My Olive Roots (MOR) enjoyed a delicious vegan breakfast with Plant-Based Nutrition Consultant and owner of Wholly Mama Lifestyle Consultancy Company, Amanda Mattar (AM), on why vegan is in vogue.
From athletes to celebrities to everyday people, the rise of plant-based diets is unstoppable. Diets that exclude meat, dairy and eggs were seen as weird and extreme. Identifying as vegan, or plant-based was once the domain of hippies.
Meat-free food options are proliferating everywhere. Plant-based eating may not be entirely mainstream yet, but it’s becoming more accepted with far-reaching health and environmental impacts.
Meet Amanda Mattar. She was born and raised in Orlando, Florida to traditional Palestinian parents and grew up sharing traditional Palestinian family meals, but when she saw friends and family suffering through ill health, she became fascinated with the plant-based diet and furthered her passion studying plant-based nutrition at Cornell University. Today, she is also raising her children to be plant-based eaters, which some have criticized her for.
MOR: What was it like growing up as a Palestinian in Florida?
AM : My parents were both born and raised in Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon. In 1982 when the grave massacre of nearly 2000 refugees happened in the camp, my parents escaped to the US with the help of family members ,hoping for a better life. My father in particular was very expressive about being Palestinian; instilling us with strong traditions. Living away from my ancestral homeland, food was also an important part of our connection to Palestine.
MOR: Describe your journey to plant-based living?
AM : Going Plant-Based was unexpected, I never thought of myself as ‘unhealthy’. I was moderately active, enjoyed the occasional Zumba class and indulged in all foods without giving it much thought. But there were people around me suffering from illnesses and seeds were being planted in my thoughts to live a better life for my family and loved ones.
I became interested in plant-based living and decided to expand my knowledge and study plant-based nutrition.
MOR: Was your decision to move to this style of eating mandated by health concerns or environmental concerns?
AM : Excellent question! If our health is bad imagine the planet’s health. My initial reason was personal wellbeing. My husband’s side of the family all has heart disease and diabetes, and I did not want that for our family. Luckily there is was way out of that ‘gene’. Learning that a plant-based diet can prevent and reverse heart disease and diabetes along with a multitude of lifestyle diseases concerns made me realise I was on the right track.
Just like human health, giving up animal products is one of the best one ways to restore the planet’s wellbeing.
It not just about the ‘grass-fed’ or ‘organic steak’ on your plate, it’s about where was that steak from, what land was it on, was the land deforested before it was an animal farm and so and so on. I learned so much during the Cornell University Plant-Based certificate course that I am now compelled to spread what I’ve learnt, fast.
Animal agriculture is extremely wasteful in all aspects and I am happy to shed light on an industry that is truly harming planet earth.
MOR: How did your family react to your transition to veganism?
AM : I included them into my transition; I wasn’t going solo. For it to be successful I needed them to be informed so I would send my family chat lectures on these issues. They all were interested in my passion and I am lucky but they too have adopted some new plant-based changes. They still eat some animal products, but I far less. I know my own parents have almost eliminated most animals’ products from their diet, for which I am grateful. So overall the transition was smooth and hope that other’s journey could be the same.
MOR: What pitfalls can stop you from eating smart?
AM : Support! Admitting we are addicted to foods that are not good for us – Not knowing how to wean ourselves off. Support is critical when it comes to any lifestyle change. We are all on our own journey but the end goal should be a healthier happier and hopefully more peaceful you.
When I first went to dinner with friends, most were shocked and would say my lifestyle change wouldn’t last. Once somebody asked me “So Amanda why?” I said “For my future self.” That felt powerful to me, but the people at the table went quiet, probably thinking, “What is she talking about?” We make investments in material things but how about our health? Our future health?
MOR: Can you get full eating only plants?
AM : I salivate thinking about my next meal, I don’t only ‘get full’ but by eating plant-based I am satisfied: Whole grains, legumes, greens vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds. We can enjoy any type of world cuisine and still have it plant-based as well as heart and planet healthy. I don’t count calories or follow micronutrients I just eat what I was taught and my body thanks me everyday.
MOR: What were your favourite Palestinian dishes growing up?
AM : My favourite dish was chicken musakhan, warak enab and maloubi; I still love these dishes today, but now I modified them to be vegan. For examples, instead of chicken and beef, I use various forms of mushrooms, tofu or potatoes.
MOR: Some would say giving children a plant-based diet is not healthy, what do you say to that?
Getting children to eat different kinds of fresh fruits, veggies and greens, is accomplishment most moms appreciate. Let alone the comfort of grains and legumes. Palestinian meals are filled with mouthwatering dishes that are predominately plant-based anyway.
Plant-based nutrition for a child is wonderful but one needs to do their homework and ensure all nutritional requirements are met.
MOR: How are you popularizing plant-based dishes with your Arab network?
AM : I want to educate the Arab community who are suffering with so many chronic diseases like Heart Disease, Diabetes, Obesity, Cancer, Depression, Alzheimer, Dementia, and all of the chronic issues like gout, IBS, skin and eye problems, asthma. These are mostly preventable and reversible depending on the stage. The chronic disease takes a toll on families financially and emotionally which is burden on everyone.
I want better for the Arab community. I want to show them that we can continue to relish our delicious food without any of the animal products that have been clogging our systems with disease and depleting our planet’s natural resources.
MOR: What traditional Palestinian plant-based dishes do you make for your children?
AM : I feel passing on traditional Palestinian dishes means getting the kids involved. Letting them smell the spices, picking the grape leaves, allowing them to feel the grains and teach them that we are from the Fertile Crescent. We are a civilization who was technically farmers. One dish I love to make for my family is Tofu Musakhan and it’s delicious.
MOR: Tell me about Wholly Mama Lifestyle Consultancy?
AM : It’s a new baby for me and Im very excited about it. I want to create a space that provides an outlet for people to find information on how to contribute to making the world a better place. Through caring for our environment and sustainability, to mental health and eating right for our bodies and the plant.
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Tanya knew that Palestine was her symbolic homeland. Always curious about her identity and connecting with her roots, she was eager to strengthen her ties to the Levant and traveled the region, desperate to learn more. It wasn’t until her first trip to Palestine that she became spiritually and emotionally connected.
She studied Political Science and Sociology at the University of Toronto. She then moved to the UAE, supporting numerous NGOs related to children’s welfare in the region. When she had her own family, she created the My Olive Roots platform in the hopes that her children and the Arabs diaspora would have a place to connect, learn and preserve their roots. Tanya enjoys discovering humanist stories and exploring the connection of food and art with culture.