The Invisible Vegan By Jasmine and Kenny Leyva

The Invisible Vegan By Jasmine and Kenny Leyva

When Jasmine C. Leyva was 20, she moved from her childhood home in Washington D.C. to Los Angeles. It was there that Jasmine, from a family of meat lovers, learned what “vegan” meant.

Her first reaction was, “Oh, you know, that’s that white people stuff.”

She remembers how an actress at the talent agency where she worked rescued a baby squirrel and brought the poor creature to an upscale Malibu shelter. There the little rodent enjoyed a cliffside view of the ocean and feasted on organic acorns,

Jasmine’s annoyance at the memory was palpable: “You know what? Somewhere there’s a squirrel that’s living the life, better than me.”

She recalls, “My irritation at that moment kinda summed up how I felt about animal rights. Like this is a privileged issue.”

It took an interview with vegan chef and restaurateur Bobette Davis to set her on the path to veganism. At age 65, Bobette was so fit and muscular that, Jasmine admits, “Her body trumped mine!”

Still, the encounter inspired her learn more. Before long, she realized she associated plant-based eating with white people because “I didn’t know my own history.”

The Invisible Vegan presents that history through interview clips with food scholar Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson. In her words,”To associate vegetarianism and veganism with whiteness, you’re totally discounting our heritage.”

Jasmine’s response? “So plant-based eating has many historic roots in the Black culture. It’s not a white thing — and not knowing that is an ignorant thing.”

Although she no longer sees plant-based eating and animal welfare as “white people” issues, she disagrees with pressuring black people to choose between black liberation and animal rights.

Her friend Christopher Sebastion agrees:

“That’s a lie that white supremacy has given us. We can care about more than one thing, and indeed we are compelled to care about more than one thing. Because our liberation is linked.”

Or as Jasmine puts it, “Animal rights and human rights intersect.”

Even African-Americans who want to adopt a plant-based lifestyle, however, often face serious obstacles to practicing one. The greatest, according to Dr. Milton Mills, MD, are the inaccessibility and high cost of quality produce.

As a result, people in the black community are:

• 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease

• 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer

• 60 percent more likely to be diabetic

than whites.

Dr. Mills regularly advises his sick patients to give up dairy products for two weeks. The small change can make a huge difference. “I would say that at least eight cases out of 10,” he reports, “the problem disappears.”

The Invisible Vegan concludes on a hopeful note, as Christopher paints a compelling vision of the future. The black community casts off its invisibility, embraces veganism and leads the way to a healthier world.

“The more black people go vegan, you know, the higher the potential is for it to become part of the national consciousness.” 

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