Evolving Vegan, Mena Massoud’s first foray into publishing, is, as the book title suggests, a vegan cookbook, but that doesn’t mean the actor ― who played Aladdin in the $1B-grossing Disney remake — expects or wants his readers to go completely vegan.

“I’m not telling people to go vegan. I’m not,” Massoud told HuffPost Canada in a phone interview.

“I’m telling people to eat more plant-based. That’s basically as simple as I can put it: just eat more plant-based — it’s going to benefit you, your health, the environment and the animals.”

Evolving Vegan, which is out today, is dedicated to Massoud’s mom, Gorgit, (the “Love you, Ma” sign-off may melt your heart) and it’s clear from our conversation that she is a force — culinary and otherwise — in Massoud’s life.

Massoud, 28, was born in Cairo and grew up in Markham, Ont. where he devoured his mother’s extremely non-vegan dishes, save for a few months out of the year.

“Growing up, I ate everything you can think of: stomach lining, intestines, cow hooves, kidney, heart — I even tried brain. Basically anything you can think of, I tried, because it’s all in the Egyptian cuisine,” he said.

But vegan staples, including okra, beans, chickpeas, eggplant, and “a lot of falafel,” were also prominent in the Massoud household.

As a Coptic Christian, “you grow up three months of the year vegan anyway, because for Christmas and Easter you give up all animal products.”

Evolving Vegan

Evolving Vegan

It wasn’t until five years ago that the “Reprisal” star decided to make the switch from casual plant eater to full-time vegan. The process, he said, didn’t happen overnight, and the result is Evolving Vegan, a cookbook (as well as a company by the same name) that includes recipes from his favourite restaurants across Canada and the U.S. (which he and his business partner travelled to while researching the book), his own personal dishes and his mom’s favourite meals.

Read our Q&A below to find out why Massoud believes the world is “evolving vegan,” get his tips for people looking to eat more plant-based, learn how he’s taking his career into his own hands and find out whether he ever eats craft service when he’s on a film set.

(Note: this interview has been edited and condensed)

HuffPost Canada: Why did you decide to go fully vegan after eating meat your whole life?

Mena Massoud: I was living with my two best friends and we started doing a lot of research, [and] it just spiralled into animal products, how they affect the environment and our health … Being three macho guys, we kinda had to encourage each other to try it [go vegan] because meat is targeted towards men a lot of the time.

When you see Burger King commercials, the grill and barbecue, it’s targeted towards men so there’s a stigma of men going vegan. I just started feeling lighter, I was having more energy, I was making progress at the gym and I knew the positive environmental impact by not eating it [meat].

How did you start making the switch?

I started out by cutting out red meat, cut out eggs and then chicken and so on until I got to a point where I was really like, ‘I don’t need to eat meat again.’ If I was stranded on an island and needed to hunt my own game. I would do it, but now with all the resources we have, we don’t need to eat meat the way that we do. So I just stopped eventually and it’s become second nature.

How did your mom spark your passion for food and cooking?

She cooked every night. My parents were hustlers. My dad was a satellite engineer back in Egypt and came to Canada and had to pick up any job he could get, so he was delivering pizzas and working at a VHS factory when we first got here.

My mom was working in coffee shops, but as soon as we all got back home from work, me and my sisters from school, she would get into the kitchen right away and start dinner. Seeing her do that every single day for my whole life really inspired me, and her food was delicious, [and it’s] not just the family that said that but she was renowned in our Egyptian community for being one of the best cooks.

What mom-cooked meal from your childhood stands out for you?

Easter dinner always stands out because she would go above and beyond. When I was growing up, before I went vegan obviously, she would make turkey and duck and lamb. She would make this dish in Egypt where you soak pita bread in cow fat and then you mix it with rice and you eat it alongside cow hooves, and then there would be some kidney and liver stew as well.

Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has made more people eat plant-based?

I am a true believer that the whole world is evolving vegan and will evolve in that direction because of what you just mentioned: meat shortages, pandemics, all that stuff.

Me talking about it to my friends is one thing, but you’re seeing it in a marketplace. Beyond Meat went from $40US a stock almost a year ago to like $150US a stock now [as of press time, Beyond Meat was sitting at $143US a stock], Impossible Burger is going to launch their IPO soon. [Impossible Burger hasn’t announced an IPO date but the company is launching its plant-based burger in Canada soon.] Every single big food manufacturer is coming out with a vegan line.

‘Aladdin’ Star Mena Massoud’s Vegan Cookbook Is For All Kinds Of Plant Eaters

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