Quaraneat spreads accessibility, culture through love of food


Courtesy of Winnie Li

Sisters Winnie and Karen Li share a love of food through their Instagram account, Quaraneat.

Clara McCourt, deputy lifestyle editor

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the world was gifted unlimited free time. 

That’s when Winnie Li, a fourth-year health science major, began to spend her quarantined days in the kitchen. As an avid cook and baker, Winnie Li had always posted cooking tips and recipes on her Instagram story, but quarantine brought a new focus on her hobby. 

“I always had people telling me, ‘You should start a food account.’ But I never got around to it until quarantine, where we had literally nothing to do,” Winnie Li said. 

Winnie Li combined her love of cooking with her newfound free time inside to create @quaraneat, an Instagram account that shares photos of food along with recipes and other helpful cooking tips.

She enlisted the help of her sister Karen Li, a 25-year-old first-year student at Georgetown’s School of Medicine, who had previously worked at a bakery. 

“At the very beginning of quarantine, our world [turned] 180,” Karen Li said. “Everyone was all of a sudden inside cooking. Everyone [was] not only inside cooking, but everyone was on Instagram … We wanted to share a love of cooking, but we [also] want[ed] to show people how to make easy meals because all of a sudden, all these restaurants are closed and you can’t go out to eat anymore.”

Although the two sisters were quarantined separately, maintaining the Instagram account brought them together. 

“When quarantine first started, I hadn’t talked to my sister [as] frequently [as I do now],” Karen Li said. “I felt even though I was physically isolated from my sister, I felt so close to her and able to truly collaborate on something that we were both so passionate about.”

The Li sisters began to grow their account through word-of-mouth among their friends. They hoped to foster a sense of community in an isolated world. 

“We literally would refer to our followers as Quaraneaters, because we felt like we had built this community around the recipes we were making, and just food in general,” Winnie Li said. 

Diana Steelman, a fourth-year graphic and interaction design major at Northeastern and friend of the Li sisters, was inspired to try some recipes after looking at the account. 

“Ever since they started Quaraneat I just got obsessed with it. I have been making their recipes all throughout quarantine,” Steelman said. “I learned a bunch of really cool things.”

She was so obsessed, in fact, that she made a typography project based on Quaraneat recipes.

“I thought about doing a book of recipes that I made during quarantine. But then I realized it’d be cooler if I just did a book that was just about [their recipes],” Steelman said. “So I just took a bunch of recipes that they had on Instagram, and took the text from the Instagram, and made a book out of it.”

Quaraneat began to amass a substantial following, which caught the notice of several high-profile celebrities and publications. Quaraneat has been reposted six times by New York Times cooking, Karen Li said. 

Through Northeastern’s Center for University Programs, Winnie Li was given the chance to moderate an event with Queer Eye chef Antoni Porowski. Porowski followed Quaraneat after the event.

“He will still DM us sometimes. He watches our stories, sometimes he responds,” Winnie Li said. 

Karen Li cheered on her sister from afar as she recorded the event for their Instagram: “I have never felt prouder of my sister … I was like a soccer mom,” she said.

The Li sisters recognized that they have a platform and used it beyond celebrity shoutouts. They had two Instagram fundraisers for nonprofit organizations Off Their Plate and Black Lives Matter. Cumulatively, the two events raised almost $9000. 

“We truly do feel like [Instagram] is community in many ways,” Karen Li said. “I think that was really shown [through our] two fundraisers.” 

By the same token, the Lis cultivate the Quaraneat community to spread accessibility. 

“I think what we’ve chosen to show on our web, on our page and with like, the step by step highlights, makes cooking, like more accessible, and less scary and intimidating,” Karen Li said. 

Steelman points out the accessibility that sharing recipes on social media brings.

“I like how it’s a really easy way to find recipes and make them with a picture and instructions in the comments. It’s easier than in a recipe book or online,” she said.

Ultimately, Quaraneat is a way for the Lis to celebrate their Chinese heritage, sharing family recipes with their two grandmothers. 

“[Quaraneat] has been a great way to share our culture,” Winnie Li said. “We’ve gotten some comments back saying, ‘This is really meaningful to me, because I haven’t been able to embrace this culture that I have.’”

Above all, the Lis aim to share their love of food with their followers. 

“We’ve always been surrounded by food. Our family has always cherished food too,” Karen Li said. “Food not just for nourishment and nutrition, but as a vessel for communications and discussion, a vessel to bring families together, to bring people together.”


This story was updated at 5:54 p.m. Jan. 24 to reflect the name of the organization Off Their Plate.