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‘Marco Polo’ star Joan Chen goes to deep end as vegetarian mom

By Cindy Pearlman/Big Picture News Inc.

You might call her the semi-reluctant vegetarian.

Actress Joan Chen admits that her healthy lifestyle today began because she was a busy working mom doing the typical dinnertime dance – and there were too many moves.

“Both of my daughters are vegetarians,” says the 53-year-old star of the new series “Marco Polo,” now available on Netflix. “I started out making vegetarian meals for my daughters and different meat meals for my husband and I. Finally, I got to the point where it was silly. I love to cook, but this was a lot of food … and a lot of cooking.”

Chen made an executive decision that day in her San Francisco kitchen: Meat was out, veggies and whole grains were in.

The end result: Chen says she has never felt better, especially since she embraced her daughters’ way of life. “I find myself eating much less meat these days,” she admits. “Sometimes I ask my husband, ‘Do you miss the meat?’ He says, ‘Sometimes.’ But now we eat a lot of vegetarian meals – much more than the meat — and we feel so much better.

“It’s an easy lifestyle switch that anyone can try,” she advises. “And you really don’t feel deprived because you’re never saying ‘never’ to any food group. You’re just eating healthy most of the time.”

The screen beauty says it’s even good for your skin and looking ageless. “I just love to cook and I think cooking those vegetables is extremely good for your skin. The steam comes up from the cooking and you get a mini-facial,” she says with a laugh.

Not so surprisingly, Chen says that her best wellness tip doesn’t involve food or anything that comes in a jar. She advises ridding your life of stress any way you can. “I really have committed to living a low stress lifestyle,” she says. “I believe in a low stress family life, too, which means no drama. Otherwise, I don’t allow myself to enter into stressful situations.

“For example, I don’t overschedule myself. You won’t find me running around like crazy trying to grasp every single opportunity to advance my career. It’s my choice not to do that because I don’t want the stress of it,” she says. “Figure out what you can say no to in life — and that will reduce your stress.”

“I want to savor my time with my children. I want to be in the kitchen. That means saying no to a red carpet. And that’s fine. I’d rather opt for the low stress lifestyle. In fact, I strive for it, which is an easy thing if you look at each situation and decide how much stress is involved.”

Joan Chen as Empress Chabi. | Netflix
Joan Chen as Empress Chabi. | Netflix

In “Marco Polo,” Chen plays Empress Chabi, in the story of young Polo who navigates greed, betrayal and sexual intrigue in the court of 13th century emperor Kublai Khan. The series also stars Richelmy, Benedict Wong and Olivia Cheng.

“Chabi is Kublai’s Empress. She’s his equal and she loves him. They love each other. Every decision she makes – good or bad – she makes because of that love,” she previews.

“She’s a fierce woman who will stop at nothing if her family is threatened. And we find that her husband and son are threatened. But given the fact that she was Buddhist, she was probably the most compassionate of the Marco Polo world.”

She says that sweeping epics like this one “satisfy our romantic desires and our desires to have adventures and travel the world. We can escape into this entirely exotic world with larger than life characters.”

And you can do that in front of the tube while eating your vegetables.

“And having a mini facial,” Chen says with a laugh.