Anaheim, CA—Day 2 of Expo West started with the keynoteThe Joy of Plant-Based Eating with Tabitha Brown, featuring Tabitha Brown herself—actress, vegan, and NYT bestselling author ofFeeding the Soul—interviewed by Jessica Rubino, New Hope Network’s Executive Director of Content.

“To me, Tabitha Brown just embodies all that is joy and authenticity,” Rubino said, introducing Brown. “The North Carolina-born Tabitha is an actress, a vegan lifestyle expert, she’s an author, an entrepreneur, she has more than 12 million followers across platforms. People go to her for vegan lifestyle inspiration and, more than anything, for life wisdom.”

Brown delivered, on all fronts, offering personal advice, business advice, and a hefty helping of joy: “Joy is how I live my life, right? And the part about joy is that I know the world didn’t give it and the world can’t take it away. It’s a feeling that lives within me, it’s how I live my life daily, and I’m intentional with spreading it. Because it’s energy, it’s love, it’s well-being, it’s me putting myself first and making sure I’m all right. I’m able to show up for myself so I can show up for other people. That’s what joy is to me.”

Rubino then asked: “You are so present, and so comfortable with who you are. How did you get to this point?”

It wasn’t a quick-and-easy process, Brown explained—in fact, it took 20 years: “Ooh, honey, you know—for a really long time I was not this person, right? I spent maybe 20 years trying to be who I thought the world wanted me to be. And I realized, at a very dark time in my life, that that meant I wasn’t free. And I had to get sick to come to that realization. And I got sick in about 2016, and was sick for about a year and a half—it was probably one of the darkest times in my life. In that time was when I started pulling off the layers, and I realized—girl, you don’t even know who you are. You have spent so much time trying to fit in, and be accepted, that you have lost yourself. And so I just made a promise to myself, and I made I promise to God—I’m going to be who you created me to be. I’m just going to be Tab, and she’s gotta be enough, right? And even today, I still pull off layers. Because I’m still triggered on some of my old ways, and I gotta be like nope, you are not going back to that. You are free now. I used to cover my accent for years; I used to try to be a certain size—you know, being in Hollywood; I used to wear my hair a certain way—all these things that were not my choice, right, I thought I had to do these things to survive, to be accepted. And when I figured that out, I was like—ooh honey, I ain’t never going back. This who you gonna get, when I walk in the room, this the Tab you gonna get. I gotta be free to be me. We owe that to ourselves, to just be us. We are enough, just as we are. And that’s okay.”

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For those who want to figure out who they are—either personally, or in terms of their entrepreneurship, Brown offered this advise: “I always tell people: Spend time with yourself. Don’t focus on what anybody else got going on, don’t focus on how somebody else did something. Spend time with yourself. If somebody ask you, what you like to do? And you have to ponder on that—you don’t know yourself. Right? It’s the same with relationships, or in business. Somebody would say, oh, what are your plans, what do you do, and you say—mm, oh, I don’t know—it’s because you haven’t spent enough time with yourself, you don’t know yourself. Even if you are married, even if you’re in a relationship, even if you have business partners—you have to be the most important person to yourself. And you can still take yourself out on a date, you can still have your alone time—I mean, me and my husband been together for 24 years, he knows I’ve gotta have my alone time. Because I gotta be the best version of me so I can be a good wife, or a good partner.”

Brown also told attendees the story of her journey into veganism—she’s been vegan for five years. As with many people, for Brown, the journey started with her health. “I got really sick. I was saying earlier—I got sick in 2016. I got a headache, in the back of my head, and that headache rested there, every single day for a year and seven months. The headache turned into chronic fatigue, chronic pain throughout my body, I started to fall when I would walk, I lost my vision for a day—I just couldn’t get well. And I was at the doctor every week, every month, I was getting blood work, I was getting MRIs, and everything would come back normal. The doctors would be like, you know—we know something is attacking your body, we just can’t figure out what. But they thought it was something autoimmune. And I took every drug that the doctor offered was probably making me worse, but I was desperate. And then my daughter came home from school one day and she said, mama, we watched this documentary today at school, I think you should watch it."

That documentary was a "lightbulb moment" for Brown, who decided to do a 30-day vegan challenge with her husband. "So the first 10 days that we went vegan—in the first 10 days, my headache disappeared. I had had it every day for a year and seven months! And it disappeared! And so at that point I was like—I’m onto something. And so every day I just kept going with it, and by the end of the 30 days I was getting energy again, and the pain just started to lift from my body, and I told my husband—you know what, I think this is going to be my life, I think I’m going to be vegan. And he said, oh, that’s so good, foryou—I think tomorrow I’m gonna eat a piece of chicken. That’s his business. But I always tell people this, because the truth is: Sometimes the thing that may change your life, that maysaveyour life—sometimes you have to go on the journey alone. And I did that. And it changed my life, and it saved my life.”

When it comes to spreading the word, Brown noted that up until she herself went vegan, she thought veganism was for white people who did yoga—she never saw anyone who looked like her, which is partly why it took so long for her to consider the lifestyle. She also noted that veganism has a bad reputation, in part because of the amount of judgment often involved—people told her she wasn’t doing enough when she started, because she wasn’t out there holding up signs. But, Brown wanted to do something different. “The world is hard enough; food shouldn’t be part of the hard,” she explained. “So I just wanted to be a source of knowledge, as I was learning I was just sharing. But also—joy. When you get so close to where you think you’re going to die, and you get the chance to live and feel well again—why do younotshow up like this? Honey, we woke up this morning, that is something to be happy about. That’s why I share the way I do, that’s why people try my recipes. Because I didn’t judge them. Because I welcome them with open arms, with love, with laughter, with compassion. And while being cute! Honey, with a whole afro, her name is Donna. And people are like—who is this lady? But that’s how we all should be. I should be like your sister—try this, girl, see if you like it. But not—you should do this. Girl, see if you like this, it’s good to me! If you don’t, it’s all right. I think that’s what makes people excited, and curious... For me, I look at it like religion. I’m not going to force it on anybody. I’m simply gonna share. That’s it.”

Brown also shared her thoughts on “oopsortunities,” freedom, relationships and challenges, purpose, gut feelings, vegan versus plant-based, religion, sharing, and more, both in her one-on-one interview with Rubino and in a Q&A following the interview. The full session is available on-demand viaNatural Products Expo Virtual.