Being a Vegan is not Just for White Folks Only

The Invisible Vegan: A Movement Toward a New Consciousness poster with a green background and a black stylized fist grasping an orange carrot. In the lower left corner are the list of the featured performers'.

I recently made some changes to my meal plan and have moved more into a plant-based diet. This change surprisingly has not been too hard because fruits and vegetables are my jam. Even before I started working from home, I would take a salad to work just about every day for lunch. It would be filled with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli and even green bell peppers and onions with a sprinkling of chopped nuts. My co-workers would be eyeballing my lunch as I quickly moved out of the break room and back to my office to eat my crunchy rainbow feast. So, when I heard about The Invisible Vegan documentary by Jasmine Leyva I just had to watch it. Now, before I give my two cents let me give you the summary.

Summary of Invisible Vegan Documentary

The documentary begins with the personal story of Jasmine Leyva, a 30-year-old black actress and filmmaker currently based in Los Angeles. Over the past seven years, Jasmine has committed herself to veganism, both in lifestyle and research. Taking Leyva’s unhealthy childhood growing up in Washington, DC as a point of departure, the film interweaves her narrative with the professional and personal experiences of a prominent group of vegan activists. The film integrates interviews with popular culture luminaries including Cedric the Entertainer (actor and comedian), John Salley (former NBA player and wellness advocate), and Clayton Gavin (aka Stic of the hip-hop duo Dead Prez).

The Invisible Vegan also explains how plant-based eating is directly linked to African roots and how African-American eating habits have been debased by a chain of oppression.

Africa, Slavery and Soul Food

AS I sat and watched the 90-minute film, I was nodding my head and saying, “Yes, that’s right, that’s right!” Sounding like people in the amen corner at church. She was speaking truth to power and I was not too surprised by nothing coming out of this young lady’s mouth. She started out explaining how a plant-based diet came from Africa and how it is not just for white folks. She ticked off the names of Civil rights activists who are vegetarians like the late Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and Dick Gregory. She mentioned Angela Davis too. This was enlightening because I only knew about Dick Gregory as I had read about his diet plan before. He was a firm believer in better health just as much as in civil rights.

She talked about how our enslaved ancestors were forced to eat the scraps on the plantation. How they made meals out of the leftovers. Yes, this is so true. I remember reading the book Roots and many other slave narratives where scenes played out just like this.  Because of this situation Black people passed down this type of eating from generation to generation. It is embedded in our family and culture.  

So, when she started talking about losing the “Black card” I knew exactly what she was talking about. I am nodding my head again. The type of food our ancestors ate on the plantation evolved into what we call today as soul food.  This includes favorites like fried chicken, collard or mustard greens, okra, cornbread, sweet potatoes or yams and blackeyed peas. It also includes some kind of pork product like ham, pig’s feet, hog head cheese and the all-time favorite for many Black folks – chitlins! So, if you are a Black person and don’t eat soul food then you can lose your Black card and be called out. That is not a good situation. Believe me I have been there myself. Not for being a vegan, like Jasmine, but for my efforts in trying to lose weight. Many of these items are not healthy and/or not cooked in a healthy way. So, believe me, I get it. She also talked about how eating soul food is not just the food itself but about a sense of being and belonging. These foods are comforting and connect us to our family, history and legacy in this country. If you don’t think so, go back and watch the classic 1997 movie Soul Food.

Challenges of EatingHealthy

A head shot of Jasmine Leyva with long dark hair, smiling and leaning on one arm in a casual pose. She is wearing a brown and white sleeveless top and a long silver chain around her neck.

With this being said, it is hard for people to change and move to a healthy diet or even become a vegan for that matter. She shared about her journey to become a vegan and the ups and downs of that experience. When it comes to diet and nutrition our doctors are not well equipped to help because they get little education on it when they are in medical school. They are sometimes more apt to write out prescriptions or recommend surgery. I experienced this myself when talking to my PCP and was fortunately referred to a nutritionist.  There I learned about food groups and how food impacts the body. She also talked about food deserts and lack of access to healthy foods. As they say, “No Whole Foods in the hood!”  I could also relate to that too. I have had to get on the bus and travel miles away to find healthier options. And don’t forget about the cost of healthy food! OMG! Why does organic cost twice as much? Crazy! It takes a lot of work and energy to do all of this which I find very stressful at times.  No wonder it is so easy to grab a hamburger at McDonalds. One thing I found interesting and a bit surprising was how meat processing plants are located near minority communities. I didn’t realize that. I mean I knew about how they treat animals, the hormones and the runoff; but not the location.

No Judgement to Become a Vegan

The last thing about the documentary is that it was not judgmental. Jasmine shared her life journey, laid out the facts, and had other people share their experiences. It was not this hard-line approach. She encouraged you to start where you are. I am not ready to go totally vegan but I thought I could do something like meatless Mondays, tofu Tuesdays or salad Saturdays. You know, ease my way into a plant-based lifestyle.

Although this film is not audio described for people like me with vision loss, I still got so much out of it. I encourage you to check it out especially if you are trying to change your eating habits and curious about a vegan lifestyle. The Invisible Vegan is available to watch now on TubiTV and stream on Amazon Prime

4 thoughts on “Being a Vegan is not Just for White Folks Only

  1. Thank you Empish for sharing this post. I hadn’t heard the term “no whole foods in the hood” but clearly remember an incident when I wanted a more healthy option at a KFC near my mother’s. Since I live in the suburbs whenever I had a yen for some KFC I’d order the grilled chicken but at this restaurant, because it’s just on the outskirts of the city they never carried grilled chicken. I felt shamed even for requesting it but moved on. After reading this I will check out the documentary because I like the idea of starting where we are and doing it one step at a time. This is so helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, I had that experience in a grocery store when looking for diet soda. Barely any on the shelf until I left my area and when into the city. Then I had options for days. When I talked to the manager he told me people don’t buy it so they don’t stock it. This is one of my frustrations. How can we live and be healthy if we don’t have the options to do so.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Unfortunately, these issues go so much deeper than people not buying or not having access to certain products. There’s not enough time in the day to talk about the reasons why much of this stuff is intentional. Everything really is interconnected.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Yep, and that is what the documentary is hitting on. She goes into all these areas. Even places you don’t think about like where meat processing plants are physically located. Things that make you pause and think. You slowly begin to realize that your poor health or lack of healthy food is not all your fault.

        Liked by 2 people

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