Scrolling through my social media this week, I saw that one of my Instagram friends was attending a screening of The Invisible Vegan in her hometown. I remembered watching a trailer for this documentary a couple years ago and being very intrigued. So, I was super excited to see that not only was the film finished, it was now available to rent/buy on Vimeo.
Last night my husband and I watched the 90-minute doc, which stars and is co-directed by actress Jasmine Leyva. It is nothing short of a triumph.
Before I tell you why I found this documentary so crucial, let me first acknowledge that I’m a white-presenting man. Though Jewish, gay, and half-Syrian, being a man and seen as white means I’ve been given a lot of privilege in our society and culture. I’ve seen many documentaries on veganism come and go over the years. Some have been truly life changing, others have been just OK. But the one thing I never had to worry about was seeing myself reflected in them. In fact, almost everyone interviewed or featured in these docs has been, or appeared to be, white.
This trend goes way beyond documentaries. For years, the vegan movement itself has been rightly criticized for only elevating the voices of white people and keeping vegans of color on the sidelines almost completely unseen.
What makes The Invisible Vegan such essential viewing for all vegans is that it’s about finally spotlighting the vital work vegans of color are doing to push this movement forward; work that has been going on for decades. It’s about debunking the narrative that veganism is a “white thing” or that vegan “experts” only come from a certain demographic.
What I truly love about this documentary is that everyone we hear from, whether they be doctors, dieticians, celebrities, or activists, are all people of color – people like Tracye McQuirter, an author who has been vegan for 30 years; and Dr. Milton Mills, a graduate of the Stanford University School of Medicine, who prescribes veganism to his patients.
It’s nothing short of masterful how Leyva weaves in so many pertinent topics in just an hour and a half. There are discussions on food deserts, environmental racism, Black identity and cultural traditions of vegetarianism, and so much more. Additionally, while other docs in this area have focused more on health or the environment and only casually mention the issue of animal suffering, Leyva skillfully utilizes undercover footage to challenge us to a thoughtful conversation on intersectionality and how it relates to not what we’re eating, but who we’re eating.
Growing up gay in the 80s and 90s, I know how important representation is. If you don’t see yourself reflected in TV, films, and in the media’s coverage of our world, you don’t know all the possibilities that are available to you. Even worse, you might feel that because only people who look a certain way are shown doing certain jobs or achieving certain accomplishments, that those things are not for you. It’s why a film like Hidden Figures goes way beyond the merit of excellent filmmaking – it becomes a mirror for millions of young women of color who see the film and are inspired.
The Invisible Vegan is so vital because at long last vegans of color are meaningfully seen. And more than that, the millions of people who watch this documentary will not only see themselves reflected and know that veganism is for them, but that it actually has deep roots in Black history.
As activists, we’re constantly striving to make this world a kinder place for animals – a world where no animal has to suffer to end up on someone’s dinner plate. But we’re never going build that world if we’re only inviting certain people to the table. The Invisible Vegan is the beginning of a long-overdue conversation that desperately needs to happen.