Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen garnered critical acclaim for the chef's ability to create traditional Southern comfort foods with healthier, meatless ingredients. Earlier this year, the activist/author/chef returned with The Inspired Vegan, one of the most creative cookbooks ever published. The book, which celebrates Terry's 10th anniversary as an advocate for food justice and a purveyor of good eating, draws heavily on ancestral inspirations, Asian influences and the art and culture of the African Diaspora. Sample menus include "Celebration: Chisholm" and "Detroit Harvest." He cites amongst his influences for the book Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Fred Hampton and Basquiat. Coolest cookbook ever.
EBONY spoke with Terry recently about his passion for getting Black folks to eat better, how we can expand our dietary options and why we don't have to give up chicken and catfish to be healthy.
You hear people saying that eating healthfully, eating more sustainable foods, or eating locally grown food is too expensive. I understand that to a certain extent, (but) I certainly think that so often people think eating more healthfully is about leaning towards a corporate-owned health food store or supermarket. People think "oh, Whole Foods – that’s where you get healthy food". And the reality is yeah, shopping at Whole Foods is very expensive and so are supermarkets or health food stores, whether independently or corporately owned. Obviously, there are a lot of staple items that we might need to get (from those stores) but consider growing your own fresh produce. If your home (permits) you could have a garden or a vegetable bed or even some tomatoes growing in a pot on your porch.
I understand that a lot of people are living in urban areas, so you might not have any access to growing space. I understand living in an apartment that just doesn’t have (garden) space...but that’s where we have to think about communal spaces, like community gardens or a purpose farm where they collaborate and try to collectively produce in the city. I feel like, those are some ways that we need to be thinking of feeding ourselves, not just depending on corporations. We need to have more locally driven and own ways of feeding ourselves and one way is actually growing it themselves.
People often describe me as a vegan chef, a vegan cook-book author and a vegan activist, but I don’t necessarily embrace any of those terms. If I were to label myself, it would be (as) a radical social justice activist. I say that because it is not my goal to convert people into vegans and I don’t necessarily think that a vegan diet is the best diet for everyone. For that matter, I don’t think a vegan diet or a vegetarian diet or any kind of diet is "perfect" for any individual...I think it’s a complicated thing and it’s so personal, that it’s not my place to say what anyone should eat.
I don’t think a vegan diet or a vegetarian diet or any kind of diet is "perfect" for any individual.
As far as a best diet, it’s all about balance. People embrace all of these different diets and say "well, the Wild Foods diet is the best diet!" Or "the vegan diet is the best diet"! Or "the low-fat vegan is the best diet!" I always encourage people to think about the multitude of factors that you should consider when thinking about embracing a diet for best health and well-being. People don’t consider important factors such as our age. What a 13-year-old boy eats is significantly different from what a 35-year-old man should eat. Also, your health status. Obviously people who might be ill have different nutritional needs than someone who is in optimal health. Geographic location-where we live will play an important role in the type of food we’d be eating and along with that, the season (is a factor).
The whole idea of being a raw foodist might be fine if you’re living in the Caribbean and you have all these amazing fruits and vegetables available all year round is amazing, but trying to eat raw foods in the dead of winter in Chicago, while working a stressful job. I don’t think is a healthiest thing you could do... And the most important factor is our ancestral foods. What are our ancestors eating and how can we reconnect with those traditional foods for our best health and well-being...
It is important to realize that African-Americans are suffering from some of the highest rates of obesity, and other diet-related illnesses, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, certain cancers, I think its important for me to present plant-based diets or vegan diets as a tool for addressing this public health crisis that our people are suffering. Its not just the friend out here in Berkeley who are saying that a vegan diet can be a healing diet; it can address chronic illnesses or alleviate