Q+A W/ INFLUENCER, DONYA
Doyna AKA @lilbroccolihead is “only vegan on days that end in “Y” (yes, you counted correctly, that’s everyday of the week). She also eats raw until 4pm. Donya’s lifestyle choices, and the decision to eating a mainly raw, plant-based diet were made to battle severe gastrointestinal issues. Even with limited ingredient options, Donya has many techniques up her sleeve to MAXIMIZE flavor. While trolling plants on Instagram one day, we stumbled upon Donya’s account and were impressed by her delicious and beautiful recipes! She has a knack for making even the simplest of foods (like this watermelon and these sliced bananas) into beautifully styled dishes that will inspire even the most novice of chefs to step into the kitchen.
This week, Donya is sharing a few of her recipes with us, both raw and cooked. Kick-start 2019 with her ultra-healthy, nutrient-dense meals like Root Vegetable Tian, Raw Winter Chopped Salad, and Roasted Squash W/ Cilantro Chimichurri!
Read on to learn how transitioning to a plant-based diet changed Donya’s life (as well as the story behind her funny Instagram name).
by CHLOE: Hi Donya! Thanks for chatting with us. Please introduce yourself.
Donya: Hey! I’m Donya, the face behind @Lilbroccolihead. I went raw vegan in June 2017 and decided to share my journey on Instagram. It’s where I document all my recipes, thoughts about living a plant-based lifestyle, and collaborate with the vegan community!
bC: We love your Instagram handle! How’d you come up with it?
D: This is actually a really funny story that’s completely unrelated to making vegan food or starting my Instagram account. At one point in my life, about 4-ish years ago, I decided it would be a great idea to dye my hair bright green. Back then, I had changed my Twitter handle to @Lilbroccolihead because I thought it was a funny play on words that represented my physical appearance. Then, years later when I was dreaming up my vegan Instagram, I realized I already had the perfect handle. Kind of a happy accident!
bC: What inspired you to adopt a plant-based lifestyle?
D: To be completely honest, I almost went vegan out of desperation. I always believed in the core principles of veganism, especially its profound impact in supporting our planet, but I never truly felt compelled to wholeheartedly commit to it until I realized it might help me alleviate my stomach issues. For most of my adult life, I’ve endured almost every GI issue under the sun. Leaky gut, severe diarrhea (total TMI, but true!!), painful abdominal cramps/gas/bloating…you name it, I had it.
For so long, I viewed food as the enemy because so many things made me sick. So, I started incrementally removing food groups from my diet. Going dairy-free wasn’t a choice, it was a necessity. The severity of my intolerance to lactose (thereby, most dairy products) was so intense that I’d vomit if I drank milk or ate yogurt, so it was easy for me to want to never eat that stuff again. By the time I was 24, I was still experiencing episodes of IBS symptoms and felt like my gut was totally out of whack, so I turned to a raw vegan diet and never looked back. Since then, I’ve slowly incorporated more cooked, plant-based foods into my diet and I’ve truly never felt better. It’s not a lifestyle that’s for everyone, and I would never impose my beliefs on another person, or claim that, “everyone should be vegan,” but I strongly believe in veganism and the unbelievable effect it’s had on my body, mind, and overall wellbeing.
bC: Why did you choose to go raw until 4pm?
D: When I first went vegan, I initially went fully raw, then transitioned to a “raw-til-4pm” and plant-based lifestyle because it helps me with food combining to achieve optimal digestion. I’m not as strict about it as I was before, but on most days I eat that way because it makes me feel the best! I was originally inspired by @earthyandy, who gives a great explanation on her blog about food combining and how to eat raw-til-4. For me, it’s one of the strategies I use to keep my gut healthy and happy.
bC: Can you tell us a little bit about your approach to cooking?
