Jasmine Leyva, The Invisible Vegan

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jasmine-leyvaJust “Jas” to her friends — she is unapologetically an artist. Born in D.C., a city that used to be more appreciative of doctors, lawyers, and politicians, she moved to Los Angeles for college to pursue her dream while completely dismissing America’s. After three years of itching to “do” and despite uninvited judgments, she left school a year shy of her degree for a TV production job. She is debt free! From there, she went on to work as an associate producer on a NAACP winning docuseries entitled Unsung, and shortly after, was given the opportunity to write and produce on Being, a docuseries highlighting dynamic entertainers in film and music. Happy to be doing what she loved, but simultaneously unhappy about putting that passion into someone else’s vision, she decided to let go of her nine-to-five and come into her own reign of pure artistry. Just Jasmine. No limits and no boss except for her own creativity. She went on to star in commercials and print ads for major brands like Nissan, Sony, Apple, Uber, American Express, Diesel, BlackPeopleMeet, Credit Sesame, Michelle Watches, Elle magazine and more. She also starred in the Lifetime show, My Crazy Ex, and is scheduled to star in her first indie film in 2017. However, she did not lay her behind-the-camera talents to rest. Jasmine and her fiancé, Kenny Leyva, are currently producing their own feature length documentary, The Invisible Vegan, a film that chronicles Jasmine’s personal experience with plant-based eating. The film 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 stemming from slavery, economics and modern agribusiness. Not to sound pedestrian, but the sky is the limit and her evolution will be televised!
 
Since 2009, It’s All About Food, has been bringing you the best in up-to-date news regarding food and our food system. Hosted by Caryn Hartglass, a vegan since 1988, the program includes in-depth interviews with medical doctors; nutritionists; dietitians; cook book authors; athletes; environmental, animals and health activists; farmers; food manufacturers; lawyers; food scientists and more. Learn about how we can solve many of the world’s problems today and do it deliciously, here on It’s All About Food.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I’m back! I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me, and I’m very excited about part two of this program. I am going to bring on my guest, Jasmine Leyva.

Just “Jas” to her friends—and maybe she will let me call her Jas—she is unapologetically an artist. Born in D.C., a city that used to be more appreciative of doctors, lawyers, and politicians, she moved to Los Angeles for college to pursue her dream while completely dismissing America’s. After three years of itching to “do” and despite uninvited judgments, she left school a year shy of her degree for a TV production job. She is debt free—that’s nice. From there, she went on to work as an associate producer on a NAACP winning docuseries entitled Unsung, and shortly after, was given the opportunity to write and produce on Being, a docuseries highlighting dynamic entertainers in film and music.

Happy to be doing what she loved, but simultaneously unhappy about putting that passion into someone else’s vision, she decided to let go of her nine-to-five and come into her own reign of pure artistry. Just Jasmine. No limits and no boss except for her own creativity.

She went on to star in commercials and print ads for major brands like Nissan, Sony, Apple, Uber, American Express, Diesel, BlackPeopleMeet, Credit Sesame, Michelle Watches, Elle magazine and more. She also starred in the Lifetime show, My Crazy Ex, and is scheduled to star in her first indie film in 2017. However, she did not lay her behind-the-camera talents to rest.

Jasmine and her fiancé, Kenny Leyva, are currently producing their own feature length documentary, The Invisible Vegan, a film that chronicles Jasmine’s personal experience with plant-based eating. The film 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 stemming from slavery, economics and modern agribusiness.

Not to sound pedestrian, but the sky is the limit and her evolution will be televised! I love this story and I can’t wait to talk to you, Jasmine Leyva. Hi!

Jasmine Leyva: Hello, how are you? And just so you know, you can call me Jas. (chuckles)

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, thank you, Jas! I didn’t want to jump to that, but I like the name Jas because I love jazz music. (chuckles) And I love jasmine tea, and all things jazzy.

Jasmine Leyva: I love jasmine tea and jazz music too. Like Ella Fitzgerald, that’s my girl.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, yes! I love her. Yeah, and I actually got to see her once in San Francisco long time ago. She was awesome.

Jasmine Leyva: Are you serious? I’m jealous, okay.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well, I’m not young so— (laughs)

Jasmine Leyva: (chuckles)

Caryn Hartglass: I was young and I saw her. (chuckles) But you know, she’s still good in the videos and on records. It’s all there. She’s still huge in terms of her character, voice, and her interpretation.

