Chef, author, educator, and ‘food activist’ Bryant Terry’s delectable follow-up to groundbreaking cookbooks Vegan Soul Kitchen and The Inspired Vegan, launches next week. With an emphasis on bold flavors and fresh ingredients, Afro-Vegan, brings tastes from every corner of the Pan-African pan. From Atlanta to Jamaica, Senegal to South Carolina, he’s left no yam unturned. We caught up with man himself to chat books, food and tunes.
Bestselling cook book, Vegan Soul Kitchen, is full of influences from southern and creole cuisine. And Inspired Vegan has lots of family focused stories and feasts. For your latest book, ‘Afro Vegan’, you’ve pulled inspiration from throughout Africa, the Americans and the Caribbean. Where have you found the richest flavors?
In the book I illuminate many of the similar food traditions seen throughout the African Diaspora, for example my Coconut Rice Pudding with Nectarines is a nod to dishes of rice cooked in milk on the African continent, in South America, and the American South (i.e., gossi from Senegal, arroz de viuva of northeastern Brazil, and the rice pudding that my maternal grandmother used to make). Afro-Vegan is a celebration of the rich flavors in many of the places that our African Ancestors touched throughout the globe.
These are the communities that originated farm-fresh and plant-centered cooking. While animal products are eaten throughout the African diaspora, there are clear patterns of diverse diets centered around nutrient-dense leafy green vegetables, tubers, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts. I’m simply trying to help everyone remember.
You’ve been campaigning for food justice for more than 10 years now with community gardening projects, educational programs like Nourish Life and on this year’s ‘Afro Vegan World Tour.’ How have the challenges changed since you began this work?
I first started working around health, food, and farming issues around 2002, and things have dramatically shifted since then. Before I started writing books, I founded an initiative in New York City called b-healthy; it used cooking as a way to politicize young people from the lower economic strata of the five boroughs around food issues. It was such a struggle back then to convince funders of the importance of this work.
Nowadays, everyone is talking about food issues – from the grassroots to the White House. It is also so exciting to see so many people open to moving meat to the margins of their plates and consuming more fresh, whole, seasonal, and local plant-based foods.
What role does a plant-based diet have to play in tackling these issues?
One of the most important lessons that I try to impart is that we need to listen to our bodies. There is no one size fits all diet or panacea; when contemplating the best diet, I encourage people to consider a number of factors: age, bodily constitution, health status, ancestral foods, season (eating seasonally is so important), and the like. That being said, more mainstream medical institutions have been acknowledging that the over consumption of animal protein puts people at increased risk of preventable, diet-related illnesses such as Heart Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and Hypertension. So I see plant-centered diets as another tool for addressing the public health crisis among the communities most impacted by preventable, diet-related illnesses.
After the food of course, the playlists peppered throughout are one of my favorite ingredients in your books – nothing like a little Al Green with your collard greens – do you feel that music and food are particularly connected?
I want my books to facilitate multi-sensory experiences. I have always understood the power of food as a means of building deep connections among people. So I encourage people to not only eat together, but also to make meals together – all while listening to good music, drinking, and talking to each other.
Finally, is this a book that you’ll be able to enjoy even if you don’t have an organic veg patch in your back yard?
I emphasize fresh, local, ingredients in all my cooking, and I encourage people to support small farms by shopping at farmers markets and joining Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). And if people have the space, I encourage them to grow their own food. I actually invited my colleague Michael W. Twitty to provide tips in a section called Think Like You Grow. But I understand the barriers that many people have to growing food and getting locally grown food in many communities. So I try to craft most of my recipes to work for folks who might only have a conventional supermarket as their only option. I also encourage people to use my recipes as a guide and modify them to suit their needs. So if a recipe calls for collard greens and one is growing swiss chard in their garden, it only makes sense to use that leafy green instead.
Bryant Terry’s ‘Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean and Southern Flavors Remixed’ (Ten Speed Press) hits the shelves and online on April 8th.