Jasmine, who wanted to be a movie director/actress since childhood and worked within the television industry for years, finally reached a breaking point as most visionaries do, and decided to tell her story. Jasmine, merged her passion for filmmaking with her vegan practice to create The Invisible Vegan to fill a void in mainstream wellness documentaries and to give voice to her experience and a growing movement of other African-American vegans. So how does one set about to making a dynamic vegan film that initiates dialogue about race and economics as much as it does animal rights and health? “Just do it. That’s the plan.” Jasmine did not have the resources of a major studio, despite her years in television, but she had the drive and resilience (attributes which were perhaps harnessed while growing in a marginalized community, much like the ones she is committed to outreaching to). “I have a camera, friends and a credit limit. Too many people have great ideas and let them depreciate because the stars have to align perfectly before they get started. I’m the total opposite. I look at what I have and I make it work. The plan is go. The plan is do it. The plan is take control over my destiny. The plan is have the courage to construct my vision.” Amen!
Jasmine is the embodiment of a woman with a vision and a mission, and an educator. “Personally, if I meet someone who is different, I ask questions so I can grow and make life decisions based on a wider net of knowledge and not just the limited sphere of philosophies I grew up with. But I’ve accepted that some people would rather reside in their own beliefs than open their minds to new concepts” I shared my experience as a vegetarian and how I had to defend my choices, explain what was on my plate. I admitted that while most of the flack I got was easy to navigate (code for agreeing to disagree), the most challenging conversations/pushback came from people of color. We agree in the irony that a diet that is culturally indigenous to Africans and the African diaspora would seem nutritiously ridiculous and impractical. But we’ll touch on that a bit later. Back to the gist of what makes a plant-based diet relevant.
One of my favorite quotes from the film, “Thy food be thy medicine, thy medicine be thy food” takes the vegan philosophy a step further and suggests that is has medicinal qualities? She and the film assert that despite how the majority of people believe disease occurs (“magically appear out of thin air”), the scientific and common sense fact of the matter is that plant-based eating aids in preventing and reversing the state of some degenerative diseases. She cites the World Health Organization identifying meat as cancer causing agent and The EU’s ban on certain US meat and meat products because of hormonal cancers associated with them. Compared with even less advanced regions that eat a mostly organic, home-grown or communally farmed diets, our fast food nation is on a fast track to preventable illness and disease. As commonsensical as this sounds, the logic is hard for many to digest. “I am from southside DC and I know a hustle when I hear one. We live in a country where what should be preventative healthcare is profitable “diseasecare.” And if more people read up on what they put in their bodies, that knowledge would facilitate longer lifespans and cheaper medical bills.”
Truth be told, getting from A to Z regarding wellness can be a bumpy and lonely road even for those who are already on the path; especially for people of color. The modern wellness community excludes people of color with a lack of diverse role models, change makers and inspirational spokespeople. “When I think about the poster child for modern wellness, my mind automatically goes to a skinny, white woman with a blonde ponytail, yoga pants, and a sports bra. If people of color do not see themselves present in health messages and images, they are less likely to feel connected to the messages and included in the movement.” And Jasmine couldn’t be more spot-on. This is largely why this site is actively inclusive, multi-cultural and transparent about social activism as a part of the green movement. Representation and a seat at the table are another thing that she/we must just do.
Let’s swing back to that “Thy food be thy medicine, thy medicine be thy food” quote and the indigenous culinary traditions of Africans and African-Americans. History reveals the farming and clean eating practices of Africans and how plants and herbs were used to grow and heal the body. These “ancient” treatments are still commonly used in Africa as many African-diaspora communities. Yet in the US, African-American cuisine, otherwise known as Soul Food, is animal based, fried with animal fat, loaded with white starch with a side of collar greens. “So many African Americans automatically regard slave foodways as our historical culinary legacy, but our culture deserves more respect than chitlins. We're all African vegans?” So could one conclude that veganism is simply a return, a circling back to our (if you are African-American) ancestral ways? Jasmine clarifies that not all vegan fare is created equal or with the stamp of clean eating that she advocates - I guess the vegan donuts I had weeks ago could fit into that category. It’s not veganism alone, but specifically “consuming and growing fresh vegetables and fruits that are undeniably a part of our heritage. Some African Americans turned scraps into soul food as a response to the lack of quality food, but that was not the only food narrative surrounding life on the plantation. Some slaves were given small plots of land to grow their own fresh crops, but sadly, our ability to procure good quality foods is not as heavily advertised.”
If the personal is political, is leading a vegan lifestyle a political statement? The Invisible Vegan is advocacy and outreach, art and culture. As much as it explores an unrecognized community, the message is clear about the benefits and the politics of the food industry. So, again is being a vegan a political statement? Jasmine would say, yes, although not in the grandiose nor predictable “Meat is Murder” way you might imagine. She states simply, “For me, a lot of the worst atrocities in world history were committed, not solely by people in power, but more so, by submissive populations, who saw things like slavery, knew it was wrong, but still supported the cotton industry with their consumer dollars. Looking the other way fuels oppression and as a member of an oppressed group, I don’t want to knowingly participate in cruel practices against any living being out of gluttony and greed.” How might one educate their community about a vegan lifestyle? “Educate by example. Gandhi said it best, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Smart, talented, kind and a force.
Next week, in Part 2 of my conversation with Jasmine, you’ll get insight on how to begin and maintain a vegan practice, especially as a busy urban woman or mom and how this super busy woman sustains her work/life/health/artistry balance!
In the meantime, connect with her at http://jasmineleyva.com/
Jasmine is the first super girl crush woman with a dream to be in our Spotlight Profile. Jasmine and the other outstanding women to be highlighted in this special series, take their commitment to sustainable living to a whole new level. They see green living as social responsibility, economic and racial equality, feminism that's naughty and nice and necessary, kindness and mindfulness as well as eco-consciousness. They step out of their comfort zone and encourage others to step up. Thank you ladies in advance!