Jasmine Leyva: Yes.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, nobody else is quite like her. Okay, now we’ll talk about you and The Invisible Vegan. So let’s talk about what is The Invisible Vegan.

Jasmine Leyva: The Invisible Vegan is a documentary about plant-based eating in marginalized communities. It focuses on black communities and it uses my narrative as a foundation. I was motivated to do this project because now I’m vegan, but I flirted with it for the better part of a decade. A lot of my friends who were people of color, they would laugh at it; they didn’t understand my choice. I was just wondering why is it that they don’t get it the way that I get it.

When I was looking at a lot of the vegan documentaries on the market and reading up on veganism, it clicked to me. Wait, a lot of this material isn’t necessarily formatted for people of different races and people from different economic background. I wanted to do a documentary that kind of filled that void so that people that I love can also get information that might save their lives.

Caryn Hartglass: I told you when I saw the trailer how much I thought that this information was needed and I really believe that. I think it’s important on a number of levels; I don’t know if we’ll get to all of them, but we’ll touch on a few. I really thank you for this. It’s courageous, exciting, and scary probably to do this. And expensive!

Jasmine Leyva: Mm-mm, mmm!

Caryn Hartglass: (laughs)

Jasmine Leyva: It is very expensive. I’m actually running a crowdfunding campaign right now. We just launched it about five days ago. We’re about 15,000 in; the goal is 50,000. 15,000 in. We’ve just been given a $25 matching grant offer so it looks like 10,000 more…? And we got the money we need.

Caryn Hartglass: Fantastic, congratulations.

Jasmine Leyva: Thank you.

Caryn Hartglass: I’m sure you’ll raise it and, like I said, it’s such an important message. So why did you call it The Invisible Vegan? Did you feel invisible?

Jasmine Leyva: There’s a novel by Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man. Great novel. In his intro, he’s saying how he feels not only invisible when he’s in white spaces but also, because he didn’t fit into a certain stereotype, he feels invisible in black spaces as well. So I kind of identified with that feeling. That’s one reason that I chose it.

Then a more visual reason. When you think about the vegan movement—well, now it’s a bit more colorful and diverse, but before—, when you think about animal rights activists, when you think about people who care about the environment, people at the forefront of the health movement, you don’t see a lot of black people in those spaces.

And sometimes the black people I see in those spaces, I feel like they don’t represent the kind of women I grew up with. You don’t see the cool guy that listens to hip-hop; you don’t see the cool chick with her cornrows, her tight jeans, her hair weave representing animal rights. But these types of women exist and, even though they might not be “mainstream”, these are the type of women that some little girls in the inner city might identify with. So they deserve visibility too. It shouldn’t be this one type of black person that’s put in the forefront, which is usually someone who is perceived as non-threatening to the dominant class, instead of having a lot of diverse blacks in this movement to relate to different people in our community.

Caryn Hartglass: We got a lot of problems in our culture, no question about it. I’d like to think that we’re moving forward. It’s a little challenging right now with this crazy federal government that we have because it seems like everything’s going backwards quickly. But let’s put that aside (ha!) and focus on all the good that’s going on.

This movement has definitely been promoted or brought into the mainstream by white male doctors. There’s been a lot of work that’s done on the ground by a very diverse group of people, but the ones who have gotten the most attention are white and male. A lot of the great women activists, of any color, don’t seem to get the notoriety that these white male doctors are getting.

But you know, okay. (chuckles) I accept it. That’s just the way things roll. But there are many, many women—

Jasmine Leyva: No, I appreciate you. What you just said, I appreciated. I appreciate you just owning up to that instead of what a lot of people try to do. They make it seem like racial inequality is just in black people’s heads. Like it’s just something that we’re manifesting that just doesn’t exist.

Caryn Hartglass: (mumbling) Oh god.

Jasmine Leyva: So for you to say, “No, people.” In your culture, they do a lot for the movement, they’re just not shown. Thank you for recognizing that.

Caryn Hartglass: You’re welcome. Well, I can honestly say that I don’t know what it’s like to be in your skin.

