writing for the Pitt News and taking classes, she spends her time running an awesome #foodporn Instagram @HungryGrl_BigCity.

She's originally from North Caldwell, NJ but her Instagram has some of the most drool-worthy eats spanning from right here in the Burgh' all the way to Florence, Italy.

I got the behind-the-scenes scoop on what it's like running an Instagram with 20k+ followers, tips on running a #foodporn account, and Jessie's thoughts about the accusation, "there's no way you can eat all that."

1. What made you decide to start your own food Instagram? Did you originally think you'd end up with such a large following?

JL: Honestly, it was part boredom, part I take too many pictures of food, part I wanted to impress my future summer employers (I was set to intern at Food Network Magazine that summer). The moment @HungryGrl_BigCity was born was when I was waiting for a meeting in March 2015 in Starbucks (the one on Forbes and Atwood, aka the official birthplace) and to pass the time.

I was looking through my camera roll and realized I had so many quality food pictures. I wanted to post them all, however I didn’t want to post them all to my “normal” or “real” Instagram.

In that 20 minutes, I set up @HungryGrl_BigCity and had my first post. Within the first two days, I had 200 followers, and about three months later I had hit my 20th birthday goal on June 4th of 2,000 followers. To me, even getting to 2,000 was a little crazy. Now with over 20,000 followers, it’s actually insanity. I never imagined getting to this point.

2. How was the experience of maintaining your Instagram while you were studying abroad? Did you find it difficult to devote time to it or did the access to so many different foods make it easier for you?

JL: @HungryGrl_BigCity really peaked while abroad—I went abroad with 12,000 followers and hit 18,000 followers shortly after coming home. Honestly, because of the fact that food abroad is naturally beautiful, I never had to devote an extensive amount of time to trying to make the food pictures look good; that just happened.

I also feel like a big part of studying abroad, especially in Italy, is that you have to immerse yourself in the food. That being said, with every meal I ate, it was just an exciting experience that I wanted to share with people that love food as much as I do. Also, the people I met while abroad really embraced @HungryGrl_BigCity as much as I do, so they were always sending me their pictures and letting me take pictures of their food as well. I also met so many people via Instagram that were studying abroad in Florence and also had food Instagrams, so getting to meet them in person was so fun!

Florence is a really popular abroad destination, so I loved when people that had studied there, were currently studying there, or were planning on studying there would comment personal stories and food favorites on my pictures. It really created a platform for me to further interact with my followers, which is something I really strive to do.

3. Have you ever encountered any awkward situations when photographing your food while out? I can imagine some people might find that kind of thing funny, especially while abroad. 

I think that sometimes when I perceive taking food pictures as awkward, no one else really does. My friends and family are so used to it though, so it’s really second nature that whoever I’m eating with knows not to eat until I take a few pictures. That being said, I really try to find a balance between what to photograph and what not to.

Clearly I love food, and I believe that it should be enjoyed with no distractions and with the people you love. When the lighting is weird or too dark and the food just looks too good, I’ll turn my flash on and take a quick picture. Basically, I just try not to make such a production out of it and I kind of know when is a good time to photograph what I’m eating and when not to. Plus, sometimes people I’m eating with want to take the food pictures for me, so that takes the pressure off! 

4. What are some tips you'd give to someone trying to increase their following on social media?

People always ask me, “how did you get so many followers?” and I really don’t think there’s one right answer. I think you just need to find something you’re passionate about, whether it be food, fashion, fitness, etc. and find your rhythm.

Post regularly, find trending and relevant hashtags, follow people that you get inspiration from, and never feel stupid or weird about what you’re doing or posting. I used to feel weird advertising about my food Instagram to other people, however food is really something that everyone loves and a lot of people admire the brand I’ve created!

I also always tell people don’t follow people for followers—interacting and maintaining relationships with your followers is a way to establish yourself as a (real) person and also increases your appeal. I would never suggest buying followers or likes and instead to just be you. Instagram is the last thing you should be stressing about—having fun and being real is what people really want to follow. 

5. A lot of food Instagrams seem to come under fire with comments like "there's no way you eat all of that." Do you find that it's been difficult to balance how you eat day-to-day with creating the #foodporn content that people want to see?

