“Evolving Vegan Means Going in the Right Direction” –Mena Massoud, Aladdin
Mena Massoud says that his Egyptian upbringing exposed him to plant-based foods from a young age, but it wasn't until five years ago that he went fully vegan. Now he's written a book, Evolving Vegan, about how to eat more vegan or plant-based dishes, complete with recipes from his favorite restaurants to make it even easier to eat this way. Evolving Vegan has recipes from his mom, himself and his favorite restaurants all over the country, to help people eat more vegan food, though he says it isn't just for someone strictly vegan, by any means. "As long as you're evolving toward vegan you're moving in the right direction."
The Aladdin star is now in Reprisal on Hulu, but even after Aladdin passed $1 billion in box office sales worldwide, the rolls didn't come flowing in. Massoud told an interviewer last winter that he had not been called up for an audition in months. He then landed Reprisal on Hulu and now is starring in the hit show and cooking up a storm with his mom as they wait out the coronavirus shut down in the entertainment industry. While work wasn't happening, it turned out to be the perfect time to produce his book about eating vegan. Massoud spent months traveling all over the country to visit favorite restaurants and meeting chefs of vegan and non-vegan places alike, to get them to contribute their vegan recipes to the book. Now he is sharing it with anyone who wants to eat a more plant-based diet. Here is his best advice for how to eat more plant-based. The way he did it: Simply cut out one major food group (meat, then dairy) at a time. Before long, you're eating vegan.
The Beet: When and why did you go plant-based?
Mena: My journey going plant-based started by evolving going vegan. (That's where the name of the book came from.) The way I did it is a little different than most people: I went plant-based in the fall fo 2015. But before that, I spent time transitioning over to a plant-based diet. Two of my best friends at the time started doing research. I started out by cutting out eggs, then poultry, because of all the hormones, then that led to cutting out red meat and then finally to fish. I took my time transitioning to be fully plant-based since I knew it really helped other people and how they felt and performed. There have been studies done on reversion rates (going back to eating meat) and if you go cold turkey (sorry for the pun) you are more likely to go back. But if you come to it slowly, then you are more likely to stick to it.
It's a natural thing. Anytime you cut out something all at once, it's harder on your system and this way, by coming to it slowly, you wrap your head around it and it's easier to stick with it.
The Beet: What was your motivation? Health? The Environment? Animals? All three?
Mena: First one was the environment, the impact the meat and dairy industries have on our planet, and the second one was health. Those were my two main driving forces. Earthlings is one of the first things I watched and it was so graphic, and I don't think they have made anything as powerful since. But of course, animals too! Without mother earth, there are no animals! So that's my approach.
The Beet: What do you eat in a typical day?
Mena: Every day is about the same. I don't eat until 1 or 2 p.m. I don't have my first meal till then because I basically fast. So usually that's when I have my "morning" oatmeal. It's in the book: Quick oats. You let it sit, add in cacao nibs, maple syrup, chia seeds, and poppy seeds. It's a perfect pre-workout meal.
Lunch is usually a bowl. Bowls are big for me. A little brown rice, seasoned tofu and veggies, and often I add a little vegan cheese if I want it.
Dinner will really depend on what I am in the mood for. Plant-Based pizza with gluten-free crust and or some pasta, usually made of plant-based protein. The pasta itself is from chickpeas or lentils. And sometimes some Beyond meat with added protein like lentils with lentil bolognese. I usually experiment. But I don't eat more than two or three meals a day
Then for snacks, I eat dried fruit like dried mangos, dried dates. I love dates and using dates in baking as well. I also love pistachios or peanuts as well.
Sometimes a snack is vegetables with Bitchin sauce. There are all sorts of flavors. It's vegan, and basically it's a dip. It's everywhere here in California ... You can get Bitchin Sauce at Whole Foods or Target, all over the place here in California.
The Beet: So, a book is hard work. Congrats on Evolving Vegan
Mena: I had no idea it was going to be as much work as it was. Some of the work was taken off of me because the recipes are from restaurants, so I contacted the restaurant and visited them and got the recipe from them. We visited ten cities in North America, both West and East, and visited more than 50 establishments, and you'll find recipes from all the places we went to. Plus my mom is a great cook and so I added some of my mom's recipes that happen to be plant-based. and some of my favorite go-to's. I tried to describe some of the cities and restaurants we visited and why they are special. The book is for anyone who loves to eat, not just someone who only eats plant-based.
Check out the episodes of Evolving Vegan on our Ig TV channel. It's really fun. You'll see us at the restaurants, with the chefs, learning their secrets.
The name it just represents what I am trying to teach to people. It's an evolution or a process and if you are moving toward it, you're going in the right direction. That's the way our planet is going. Our planet is evolving vegan, our corporations are evolving vegan, and it's where the world is going.
Fifty percent of people who eat plant-based products are not vegan. That is the point of both The Beet and Evolving Vegan. You don't have to be strictly plant-based, as long as you are evolving in the right direction... just eat a little more vegan food every day and you'll start to crave it.
The Beet: So true. Some people worry you can't get enough protein. But you do!
Mena: That's what people worry about when they start. Naomi Scott talks about it. When we were filming Aladin she always saw me with my tofu and I was putting on a lot of muscle as we filmed, and she was amazed that I could do that on a vegan diet. and now she is mostly vegan and she talks about that. And Nina Dobrev and I always went out and ate vegan. And Ricky Tolbin -- the director -- who is also the director of Run This Town, Ricky is plant-based as well. Wnd we cast and crew always went out to places in Toronto and ate vegan. That's why I wanted to do this book. There is so much great vegan food out there!
The Beet: What are some of your favorite places to recommend?
Mena: I have lots of places in Toronto. Planta is amazing. The Chase Hospitality Group [which owns Planta there and in Miami] in general requires at least 25 percent of their menus are vegan. It may be more now! And Melrose On Adelaide is one of my favorite spots -- it is a Japanese vegan restaurant and on the more quick grab and go side. There is YamChops, a vegan butcher in Toronto. You can get a pound of vegan chicken or vegan ribs.
[The Beet's Guide to the Best Places to Eat vegan in Toronto is a great place to learn more.]
Mena: My favorite New York is Ja Ja Ja Mexicana. It's a fantastic spot. We tried to get them in the book butt hey want to release their own! But I still love that restaurant!!
Little Choc Apothecary... They do all vegan, gluten-free crêpes out of Brooklyn and it's amazing as a brunch spot. They are the best vegan crêpes I have ever tried... or maybe the best any type of crêpes I have ever tried!
The Beet. Okay when do we get the book? I want to try all these recipes!
Mena: Evolving Vegan goes onsale September 15th but you can preorder now. The Beet could run a recipe of the day!