Jasmine Leyva: Thank you. (laughs)

Caryn Hartglass: But I wanted to say that I try to empathize. It’s not a pretty world that we live in, I know that. It’s not a fair world, and I do whatever I can.

One of my favorite people on the planet happens to be a medical doctor: Dr. Milton Mills. He’s in your trailer and I assume that he’s in your film.

Jasmine Leyva: Yes, he is in the film.

Caryn Hartglass: I’ve known him for a long time, and I just love this man. He’s just so good.

When I was pondering your title, I thought about Dr. Milton Mills because I’ve interviewed him on this show recently this year and then five years ago. I talked about this last week or the week before. When the health documentary What the Health came out that Dr. Milton Mills is in, my interview with him from five years ago is getting tons of hits. I realized it was because nobody else has anything out there on Dr. Milton Mills. There are some other white doctors in the film and I’m sure other people are searching for them too, but there are plenty of other websites that have stuff on them so I’m not feeling that traffic as much. I’m like the only one who has got Dr. Milton Mills out there because been he’s fantastic but I feel like he’s invisible. Now he’s becoming a little more visible.

Jasmine Leyva: Exactly, right. And what’s awesome about Dr. Milton Mills is that he really knows his stuff. If you’re talking about plant-based eating, he can give you the environmental reasons behind it, the health reasons behind it, the animal rights reasons behind it aside from just the medical part of it. He’s the one-stop doc, he’s the real deal. I was honored to be able to get him for this project.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. He’s getting his hands dirty every day and doing really phenomenal work.

The other thing that people knee-jerk respond to when I’m promoting a plant-based, healthy, vegan diet (whop-whop-whop) is that it’s a privilege. It’s for privileged people who can afford it, who can go to Whole Foods, Whole Paycheck, whatever. Can you talk about that?

Jasmine Leyva: Yes. The problem is when sometimes you have people in the movement who are trying to get other people to go vegan, you have to address that some people live in food deserts. You have to address that some people are using food stamps. So there needs to be specific instructions for people who don’t have the means to go to Whole Foods, who can’t go to Sprouts, who can’t give these fancy alternatives that help people break their way into a vegan diet. You need to make this palatable for them because everyone does not have the same amount of access to fresh, healthy foods.

Even making that a bigger issue on our national agenda, there are certain things that are equal and there are certain things that the amount of money that you make should dictate your access to certain items. Like if you make a lot of money, okay, yeah, you can buy your name-brand shoes, you can buy your expensive dresses.

But every child I think deserves a fair opportunity. Every child and adult alike deserve an opportunity to fresh, healthy, organic food that hasn’t been pumped with antibiotics. Fresh fruits and vegetables for everyone. That should be a basic human right.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes, and I hope one day our civilization gets there. But we are not born equal, as much as we like to say we are. Every child is entitled to clean air, clean water, abundant healthy food, an excellent education, and the opportunity to be whatever it is that their soul wants them to be. We got a long way to go before that happens.

Jasmine Leyva: Right, and I feel that literally—

Caryn Hartglass: I just want to add that every non-human animal has that right, too.

Jasmine Leyva: Exactly. Food is a life-or-death issue. People don’t look at it like it’s a life-or-death issue because having poor food options, that’s not something that will kill you instantly. But that’s the difference between a mother’s child living to a hundred or only living to fifty and passing away because of clogged arteries, heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. It’s definitely life-or-death.

People care about the life of their children and their own lives? This is something that we need to start rallying for in our communities.

Caryn Hartglass: I mentioned our current government before and, again, I don’t want to get too into it. But we are being fed a new story: a story of lies, a story of fantasies, a story of false truths.

In some ways, our culture has been fed lies probably since this country started, after demolishing the Native American race and from then on. We keep trying to see the world through rose-colored glasses: we’re not seeing the truth, we’re not seeing the victims through the decades. Which we need to if we’re ultimately going to rise above and become what we should become. We should really acknowledge all of the wrongs that we’ve done and our ancestors have done.

While we’re swallowing this story that we’re being marketed to and manipulated to, many of us who start to have a little means want to have the benefits. Some of the benefits are eating rich foods and eating animal foods without realizing the story and the history behind it. I’m sure that many African-Americans feel this way too, and that’s where your film comes in.

