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Posted on February 7, 2019
My name is Jasmine Leyva and I am the director The Invisible Vegan, a 90-minute independent documentary that explores the problem of unhealthy dietary patterns in the African-American community, foregrounding the health and wellness possibilities enabled by plant-based vegan diets and lifestyle choices. This film was made possible because I have an incredible man in my life. I told Kenny Leyva, the co-director, about my idea for a vegan documentary. Not only did he instruct me to quit work to fulfill my dream while he supported us, he worked on our project to the wee hours in the morning on top of his demanding job. Aside from the film and my paragon of a man, I teach beginner screenwriting at California State University, Northridge. In the past, I’ve casted shows for cable networks; worked as a producer on documentary series; and starred in commercials for top brands like Nissan, Sony, Apple, Michelle Watches and more.
My plant-based journey began with far-from-noble intentions. Like most women in this country, I was conditioned to endlessly chase glamour and youth, so when I met Chef Babette Davis, a sexy black vegan woman in her 60s with the body of a 20 year old, I immediately wanted to walk in her footsteps in hope of achieving similar results. Meeting Chef Babette was like witnessing a unicorn. While health culture is apart of the norm in Los Angeles, I’m from DC and my roots are in North Carolina. My female role models, while hardworking and intelligent, weren’t sipping green smoothies, practicing yoga or worried about the animals on their plates. I would see these things in health ads, but I didn’t see any thick brown-skinned girls with braids in those ads. And because the health movement wasn’t checkin’ for me, I wasn’t checkin’ for the health movement… until Babette.
Within weeks of going vegan, I effortlessly dropped a few pounds, my skin began to clear up and my increasingly annoying internal plumbing problems disappeared. Fascinated by the results, I raved to my friends about the benefits of veganism, but most of them mocked my choice. “So now that you in LA, you too Hollywood for regular food.” “You on that white people [stuff.]” It was all in fun, but very few people listened to my new dietary direction with an open mind. So naturally, I grew tired of people challenging my food choices at the dinner table. I was “over” eating garden salads at gatherings because there weren’t any solid vegan choices. And my morale kicked rocks due to lack of encouragement and I had nobody to share this journey with. I wanted to be healthy, but I also wanted to fit in, so for years, I operated as a flexitarian–still not concerned with the ripple effects of plant-based eating beyond looks and my health.
One day I was endlessly searching through Netflix, an activity that claims about 18% of my life, and I found a documentary on veganism. I don’t remember exactly which film kicked off my vegan documentary watch spree, Forks Over Knives; Food Inc; Vegucated; Fat Sick, and Nearly Dead; or Cowspiracy, but I watched them all and they rejuvenated my interest in plant-based eating. The messages in these vegan docs were compelling, but I couldn’t personally relate to the messengers… How do you expect to have a diverse movement if you only allow one perspective, the white male perspective? There needed to be balance and I decided to be the change I wanted to see in the world. The Invisible Vegan represented that change. In the research and interview phase of the film, I read books on veganism grounded in black culture and listened to luminaries such as Angela Davis speak on the industrial food complex. There was no more plausible deniability. I learned the real deal and to revert back to old habits would be knowingly embracing exploitation, oppression, cruelty, pollution and poor health. My mother did not raise me to be a vegan, but she raised me to be a woman of integrity, so I knew it was time to give up actions that hurt Gods creatures, his planet and the body he created for me.
I no longer want to merely feed others and myself; I want to nourish. Many people cook for their family and friends, but don’t take real pride in the role they play in nourishing their loved ones’ health and bodies. That is a huge responsibility and we have to open our minds to think about food beyond pleasure. Instead of asking yourself if something tastes good, ask more poignant questions. As a parent, do you want to set your child up with dietary habits that will lead to clogged arteries and diabetes by 50? As a spouse, do you want to cook your partner into high blood pressure and cholesterol? Do I want to feel my best? And let the answer to those questions guide your choices in the kitchen.
Prior to my transition, I wish someone would have told me the importance of having healthy snacks around at all times. When I first began to eat plant-based, I would eat my usual three meals, but for some reason I was always hungry. When switching from omnivore to herbivore, I didn’t take into consideration that herbivores graze for long periods of time. So I took my cue from the mama cows. Instead of sticking to three meals, I would make sure to stash healthy snacks in my purse for grazing 🙂
When I was young and my mother was too busy or tired to make dinner, she would order a pizza. I can’t order pizzas in my area because Pizza Hut is not exactly vegan, but I can be sure to keep a few Daiya Pizzas stored in the freezer for a rainy day. I heat up the vegan meat lovers, drop some hot sauce on it and that is my night.
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