Berto Calkins has been vegan for six years after scaling back on consuming animal products a few years prior. He shares his drool-worthy vegan eats on his social media channels as well as his tips for vegan fitness. Calkins is a personal trainer powered by plants. The New Yorker has a separate Instagram dedicated to delicious junk food found in the city, @WholeLottaFoodShit. He’s one of The Beet’s favorite Black vegan influencers to follow for inspiration.

Here, in an exclusive interview with The Beet, Calkins talks about how animal rights and the harmful fishing industry helped him transition to a plant-based diet, his tips for veganizing your favorite dishes and indulging in vegan junk food like his one true love, pizza. He’s en route to get certified as a yoga teacher and folds in mindfulness into his fitness routine. His advice will encourage you to eat what you want to eat and live a balanced life by folding in exercise into your days to stay healthy, happy, and vegan!

TB: What motivated you to go vegan?

BC: I went pescetarian after I moved to California due to the influence of my ex-girlfriend. I did that for two years and then went vegetarian after almost buying a tuna steak that was discolored. The recalls of seafood at that supermarket and mercury levels in seafood prompted me to become vegetarian for about 4 months. Then, I went vegan after reading an article that stated that it is bad karma to consume and exploit animals.

Before I went pescatarian, I started a blog when I was in college and was dedicated to trying new things, to get me to think outside of the box, and I was shy as a person. I had a few things I wanted to do. The first thing on the list is to be vegetarian for a week. I was like no, I’m going to be vegan for a week, let’s go extreme with it. I don’t know where I came from. One of my brothers was already vegetarian, but he didn’t come to mind when I was going to do this. I embarked on this journey, I’m going to be vegan for a week.

I decided on a Friday to start on a Monday, so I didn’t research at all. I just was like ok, no animal products at all, I’ll just make that change. I was used to having a gallon of whole milk every other day. I was big on milk and cheese and eating ground beef all the time.

I didn’t realize how much I should’ve been eating. Four days in I said I’m going to do some push-ups, I’m going to look all cut up because I’ve been eating clean even. But, I was depriving myself of food. So after ten push-ups, and I’m used to doing more than ten, I was sick. I was malnourishing myself by not eating enough, and working out on top of that. That was the end of the challenge.

TB: What exactly do you eat in a day now?

BC: My eating routine changes often. I don’t follow recipes. Sometimes I’ll have overnight oats or oatmeal for breakfast. For the oatmeal, I do one cup of oats, one cup of unsweetened almond milk, and then sometimes I’ll put peanut butter in after I finish cooking it, a little bit of agave. For the overnight oats, I’ll usually do one cup of oats, one tablespoon of chia seeds, one cup of unsweetened almond milk, some agave, and fruit like apricots or apples.

For my coffee, there’s one creamer I have to use—Silk Vanilla Soy Creamer. I’ve tried numerous creamers, and I was always disappointed. Silk Vanilla Soy Creamer is top-notch, it gives it a great creaminess and sweetness. I just scaled back from four tablespoons to three tablespoons in my coffee so I’m happy about that.

For lunch, I’ll make a bowl with farro or brown rice, avocado, black beans, mixed greens, and mushrooms. I like to put lemon juice on it. Sometimes, I put in a little bit of garlic powder.

I keep it simple. I like the fresh taste of the foods themselves. I was raised to not be concerned with spices too much. But, I’m starting to experiment.

For dinner, I often have pasta with any brand of sauce that is vegan. I love the garlic sauces. I’ll use whole wheat pasta and basic pasta sauce. I add nutritional yeast, and maybe like a little bit of salt, depending on how much salt is in the pasta sauce. Sometimes I’ll add some spinach to have some greens.

TB: What is your favorite vegan meal to cook?

BC: A plate of mashed potatoes, mushrooms, and greens. I start with the potatoes because they take a little bit longer to cook. I’ll skin the potatoes, chop them up, boil them. I don’t time it. It's the basic way of cooking, you don’t measure things, just test them out. I’ll boil then mash the potatoes, drain them, and sometimes I’ll put in some vegan butter. I like Miyoko's and Earth Balance. I’ll sometimes put some unsweetened almond milk in there to give it more creaminess, some garlic powder, and a little bit of salt. I’ll put tamari sauce with garlic powder and chili powder with the mushrooms and serve with fresh mixed greens with lemon juice.

TB: What is your go-to smoothie recipe?

BC: Oats, almond milk, banana, and peanut butter.

TB: What is one ingredient you can't live without?

BC: Almond Milk.

TB: What advice do you have for someone who wants to go vegan?

BC: Do your research, be patient, find recipes for your favorite foods but veganized, keep it simple, find your community. In Google, put the name of the dish you want and put vegan next to it, or vegan recipes. A bunch of things will pop up. There are so many recipes that you can find online from vegans that grew up eating the same foods as you.

TB: What are some misconceptions about vegan junk food?

There are misconceptions that they’re healthy, but there are also misconceptions that they don't have a place in a vegan lifestyle. It's up to the person to decide how they want to eat, but I enjoy eating both.

TB: What’s your favorite vegan junk food?

BC: Pizza for sure, because I’m a New Yorker. I have pizza sauce in my veins. I love Screamers Pizzeria. Pizza Gusta in the Bronx has vegan options. They can make you whatever you want. Two Boots V for Vegan Pizza.

TB: What is your favorite vegan restaurant in NYC?

BC: I can't name just one. Beyond Sushi, Spicy Moon, Petisco Vegano, Orchard Grocer, Next Level Burger, Urban Vegan Kitchen, and many more.

TB: If you had 30 minutes to work out what would you do?

BC: Squats, bench press, deadlift, or yoga.

TB: What are your top tips about fitness and veganism?

BC: Do your research. People will try to sway you away from being vegan in the fitness industry. If you have the knowledge behind you, you can confidently stick by the vegan lifestyle. When it comes to working out, I don’t have a specific pre-workout or post-workout snack. It depends on how I feel. Most of the time before I workout, I’ll fast.

Pre-workout can be oatmeal and a banana. Post-workout can be fruit or a big salad, like a hefty salad, not just greens, so rice on greens, sweet potatoes. If I’m riding a bike in the heat I don’t want to have something heavy afterward. I want to have fruit. I crave something water-dense, so I’ll have maybe pineapple, watermelon, a peach, something like that. I don’t like to eat before biking, or running. When I start doing more powerlifting training I eat at least two big meals before lifting heavyweights.

TB: How does yoga support your fitness regime?

BC: Yoga helps me to be in a great mental state when I’m approaching the day, that’s why I like to do it early. I’ll just knock it out and any worries I have dissipate when I’m doing yoga. Afterward, I’ll approach, especially work things, in a better mental state. When it comes to working out yoga has made me flexible. I used to have bad shoulder mobility, and yoga has helped a lot.

TB: Do you have a mantra or thought/words to live by?

BC: L.I.V.E: Love Intensely Vast Experiences

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