Jasmine Leyva: Yes. And it’s also countering years of advertisements. When you think about it, a lot of the choices we make as Americans, we were conditioned to make those choices. If you have been fed meat all your life, yes, you’re attached to meat. You’re addicted to it because that’s what you were given. That’s all you know.

Same thing when you look at these commercials for foods. In my lifetime, I’ve probably seen a McDonald’s commercial five million times, whereas how many times have I seen PSAs for going vegan, eating health, or eating plant-based?

I’m glad that they have so many of these documentaries coming out that is countering that. We’re putting something new into the psyche. This is an infection, we’re planting new seeds so hopefully, in the future, our kids grow up on different messages than just these food advertisements.

Caryn Hartglass: And what foods do you want to be eating? Do you want to be eating the foods that you think are your culture’s foods, which were actually brought upon you from slaveholders that were just giving you the worst thing that they possibly could? Or do you want to eat the real foods from your culture, which are healthy and nourishing, and were taken away from you?

Jasmine Leyva: Yeah. Even when I think of my culture’s food, the scraps that we were given on the plantation, I just look at that as an example of our genius. When we had nothing, we were given scraps, and we were able to turn it into a delicacy. That shows how creative we are as a people. But the pig’s feet and the chickens, that doesn’t represent our culinary tradition. That’s slave culture and, even though slave culture is a part of black culture, it doesn’t encompass it.

When people think about black culture, I want them to think about African culture. And yes, in Africa, before this slave situation happened, we were eating fresh foods. We were growing crops. The way we prepare vegetables, we brought those traditions over to America.

Just knowing that we contributed more than pig’s feet to the culinary arena in America. Giving people that sense of pride. A salad? That’s a part of who we are too.

Caryn Hartglass: The unfortunate thing is that the SAD (Standard American Diet) is being exported all over the world, including to Africa and many of the countries there, with detrimental effects. A lot of cultures that have eaten some wonderful diversified foods—all kinds of whole grains, fruits, and plants—are more and more not.

Jasmine Leyva: I think that a lot of people don’t understand the power of their choices. When they eat a piece of bacon, they don’t think that the commercial farms that’s produced this bacon are put in African-American communities, and it makes their property value go down. A lot of the manure and chemicals get in their water, and they end up getting sick. We don’t realize the system of environmental racism we’re participating in when we eat these kinds of foods.

I also think if more people knew the ramifications that come behind what they put in their mouth, you would have a lot more people who would make conscious choices. Don’t get me wrong, you have a lot of people who would just say, “I don’t care,” and eat their bacon, eggs, and cheese anyway. But again, it all starts with getting the message out there and keep pushing it.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.

Jasmine Leyva: And not forcing it on people. Putting it out there, just educating people so they can make choices out of knowledge instead of eating out of ignorance.

Caryn Hartglass: So important on so many levels. It really is so unfortunate, but maybe one of the good things from our current federal administration is that we’ve learned how really racist our country is. I thought it was getting better, but now we know that many people have been harboring so much. And (sigh) I’m so ashamed.

Jasmine Leyva: No, don’t! Don’t be ashamed. You have me on your selfie.

Caryn Hartglass: (laughs) I am so ashamed. It just brings a tear to my eye!

Jasmine Leyva: You acknowledging it, that’s what it’s about. I don’t know why there’s this disconnect and why a lot of people don’t want to own up to white privilege. For example, I’m attractive.

Caryn Hartglass: You’re beautiful!

Jasmine Leyva: Even though I am qualified for them, I get a lot of the opportunities just because of the fact that I’m attractive. Like attractive privilege, and I would have no problem owning up to that.

When it comes to white privilege, I don’t understand why people just want to—they can’t just say, “Yo, it’s messed up. It’s not my fault.” White privilege definitely exists. There’s definitely going to be a lot more people—if you’re African-American, you’re going to run into more races that don’t want to give you a job and don’t want to give you an opportunity than a white person. And that’s just reality.

Caryn Hartglass: And we must resist and educate.

Jasmine Leyva: Yeah. And don’t try to sweep it under the rug. Exactly what you’re doing: just owning up to it.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, let’s lighten it up a little bit and talk about some delicious food.

Jasmine Leyva: (chuckles) Okay.

Caryn Hartglass: Can we do that? (chuckles)

Jasmine Leyva: Alright, yeah. Let’s do it. Yes we can. I don’t want you crying over there.

