Eco-Chef Reconnects With Local Food Bryant Terry is a young chef and author committed to local urban food systems. The eco-chef and food justice advocate is co-author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen. He talks about reconnecting with local food and the cooking traditions of the South.

Eco-Chef Reconnects With Local Food

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Now we are going to follow how that city-grown produce ends up on your plate with a young chef and author committed to local urban food systems. Bryant Terry is the co-author of "Grub: Ideas For an Urban Organic Kitchen" and author of the forthcoming "Vegan Soul Kitchen." He's also a regular contributor on So, thanks for joining us, Bryant.

Mr. BRYANT TERRY (Chef; Co-Author, "Grub: Ideas For an Urban Organic Kitchen"): Thank you for having me.

CORLEY: Well, you're working towards some of the same goals as Will Allen. Tell us a bit about how you became interested in food as a social justice issue.

Mr. TERRY: Well, I was in New York City at NYU in graduate school in history, and at the time I was doing a lot of research on social movements in the mid-20th century and came across a lot of the projects that the Black Panthers were running in west Oakland, California. And the ones that interested me the most were their grocery giveaways and their free breakfast for children program. And having been an activist and doing a lot of work in New York City around racial justice, economic rights issues, I felt that food justice was a big piece missing from this over analysis around social justice and I wanted to bring that in, and I thought that cooking would be a great way to engage young people about these more political issues around health food and agriculture.

CORLEY: Well, you now live in Oakland, California. And our previous guest, Will Allen, and other food activists often describe inner cities as food deserts with few grocery options, just corner stores, maybe stocked with processed foods, some cigarettes, some booze. Is that a problem in Oakland, or how are things changing there?

Mr. TERRY: Well, it's certainly not a problem throughout Oakland, but there are certain impacted neighborhoods that are dealing with having an inordinate amount of corner stores that sell processed packaged foods low in nutrients, and lots of alcohol and cigarettes, and that don't have grocery stores. West Oakland, California, is a community that has close to 30,000 residents, and they have 53 liquor stores and not one single grocery store. And this is something that we see in impacted communities throughout the United States. But thankfully we have organizations like Growing Power and the Peoples' Grocery working in west Oakland who are working to address these issues and bring more healthy foods into the communities.

CORLEY: Well, you have roots in the South, so what are some of the food prep and food producing traditions of the South that you think we need to reconnect with?

Mr. TERRY: Yeah, for me, it's really about helping people remember and as you said, reconnect with these issues - or these ways of connecting with the land and producing our foods that we saw just a couple of generations ago. As Will Allen said, you know, most people in America were producing their own food. And when I think about the African-American community that I grew up in, you know, my grandparents had practically an urban farm in their backyard. You know, everyone on the street was growing some type of food, small plots, people had mini- orchards.

And you go back to the same neighborhood now and it's, you know, practically a shell of itself. And I think we need to just kind of like remember that the way that people are advocating for eating local, healthy, sustainable food, you know, these ways that many of us were eating. And this isn't just about African-Americans. I think that a couple of generations ago a lot of us were eating this way, and we just need to get back to that.

CORLEY: Well, some argue that the locally sourced organic food movement is elitist and out of reach for the budget of lower-income city folks. So, what do you think?

Mr. TERRY: Well, I think that that speaks to the need for there to be more locally driven, locally owned production of healthy food. Obviously, if people are going to some of the big corporate health food stores or supermarkets the foods are going to be more expensive. But, you know, as we see with Growing Power, the organization that Will Allen started, you know, these organizations find ways to produce food and make them affordable for low-income residents and people, you know, some of the most vulnerable populations.

But I think what we cannot do is rely - solely rely on organizations with the specific aim of bringing healthy food into urban centers. You know, we need to bring in faith-based institutions, existing community-based organizations that often have financial capital, land on which food can be grown, and people to actually implement these projects to get on this. Because we need to be producing a lot more food in cities, and I think that's a great way to, you know, help effect that.

CORLEY: Well, now I want to put your cooking skills at work.


CORLEY: You heard what was going out in Will Allen's market basket this week. Lots of vegetables.

Mr. TERRY: Yes.

CORLEY: So, give us some ideas on how you would turn that produce into a dish.

Mr. TERRY: You know, much of my focus these days is on preparing simple yet artful dishes made from sustainable foods. I was kind of influenced by one of my mentors, Alice Waters. And you know, the first thing that I thought about when I heard Will talking about the box was the kale and the sweet potatoes. And I would probably simply make a soup with some of those fresh greens, and then add the sweet potatoes. It's something easy to make. It's something that can be stretched out over a couple of days, or even frozen and eaten later. And you know, nutrient-dense and healthy.

CORLEY: OK. Well, I want to talk about this new book you have coming out soon called "Vegan Soul Kitchen."

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: So, a lot of people might not put those two things together. So, how do you do that, and how do you convince people that you can have soul food, and it's vegan soul food?

Mr. TERRY: You know, I was hesitant about the term vegan because I think for a lot of people it invokes granola and fake meat products. And for me the book is less about the absence of meat and more about the emphasis on fresh, local, sustainable, nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits and whole grains, and you know, just real food that I think so many of us are disconnected from.

And as I talked about my history, my familial kind of connection to food, when I think about the food that my grandparents ate, and their parents, and my parents ate, it was comprised of a lot of food that was as local as a backyard garden, as fresh as being harvested right before the meal, and, you know nutrient-dense greens and tubers and fresh fruits. And I think that this is a legacy that African-Americans have that isn't often talked about, and the focus is often on the comfort foods, you know, the soul food which people, you know, have come to understand as African-American cuisine. But it's much more rich, and diverse, and I'm trying to really help people remember that.

CORLEY: All right. Well, we'll be looking out for that. Thank you so much for joining us, Bryant.

Mr. TERRY: Thank you.

CORLEY: That was eco-chef and food justice advocate Bryant Terry. He is the coauthor of "Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen" and author of the forthcoming "Vegan Soul Kitchen."

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