With hip-hop being one of the most influ­en­tial music genres in the U.S., John Lewis (a.k.a. Badass Vegan) har­nesses its power for the great­er good in They’re Try­ing to Kill us, a new doc­u­ment­ary about food injustice, race, Big Pharma and fact­ory farm­ing. In Fac­tu­al America’s most recent pod­cast epis­ode, which wraps up sea­son one, John Lewis talks about the mak­ing of the film, becom­ing a vegan, but also how rap artists like Mya, Né-Yo, Math­em­at­ics, Pro­fess­or Griff and Styles P got involved in pro­mot­ing a healthy lifestyle.

John Lewis, the co-dir­ect­or, prot­ag­on­ist and nar­rat­or of the food doc­u­ment­ary is described by Fac­tu­al America’s host, Mat­thew Sher­wood, as the “cool poster child of vegan­ism”. Grow­ing up in one of the most viol­ent cit­ies in Amer­ica, he found him­self weigh­ing 315 pounds at a very young age as a con­sequence of eat­ing pro­cessed foods, so he starts his jour­ney of becom­ing vegan and dis­cov­ers his love of edu­cat­ing indi­vidu­als on plant-based nutri­tion in the process.

The doc­u­ment­ary cur­rently in pro­duc­tion, also co-dir­ec­ted by Kee­gan Kuhn from acclaimed doc­u­ment­ar­ies like What the Health and Cowspir­acy, seeks to empower people from under­served com­munit­ies, so they can bet­ter under­stand the link between food choice, health, poverty and sys­tem­ic racism, and ulti­mately con­trib­ute towards help­ing the envir­on­ment and end­ing glob­al hunger.

Dur­ing the pod­cast, John talks about being in a state of emer­gency when it comes to our health, because if people have unequal access to food, they are still pur­chas­ing ingredi­ents with no nutri­tion­al value, unaware of their con­sequences. It’s a life­style by design, not by choice, so he is an advoc­ate for the import­ance of under­stand­ing what is going on, as con­sumers need to be empowered to make con­scious decisions for them­selves and not rely on the gov­ern­ment for this.

He also dives into the social aspects of the con­ver­sa­tion, where food inequal­ity based on racial dis­par­it­ies are still present. His­tor­ic­ally, Afric­an-Amer­ic­an slaves would eat the waste and scraps that they could turn into del­ic­acies; how­ever, poverty nowadays has a sim­il­ar effect on people’s access to food. “The sys­tem didn’t get dis­mantled, it just got a bit weak­er”, John argues.

Badass Vegan also dis­closes how the idea of look­ing at this top­ic through the lens of hip-hop came about, and the bene­fits of intro­du­cing the concept of a healthy diet in the realm of urb­an cul­ture with the help of hip-hop artists and pop­u­lar ath­letes such as John Sal­ley. To cov­er all per­spect­ives, they also inter­viewed a vari­ety of experts includ­ing doc­tors, politi­cians, law­yers and health prac­ti­tion­ers too.

John is real­ist­ic and is not expect­ing the whole world to go vegan, but one of his solu­tions with­in reach for over­turn­ing the sys­tem is put­ting the right social pres­sure on each oth­er and speak­ing up, “The only way that things are going to get bet­ter is for the silence to stop. (…) When you see some­thing wrong, if you don’t say any­thing, you are part of the prob­lem. At the end of the day, that will always be the truth (…) because you enabled that to keep going. So a lot of people always say that the racial divide is an ima­gin­ary divide, and that’s inter­est­ing because people are still dying because of this ima­gin­ary divide. They think that being silent or ignor­ing things will make them go away, but you need to take action and acknow­ledge the prob­lem, so you don’t have to go back there again.” There are bet­ter solu­tions for help­ing people besides med­ic­a­tion, and it starts with break­ing unhealthy habits.

To find out more, listen to the full epis­ode here:­pod­cast/2020/08/10/they-are-try­ing-to-kill-us-badass-vegan/

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Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.