Caryn Hartglass: You don’t want to what?

Jasmine Leyva: You said you were crying. I don’t want you crying over there. See, playing it up.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, I wear all my emotions on my sleeve. I don’t hold it in. It’s just like I press a button and I pour. (laughs)

Jasmine Leyva: (chuckles)

Caryn Hartglass: It’s the only way that I can stay sane. So tell me about eating in Los Angeles. Where are your favorite places? What do you like?

Jasmine Leyva: In Los Angeles, being a vegan. Again, if you have a certain amount of means, it’s really easy to have vegan spots everywhere. I say a little over in Indo Valley, they have this spot: Lemonade. It’s not fully vegan, but they have a lot of great vegan options. Mendocino Farms, they have this vegan barbeque sandwich that is for the gods. Au Lac is great. Cafe Gratitude is a favorite. Sage is delicious, they have so many vegan versions of whatever you want. If you want a Peruvian vegan spot, they got it. They used to have this—I think they shut it down, Cowboys & Turbans, a vegan Indian-Mexican fusion restaurant.

Caryn Hartglass: (chuckles)

Jasmine Leyva: Any vegan combination that you want, it’s in Los Angeles. (chuckles)

Caryn Hartglass: And do you cook?

Jasmine Leyva: (high-pitched) Ah, I’d say yeah, I do. But I dabble.

Caryn Hartglass: (laughs) Can you do that again? That was a great sound. (laughs)

Jasmine Leyva: (laughs)

Caryn Hartglass: (high-pitched) Ah!

Jasmine Leyva: Yes, I’m not going to lie. I am definitely not going for Michelin Stars in my kitchen by any means. I’d say, yeah, I can put together some of the tasty things. But I’m not like…

I eat more so for nourishment. Like this morning, I just did a breakfast smoothie with celery, lettuce, apples, acai, and some lemon juice. I’m out here for breakfast: okay, what can I eat that’s going to give me energy, that’s going to get my skin right, that’s going to balance my pH levels? I’m more so worried about that than let me put together this restaurant meal.

Me, being a woman too, you know. When you’ve got so much stuff going on in your stomach, you start throwing in too many ingredients, it’s like chemical reactions start happening.

Caryn Hartglass: (chuckles)

Jasmine Leyva: And I’m just like nah, just want to keep it simple. Let me eat this sweet potato and sautéed kale for lunch, and just call it a day and be better for it.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Mixing it sometimes for so many of us can just—no matter what it is, it’s just too complicated. Keeping it simple, I’m loving it.

Jasmine Leyva: Yeah, just keep it simple. For breakfast, oatmeal with some almond milk. There you go.

Caryn Hartglass: There you go. So Jasmine, how can people help with The Invisible Vegan? Where do they go?

Jasmine Leyva: Now we’re trying to raise licensing funds for a lot of the third-party music and photos used in the film. You can help. You can go to www.theinvisiblevegan.com, click the Donate tab, and it’ll take you to our crowd funder. If you could donate to this project, help us make it look lovely, that would be amazing.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, great. Well, thank you so much for talking to me today, Jas. I wish you all the best with The Invisible Vegan, I can’t wait to see the full film.

Jasmine Leyva: Thank you so much, Caryn. It was awesome to be here on your show!

Caryn Hartglass: Thank you! I’m sending you hugs.

Jasmine Leyva: And I’m sending you love right back.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, love, love, love.

We just have like a minute left. I just wanted to remind you because I don’t plug this show enough. If you like this show, It’s All About Food—I like it and I know a lot of people do, can you follow us on Facebook @responsibleeatingandliving or Twitter @REALWORLDWIDE? Responsibleeatingandliving.com: we’re on Facebook, we’re on Twitter, we’re on Pinterest. We have our daily blog, What Vegans Eat, at responsibleeatingandliving.com. The show, It’s All About Food, is on iTunes, it’s here at Progressive Radio Network. At my website (responsibleeatingandliving.com) we archive all those shows with transcripts. So let us know if you like us because we need to hear that. I know, I need to hear it. Otherwise, email me at info@realmeals.org if you have comments and questions. And thank you.

Thank you again for listening. This is Caryn Hartglass, and this has been another episode of It’s All About Food. Have a delicious week!

Transcribed by HT 11/17/2017

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