—THE CHOW 13—
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Bryant Terry turns people on to ethical eating using stealth tactics. Take his most recent cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen, which combines two seemingly opposite ideas: veganism and African American soul food. With its festive recipes for things like black-eyed pea fritters with hot pepper sauce and musical playlist suggestions (with the fritters, it’s “I.T.T., Pt. 2” by Fela Kuti), it’s an enticing read. But it has an ulterior motive. “I think so often people see [the drive for local, seasonal, sustainable food] as a very white, bourgeois movement,” says Terry. In fact, his grandparents—and a lot of middle-class African Americans from that earlier agrarian time—grew and cooked fruits and vegetables and gave them away to their friends, neighbors, and church members in a kind of proto-CSA model. “I want to remind people that there’s a legacy in the African American community,” says Terry.
Before writing cookbooks, Terry ran a nonprofit that taught cooking and nutrition classes to inner-city kids in New York City. He’d been inspired by the Black Panthers, who in the 1960s had regular grocery giveaways in poor communities and free breakfasts for schoolchildren. This work led to his first book, Grub: Ideas for an Urban Kitchen, cowritten with Anna Lappé. He contributed whimsical recipes for things like a Straight-Edge Punk Brunch Buffet, which counterbalanced Lappé’s essays about food justice. Whether he’s working on the ground or writing, Terry believes in affecting people’s politics by first bringing them together around the table. Or as he puts it, “Good food, not figures and stats, is the way to move masses.”
Who inspires you in the food world?
“The late Edna Lewis, for her strength as an African American chef who made a huge mark on the food world in the mid-20th century. Her way of approaching food, and the fact that she was so invested in celebrating the complex and diverse flavors of the South. The Taste of Country Cooking reads more like a memoir infused with recipes, and it really influenced me. I call what I do ‘recipes as autobiography.’ Every recipe in Vegan Soul Kitchen is preceded by a headnote that puts it in some kind of historical or sociopolitical context.”
Do you think the current fixation with meat in the food world is a bad trend?
“I’m not going to answer that! I don’t identify as vegan. I didn’t want to call my book Vegan Soul Kitchen, I wanted to call it Eco-Soul Kitchen, but my editor didn’t think people would grasp that. For me, it’s about action. Values. How you’re living in the world. How you’re showing up. Not labels, or condemning people for the choices they make.”
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
“I see myself having a progressive hip-hop duo with one of my best friends—Mike Molina—who has contributed poems to both of my books. Informing and enlightening people with mindful, socially conscious, uplifting lyrics, and very moving, sensual, powerful beats.”