Massoud’s family is Coptic Orthodox Christian and goes meat-free a few times a year for religious reasons, so it wasn’t too difficult for him. He’s also cognizant of his dietary needs and gets his blood tested every three to six months to make sure he’s getting enough minerals and vitamins.

But his family initially scoffed at his plant-based pursuits and didn’t take them seriously.

Massoud recalled the first Easter dinner his mom cooked after he’d cut out meat. None of her dishes suited his diet and Massoud said he would just eat rice. She thought he would cave and eat her Easter offerings once he saw them — but he didn’t.

“I sat down at the table and I just had rice, and she started crying,” he said. “She thought I was bluffing when I wasn’t, so she started crying and she was like, ‘Now there’s nothing for you to eat.'”

It wasn’t the first — nor the biggest — shock Massoud delivered to his parents with a major life decision. That time was when he told them he wanted to be an actor and not the doctor he’d been studying to be in the neuroscience program at the University of Toronto.

“I was sitting in a calculus class one day and I was like, ‘I can’t do this the rest of my life. This is not what I want to be doing,'” Massoud said, noting he’d been performing in school plays and was head of his high school improv team.

“In truth, I was doing it for my parents and my family. I wasn’t doing it for me. I never wanted to be a doctor. I always wanted to act. As an immigrant, you’re kind of taught that the arts are only a hobby, they’re not a career choice. But when I went to U of T, I had just had enough at that point and decided I was going to live out my dream and not somebody else’s.”

Massoud switched to the theatre program at Ryerson University and has since become global star, landing the lead in Disney’s 2019 live-action “Aladdin” and other credits including the Hulu series “Reprisal.”

“A theme throughout my life is I get under underestimated quite a lot,” he said with a laugh. “But that’s OK. I’m used to it now.”

With his Evolving Vegan company and its Facebook page, Massoud aims to provide a community for people to have judgment-free conversations about plant-based living.

He’s not telling people they have to give up animal products 100 per cent, he said, noting he still wears leather on red carpets sometimes.

“I know any time a celebrity goes from vegan to reverting back to eating meat, it’s like this huge moment for people like, ‘See it doesn’t work,’ but diets are ever changing and there’s no right or wrong,” Massoud said.

“You have to make the decision that’s right for you. But that’s the point of Evolving Vegan. There’s no right or wrong, there’s no this or that. You can fall in the middle somewhere. And whatever you feel like is the best for your body is what you should be doing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2020.

By Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

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