Rising star, Chef Bryant Terry, is the author of the cookbook, Afro-Vegan. Equal parts chef and lifestyle guru, Terry is inviting readers to think a whole lot more about how healthy, sustainable foods can be incorporated into one’s diet. His cookbook features over 100 vegan recipes influenced by the culture and heritage of the African Diaspora. The Oakland-based foodie chatted with us about African Diaspora food culture, the joys of green leafies, and how he is passing his focus on healthy living to the next generation.
You do an amazing job of merging food and African Diaspora culture in your new book, Afro-Vegan. What are some of the food traditions that you’ve encountered that span various African Diaspora cultures that lend to a healthy, vegan diet?
When you consider that for thousands of years traditional West and Central African diets were predominantly vegetarian—centered around staples like millet, rice, field peas, okra, hot peppers, and yams—and that many pre-colonial African diets heavily emphasized plant-based foods, a vegan cookbook celebrating the food of the African Diaspora is perfectly fitting. Also, when we move beyond the reductive way that people imagine African American cuisine – antebellum survival food eaten by many enslaved Africans and the comfort foods that Black folks most often enjoy on holidays and special occasions – it is clear that the foundation of this culture of eating is centered around dark leafy green vegetables, tubers, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts.
As a dad, what are your tips on passing healthy eating and an overall healthful lifestyle on to your children?
Modeling is the most important and powerful tool that we have. I know that no matter what I say, my daughter does what I do. So each day I am working on being a better person in general, but in regard to eating I practice things like drinking lots of water to stay hydrated, eating just until full and not overeating, consuming my ancestral foods, eating slowly and mindfully, avoiding processed packaged foods, and maintaining a clean, plant-strong diet. Also being physically active, praying, meditating, and being kind to people.
As an activist for healthy eating, do you involve your daughter in your social justice work?
We do try to cultivate attitudes and habits that will have an impact on the way that she engages with food and our food system when she is more autonomous. We are transitioning one of our raised beds into her personal garden, and she loves tending it. Through gardening we are trying to teach her patience, delayed gratification, and responsibility. We go to the farmer’s market a few times a week, and she helps us pick out fruits and vegetables. We also encourage her to ask the farmers questions about their products. We teach her about sharing by giving away surplus food from our gardens to family and friends, and we take her to community gardens and urban farms often to see how people in communities are working to improve local food systems.
Eating healthy can be a family affair. For older African Americans who may not be able to take the vegan leap just yet, what are some Afro-Vegan cuisines that they can incorporate into their diet?
A large part of my work is about helping African Americans remember that our traditional diet is replete with nutrient-dense dark leafy green vegetables, protein-rich legumes, vitamin packed fruits, and the like. We simply need to look back and embrace the eating habits of many of our ancestors from just a few generations ago. I am pretty clear that a whole foods, plant-strong diet is probably a good idea for most of us, but I don’t necessarily think that everyone should make the leap to becoming vegan for best health and well-being (it should be noted that there are a lot of junk food vegans). There is no one-size-fits-all diet or panacea. One of the most important lessons that I try to impart is that we need to listen to our bodies. When contemplating the best diet, I encourage people to consider a number of factors: age, bodily constitution, health status, ancestral foods, season, 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. And I do see plant-strong diets as another tool for addressing the public health crisis among the communities most impacted by preventable, diet-related illnesses.
Fresh Peach, Banana, and Warm Millet Smoothie Recipe from Afro-Vegan
Orange juice, lime juice, dates, cashews
Yield: 2 generous servings or 4 smaller servings
Soundtrack “Jambo Bwana” by Samba Salad from Kids World Party
2 tablespoons millet
2 cups water
Pinch of coarse sea salt
2 cups finely diced peeled peaches
2 large ripe bananas
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1⁄4 cup raw cashews, soaked in water overnight and drained well
2 Medjool dates, pitted
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Combine the millet and 1 cup of the water in a small saucepan and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, stir in the salt and bring to a boil over medium heat. Immediately decrease the heat to low, cover, and simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for about 10 minutes.
Put 1-1/2 cups of the peaches and the bananas, orange juice, cashews, dates, lime juice, and the remaining 1 cup water in a blender and process until smooth. Scrape in the millet and any cooking liquid and puree until smooth. Serve garnished with the remaining peaches.