Aladdin star Mena Massoud takes readers on a food-based journey in Evolving Vegan
Canadian Egyptian actor Mena Massoud is known as the titular character in Disney's 2019 live-action film Aladdin. Now he can call himself an author as well: his book Evolving Vegan came out this year.
Evolving Vegan is part-cookbook, part-travel guide that focuses on plant-based home-cooked meals and explores what it means to eat vegan. The book chronicles his foodie experiences and discoveries from his pre-pandemic road trip across North America.
He spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Evolving Vegan.
"I hated veganism growing up. I'm a Coptic Christian Orthodox — and so like the Greeks and Russians and Armenian Orthodox, we cut out meat out of our diet for about three months out of the year.
"I grew up doing that and I absolutely hated it. I never thought of it as veganism growing up; it was just part of my religion. Then I went to college — I graduated from Toronto's Ryerson University — and I was living with my two roommates. We decided to do a lot of research on plant-based foods and how they affected the environment and our health.
I never thought of it as veganism growing up; it was just part of my religion.
"That's how it all started. I slowly started cutting things out. I cut out red meat first out of my diet. I started feeling a lot better and making progress at the gym I'd never made before.
"I started cutting more and more out until I became pretty much completely plant-based."
Calling my mother's bluff
"I've surprised my parents quite a bit in my life. Obviously, they wanted me to be a doctor and I was going down that road. I went to the University of Toronto for neuroscience before I switched over to theatre at Ryerson University. When I told her I was going vegan, my mother thought I was bluffing.
"I remember we were finishing our fast and we were coming off of the three months of being vegan for Easter dinner. We broke our fast at midnight and we started eating meat again. I told her, 'Make your best meal. You can still make it with the béchamel sauce, but don't make it with the red meat because I've cut that out.'
"She thought I was bluffing and she told me, 'No, I'm not doing that.'
When I told her I was going vegan, my mother thought I was bluffing.
"I was like, 'OK, well, I guess I'll just have rice.' She started laughing at the idea of me just having rice. But sure enough, midnight rolls around, Easter dinner's on the table and all I'm eating is rice. She starts to cry. She was taking a shot and calling my bluff, but I wasn't bluffing."
"I've eaten every part of an animal that you can think of. My mom would make liver and kidneys stews, chicken hearts, cow hooves, stomach lining — anything you can think of, I've eaten and I've tried.
I think anyone who denies that meat tastes good is not being honest with you.But we live in an era now where it's not a necessity.
"I understand that meat tastes good. That's why we eat it. I think anyone who denies that meat tastes good is not being honest with you. But we live in an era now where it's not a necessity. We don't need to be eating it, especially with all the alternatives they're coming up with in the market."
Mena Massoud's comments have been edited for length and clarity.