Activist Chef Bryant Terry: Cooking for Social Justice
Bryant Terry is a vegan chef, author and advocate for food justice. His new cookbook, Afro-Vegan, will be published next year. Terry will whip up a batch of citrus collards with raisins for the Union Delegates Conference and share how to use cooking and urban gardening as a tool for social change. He recently spoke with Laureen Lazarovici of LMP Communications.
What was your journey?
My entree into this work was as a grassroots activist in low-income communities of color. I was living in New York City, going to cooking school, and seeing the disparity in the types of food available and the impact that had on the health of communities. When I learned about the risk of a shorter lifespan for our youth, that made me want to help young people be leaders to solve this problem. So I founded b-healthy!, which stands for Build Healthy Eating and Lifestyles to Help Youth.
I realized it was their parents making the purchases, so we had to figure out how to bring parents in, how to raise their food IQ. I saw how little time people have to cook. Cooking is this lost art. People don’t even know how to make a stir fry with vegetables. It is easy to cook meat. It is a lot harder to tease out the flavors and textures just using fruits, vegetables and grains. You’ll have negative connotations of vegetables if you’ve grown up eating vegetables from a can. Those don’t taste that good.
I’ve gone from omnivore to vegetarian to vegan. But it was not a linear path for me. We are all on a journey. There is no room for judgment. My mission is not to convert people into vegans or vegetarians. I am looking to improve public health through cookbooks.
What obstacles have you encountered and how did you overcome them?
When we start talking about what people eat, folks might say, ‘It’s my decision.’ But it is important to realize we are influenced to eat things that are unhealthy by marketing. Yes, we have some autonomy. But there are forces influencing us. I want to provide a counter-narrative. We are in a beautiful moment when people are more open to things like meatless Mondays. These diets are a tool; they are not the tool, to address the crisis.
What role can Kaiser Permanente and its workforce play?
I come from a family of health care providers. They tell me all the ways the current health care system does not provide tools to them to help their clients. They are taught to respond to crises and to give pharmaceuticals. So, the first thing I would say to health care workers is: it is important to take care of yourselves. I’m referring to diet, exercise, and stress reduction, especially since you all work such long hours. The people who are working to heal people can heal themselves.
I am impressed by how Kaiser Permanente is taking the lead in prevention. Kaiser Permanente is part of that counter-narrative. And I love the farmers’ markets at hospitals. That is brilliant.
What is your favorite recipe?
I do like the citrus collards with raisins. It is symbol of my embracing the African-American community. That community is so heavily impacted. If we can make a change there, we can change the whole system.