A lot of people do say that, and I find it humorous. Once my sister was showing my food Instagram to a co-worker, and another co-worker came up behind them and goes, “that girl must be so fat.”

First, I think that there’s a part of me that posts to show people that life really is about balance, and food should be celebrated. I think something that makes my page stand out is the fact that yes, I do post the #foodporn things, however I also post healthy things, too. I really treat my Instagram like my food diary—I do post a lot of the things I eat myself, especially dishes that I cook myself.

Being a college student, I think there is an appeal about the real, not necessarily “food porn” worthy pictures. I always posted my homemade summer breakfasts when I was home, which wasn’t necessarily as photographically appealing as the cheesy bagel I ate the day before, but I want my followers to see that I do eat other things.

I also try to tell a story with my captions, especially when I post dishes that I’ve made. I think telling my followers “oh, I ate this homemade avocado toast after I got my butt kicked at the gym” or “last night’s drunk eats are balanced today with this salad I made” really lets them relate to these posts and be like, “girl, SAME.” But, I also post pictures that other people send me or tag me in. People get so excited and freak out when I post what they send me, which is crazy!

But I love seeing what other people are eating, and especially being back at school where there is literally no time to plate food and take a good food picture, it helps me continue to post daily and not to stress about “eating for the Insta.”

6. Has running @HungryGrl_BigCity presented you with any opportunities you never thought you would have before?

Well, this interview, for one! I also have built relationships with some restaurants, especially in the NYC/NJ area, and they actually reach out to me to have me in to eat for free and take pictures. I love doing this, and I love eating at new places so I can tell my followers all about them.

Building relationships with such places has been so fun and I love when people tell me they went somewhere because they saw my post about it. I also have gotten a lot of invitations for food events, like a chocolate vodka and caviar event at a very fancy restaurant in Manhattan called Petrossian where I drank a lot of champagne and tried caviar for the first time. Who would’ve ever thought? I think there was a woman from The Real Housewives of New York City there, so I guess that makes it a celebrity event?

I’ve also been sent some products from smaller companies that are looking for social media exposure, like boozy ice cream and waffles, to try out and make my own creations for posts.

I’m also in the works of working with a pretty big publication, which I never dreamed of happening. People always ask me if I get paid for doing this, and when I say that I don’t, they tell me that I should. To me, this isn’t about the money; if that is an option further down the road, then awesome.

7. Pittsburgh's been ranked one of the best food cities recently, what's the best thing you've ever eaten here? How about in the world?

Which is why I’m so happy to be back! I actually have a senior year food bucket list which I’m trying to accomplish by the time I graduate. This question is so hard, because how can I just pick one thing?! Sometimes, the best food dishes are the best because of the meal itself—the company you’re with, the day, the atmosphere, the service, etc.

The best meal I’ve probably ever had in Pittsburgh is when my dad came to visit me for a Pitt basketball game and we went to Fat Heads. It was before my @HungryGrl_BigCity days, but we were celebrating me getting my internship at Food Network Magazine. We basically ordered everything off of the menu, and I think I was in a food coma for days after that. My dad is a big reason for my love of food, so when he comes to Pittsburgh, meals never disappoint.

Also, the queso at Tako is out of this world, and the Eggplant Eggs Benedict at Coca Cafe in Lawrenceville changed the brunch game for me.

The best thing I’ve ever eaten in the world?! Probably pizza at Pizzeria da Michele in Naples, Italy. This is the birthplace of pizza, and it was probably the biggest pizza I’ve ever ordered for just myself. However, I ate the whole thing, obviously. If you’ve ever seen Eat, Pray, Love this is where Julia Roberts ate the ‘za. 

8. I know you're in your senior year now, where do you see your account going post-graduation? Do you see yourself continuing in the food/media industry or is this more of a side hobby?

Being on the journalism path, I think I’m just going to see where it goes. I really think having this account will help me stand out when applying for jobs, especially for those food and travel based. The goal would be to write for a food and travel publication. As for @HungryGrl_BigCity herself, I can only see her growing from here. The future (and food to consume) is limitless.