D: Flavor is always paramount. I know @Lilbroccolihead’s feed may look like a massive compilation of thoughtfully arranged “pretty” food and full of “Instagram-worthy” photos, but when I cook, taste is always my number one priority. Because in my mind, what’s the point of eating food if it’s not utterly delicious? Salt, acid, heat, fat, sweetness, crunch – I’m always chasing that perfect balance in each dish I create. That’s largely the philosophy I operate under when I develop recipes for @Lilbroccolihead. Yes, yes, sometimes I’ll indulge myself and create something for the sake of taking a beautiful photo. But when I cook a meal for myself or my family and friends, I want everything to be a punch in the mouth with flavor. I also always cook everything from scratch. I’m not against a short-cut or two, but I’m the type of person who creates dressings, hummus, sauces, etc. from their conception down to the very last teaspoon of seasoning.
Overall, I’d say my food philosophy is relatively simple and rustic. I think that comes from my core belief of prioritizing flavor above anything else in a recipe. When I cook, I like ingredients to speak for themselves, and try to focus on seasonality, fair trade, and organic sources.
My mom and grandmothers taught me so much about cooking and its importance to our Iranian tradition. That’s how I was raised. As cliché as it sounds, I was in the kitchen with them since I can remember, which sparked my passion for food. In my family, cooking for someone is how we show love, respect, and appreciation. Now, in my young adult life, I’ve carried that into my relationships with my friends, family, and Josh. I cook for them to show how much I care.
Even though I’m vegan and I have a bunch of food allergies, I’m seriously obsessed with food…even if I can’t eat it. I guess I’m what some would call a “foodie,” and consider shows like Top Chef, Chopped, Chef’s Table, etc. a treasured past-time. I’m also always Googling, YouTubing, traveling, and eating to learn as much as I can about different cuisines, flavors, and cultures.
On the photography and content development side of cooking, I love to create. Anything that involves using my hands or creating something is always hugely cathartic and intriguing to me. I also paint and make music, so art is a huge part of my life and I channel that in the way I cook.
bC: Have you experienced any challenges maintaining a plant-based lifestyle?
D: Yes! After more than a year of being vegan, I developed a Vitamin D, B12, and Iron deficiencies. Important to mention that I ate dairy-free/gluten-free (due to food intolerances) and pescatarian (by choice) for nearly a decade prior to going vegan, so I can’t confidently attribute that development to shifting to zero animal products. BUT after working closely with a great nutritionist for the past 6-8 months, I was able to get back on track while remaining vegan – all it took was a few tweaks to my diet, calorie intake, etc. I learned a lot from the experience and feel way more confident in my choices and health.
bC: Tell us about what you do when you’re not cooking gorgeous plant-based meals?!
D: Weeeelll, I work a 9-5PM job in Digital Marketing. Otherwise, I spend most of my free time making music, traveling, hiking/backpacking/adventuring, practicing yoga, or just bumming it! My partner, Josh, and I are huge introverts and are usually very content with being glued to the couch on a Friday night.
bC: Interesting fact about yourself?
D: My boyfriend’s hair is longer than mine! When I started chopping mine off around 3 years ago, he started growing his out. Now, I have a buzzcut and his hair is past his shoulders. Breaking gender norms, yeah!!
bC: Best part about living in LA?
Donya: The art/music scene and the people involved in it, the weather (minus the forest fires and smog), and its proximity to so many National Parks/outdoor adventures!
Nickname? Sometimes my friends endearingly call me “Donny” or “DonJuan,” but nothing ever really stuck.
Favorite place on earth? It’s gotta be a three-way tie between Hawaii, Barcelona, and Berlin. I think I also have to add Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. I can’t decide!!
Favorite meal? First thing that comes to mind is the dinner I had on my birthday this year at Momofoku. The chef made an entirely vegan, gluten-free, soy-free tasting menu for us and it was EPIC.
Secret talent? I’m a singer/songwriter and play guitar.
Early bird or night owl? Deeefinitely a night owl.
3 favorite restaurants? Excluding by CHLOE. 😉 my top 3 favorite restaurants (limited to the U.S. or else I’ll never be able to decide) are Kitchen Mouse, Elf Café, Momofoku.
Choice superhero power? I wanna spread my arms and fly!
Juice or smoothie? Smoothies for sure! You can pack so much goooodness into ‘em.
3 objects you can’t live without? My guitar, Hydroflask water bottle, and iPhone (sad, but true).