Afro-Vegan Cooking for the Masses
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this is vegan food with soul. No tofurkeys here.
By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu
Chef Bryant Terry is on a mission: to supplant the grease-laden caricature of soul food, one vegetable at a time.
In his latest cookbook, Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed, Terry combs through the African diaspora around the globe. The result: 100 meat-free recipes that bridge the gap between veganism and African flavors from the Middle East, the Caribbean and elsewhere. The book is for those who want to skip the tofurkey and “bland” vegan fare, Terry explains. He offers diverse dishes, such as the cardamom-spiced Tofu Curry With Mustard Greens, which was inspired by the steaming fish curries that waft through Tanzania. The sweet Coconut Basmati Rice Pudding pays homage to the thriving Afro-Brazilian community of Salvador da Bahia.
It’s about getting people to eat real food again … and using the dinner table as a way to bring community together.
— Bryant Terry
And there’s a personal twist: Each page is paired with a recommended book, favorite song or personal anecdote, which takes readers on Terry’s full-flavored journey of “cutting, pasting, reworking and remixing” Afro-centric ingredients. “It’s this idea of looking backward as we move forward,” he explains.
Of course, Memphis-born Terry is no stranger to the deepening health problems among African-Americans in the U.S. According to a 2012 study from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, less than 6 percent are getting the recommended amount of vegetables of 2 ½ cups a day, and less than 15 percent are eating enough fruits. So for Terry, who is also a longtime food justice activist, what we eat is a political issue as well as a culinary experience. “It’s about getting people to eat real food again, getting people to re-embrace these traditions of growing food locally, making food from scratch and using the dinner table as a way to bring community together,” he says.
But Adrian Miller, a soul food scholar and food historian, admits that Terry’s job won’t be easy. “It’s an uphill education effort because a lot of African-Americans don’t know much about veganism. It is a middle-class or white-people perspective on food,” he says. “There are older folk who say it’s not soul food unless you got [sic] some pork swimming in it.”
Yet both Terry and Miller explain that organic foods and farm-fresh veggies can be traced back to African slaves in the 1800s. In fact, Africans were one of the first so-called vegans on plantations, where meat was a luxury but peas, beans and greens were more plentiful, Terry says. “African people are the original green people, the original farm-to-table and garden-to-table people,” he told Ebony magazine.
So in his new cookbook, gone are the ham hocks, coleslaws and thick gravies that not only contribute to the alarmingly high rates of obesity and cancer among African-Americans, but also stereotype their diet. He’s rallying the community around much healthier culinary traditions and hoping to pave the way for some new practices with his Afro-vegan ideas.
Here’s to making sure we get our daily recommended dose of Janelle Monáe and Moroccan glazed carrot salad, courtesy of Terry.