Aladdin star Mena Massoud has a vegan business
- Aladdin's new breakout star Mena Massoud is a longtime vegan
- The Massouds immigrated to Ontario when he was young, making a conscious effort to retain close ties to their culture
- His side business is called Evolving Vegan
- Evolving Vegan is a community that looks to promote a healthy vegan lifestyle, by offering advice, suggestions and recipes
On Esquire’s roving shoot around the sun-drenched, cinematically rich streets of Hollywood, Massoud is a bundle of energy. Wearing a black Saint Laurent shirt and tie, and leaning on the hood of a battered, vintage orange MG Spitfire, he is relaxed and chatting away with the crew. He talks quickly, laughs loudly, and even throws in the occasional pirouette. There is a genuine sparkle in his eye when he cracks a toothy white smile. In front of the camera, he has that switch like ability to instantly turn from playful to focused.
He identifies as Egyptian, but is a Canadian citizen. Born in Cairo to Coptic Egyptian parents, the Massouds immigrated to Ontario when he was young, making a conscious effort to retain close ties to their culture. Massoud and his two elder sisters were raised speaking Arabic at home, and instilled with a deep connection to their home culture, partly by the food they ate and films they watched. “I grew up watching really prolific Arab actors like Adel Imam and Nour El-Sherif,” says Massoud, “but there were some American films in there too.” Like any kid growing up in the 1990s, there was a rotation of VHS tapes that constantly did the rounds. In the Massoud household those were Mrs. Doubtfire, Rush Hour, Miss Congeniality (“because I have two older sisters!”) and Aladdin.
Flash back four years and Mena Massoud’s mum is crying. It is midnight and she is sitting across the family dining table that is heavy under the weight of a huge spread of freshly prepared food. Lamb, beef, turkey, lasagne with béchamel, all painstakingly prepared by her and, while everyone is tucking in, her son is sitting opposite her eating a bowl of plain rice. He has just told her that after 23 years he is giving up eating meat. For a family-focused Egyptian mother of three, it is too much.
“My mother is the sweetest person alive, but I have shocked them a fair few times in my life!” Massoud says with a chuckle as he recalls the story of telling his mum that he was thinking of becoming a vegan. “I’d told her earlier that day that I’d wanted to transition into a plant-based lifestyle so I was giving up eating meat. I think she thought I was joking so she kept trying to call my bluff!” It turns out, that Mena Massoud very rarely bluffs. In fact, mirroring his decision to pack up and move to Los Angeles, when he puts his mind to something it generally tends to be either all or nothing.
Veganism has become a huge part of Massoud’s life. When we catch up on the phone in early April he says that he is planning on spending the month ramping up the work on his side business Evolving Vegan, ahead of the global promotion tour of Aladdin in May. He has been plant-based for four years, and credits it for helping change his life. “I used to feel sluggish and heavy after every meal,” he explains, “and as soon as I went plant-based that disappeared, no matter how much I ate.” He attributes the gradual change in diet for giving him more energy and more mental clarity. Again, tapping into that ambitious drive of his, he explains how he wanted to capitalise on the platform that Aladdin has given him to start a business in another area he is passionate about. Evolving Vegan is a community that looks to promote a healthy vegan lifestyle, by offering advice, suggestions and recipes on how to “transition” to that lifestyle gradually.
“People think that when it comes to veganism you have to go all in. Bang! No honey, no leather, no milk. So we want to show people that it can be a gradual process. You don’t have to be perfect, and can always work at slowly transitioning to that way of life—because even if you start by adding a couple of vegan recipes into your weekly rotation, you’re going to be start benefiting your health and the planet, so everybody wins.”