A Review of Leyva’s The Invisible Vegan

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Author, Jasmine Leyva, has produced an invaluable service for anyone who wants to change his eating style from carnivorous to plant-based. The documentary The Invisible Vegan directed by Jasmine and ­­­Kenny Leyva, promotes exactly what its subtitle claims: a raising of food consciousness to a new level. 

The film is largely directed toward an African American audience. It explains the healthful benefits of a plant-based diet. It also indicates why choosing a vegan diet can be a complex issue for African Americans.

Especially since the 1960s, many Blacks, as the film shows, have come to consider eating foods like fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and baked ham as soul food, the food that forms a deep part of the shared culture. For Blacks to turn away from eating meat then, can be seen by other Blacks as denying their own culture. Leyva’s film challenges blacks to reconsider their food choices. She acknowledges these choices can be difficult.

She shows that many African Americans, because of their history traced to their West African ancestors, have been unaware that their ancestors enjoyed a healthy connection with the land, that these ancestors raised vegetarian crops and enjoyed eating vegetarian. Historically, because of colonialism and other forces, this food culture was not acknowledged or taught in the schools.

Leyva wants her audience to be aware of the ill-effects caused by eating meat and over-processed foods. She wants her people to acknowledge that improved diet can combat diseases and disorders such as diabetes, gastric distress, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and prostate cancer. 

To strengthen her case, Leyva cites important cultural and political leaders who have been either vegan or vegetarian—Loretta Scott King, Angela Davis, Rosa Parks, and Dick Gregory among them. She also cites the work of Dr. Aris Latham, a Panamanian, who was “the father of raw gourmet cuisine.” She praises Dr. Alvenia Fulton, a black naturopathic doctor, for having opened the first health food store on the south side of Chicago in the 1950s.

In my view, The Invisible Vegan helps bring about changes of attitudes. “If eating high-fat foods causes you to be sick, why would you want to continue to do this?” asks one person in the film. “Eating meat is masculine.” “Eating salads is effeminate.” These are other attitudes Leyva challenges. By bringing about new awareness, she enables people to change their habits. She wants her film to help African Americans to recognize the social, economic, and political forces that have mitigated against their establishing healthier eating habits. They can decide to partake in the benefits of the plant-based diet as a pathway to healthier living.

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By Carole Mertz

I am a graduate of Oberlin College and the author of Color and Line, a full-length collection of ekphrastic and other poetry. (Kelsay Books, 2021). In 2019 Prolific Press published my chapbook Toward a Peeping Sunrise. I am Book Review Editor at Dreamers Creative Writing. My essays, poems, and reviews are published in literary journals in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Africa, and India.

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