Former Much Music VJ Lauren Toyota talks about how losing her job on television opened a portal to self-care and transformed her into the “cooler, less perfect Martha Stewart” she’d always dreamed of becoming.
As a Much Music VJ, Lauren Toyota interviewed major celebrities like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, hosted the channel’s live music video awards and was featured on an episode of Degrassi. Ten years on TV helped Toyota become comfortable with who she is, but it took losing her television job to discover her true path.
The Mississauga, ON. native always dreamed of being on television. Although she was a quiet and shy child, Toyota felt like she had a story to share. “I felt like I had this inner person or personality that needed to come out,” said Toyota. She felt Much Music was the best place to explore this voice. “Seeing these VJ’s express themselves and be unique and be themselves for the whole country to see somehow gave me permission to realize that I have a unique offering too,” she said.
But her dream was split. Toyota, who always had an interest in food, recalls pretending to host her own cooking show with her younger sister playing the role of sue chef. “I always dreamed of being a Much Music VJ but also a cooler less perfect Martha Stewart,” said Toyota. Now, she is the vegan behind Hot for Food, a blog and YouTube Channel that aims to show people how cool and accessible a vegan lifestyle can be.
With a dream of being on screen, Toyota moved to Vancouver in 2005 to host the youth lifestyle series 969/ITC on Razer. Two years later, and she landed the Much Music gig she dreamed of as a child. Toyota was hosting a weekly music and lifestyle series called Going Coastal. In 2008 when the recession took a toll on the channel’s programming, Going Coastal was cancelled and Toyota found herself living back in her parent’s house—unsure what to do next.
But the pause in her television career allowed her to become more in tune with her body. “I had this time to pay attention to what I was eating,” she said. “The major thing I noticed in this transition in my life is that I didn’t feel good with what I was eating.”
From the ages of 12 to 19, Toyota was a vegetarian. She never liked doing what everyone else was doing, so at the age when many kids’ idea of a tasty meal is a pack of Mr. Noodles or a box of Kraft Dinner, Toyota was going through her mother’s cookbooks and veganizing the recipes. “It was a little bit of rebel move,” said Toyota. She cites her mother who made healthy meals from scratch, even baby food, as a source of inspiration. “I was kind of informed from an early age to pay attention to what I was eating,” she said.
Unhappy with the omnivore diet she’d reverted to, Toyota decided to make the switch and became vegan. At the time, she felt there was a lot of misinformation and misconceptions about veganism. Toyota wanted to change this. She created a blog where she could write about her lifestyle transition. “It was really just this organic spur of the moment decision,” she said. “I think it was just really meant to be.”
Before Hot for Food took off, Toyota ended up taking another job with Much Music. She worked out of the Toronto office from 2010 to 2013. Although she loved her job, she felt her creativity was being stifled. “A lot of my ideas and my creativity were always being met with bureaucracy and a lot of no’s,” said Toyota. She wanted to inspire others and felt she was unable to do that while working as a VJ.
Toyota saw the positive impact that going vegan made on her life and thought it could do the same for others. She says becoming vegan stated a snowball effect on both her physical and mental health. It opened the door to a more spiritual and mindful lifestyle. Toyota began to meditate and focus on self-care. “Going vegan connected all those dots,” she said. So, in 2014, she re-branded and relaunched Hot for Food. The blog became a place where her creativity could flourish. “Now I’m in control of every single thing I create and produce and put out there,” she said. “To me, that’s just very freeing.”
Through both her blog and YouTube channel, Toyota puts a vegan twist on familiar foods like cheesecake and burgers. She enjoys getting people excited about a vegan diet. She said followers often come up to her and tell her she is the reason they became vegan or explain how she has helped them get their parents or partners to try a vegan meal with them.
Ten years after its launch, her blog now gets 430,000 monthly page views and the brand’s YouTube channel where Toyota shares recipes and “What I ate in a day” videos has over 400,000 subscribers and 32,398,173 channel views.
But, her online presence goes beyond recipes. Through her personal channel, Toyota connects with fans by sharing personal stories such as her questioning whether she will have children. She says these videos are almost like therapy. She said fans who appreciate her openness feel they, in turn, are able to share their truth with her through the comment section and sometimes by reaching out through email. “I find that’s quite a powerful exchange,” said Toyota.
As she works on her second cookbook and plans a summer wellness retreat for her followers in Bali, Toyota looks back on the time when she thought her career was crashing down. She said the experience has allowed her to have more trust in the universe. “You can fight it or you can understand that whatever is happening is for a purpose,” said Toyota. “Had none of that happened, I wouldn’t be here now.”
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Author: Page Woodard is a freelance writer who’s featured in Optimyz Magazine quite often. A talented Canadian writer.