An Evening with Bryant Terry

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Vegan MoFo than by sharing my experience seeing Bryant Terry speak in Minneapolis. Last week, I had the distinct privilege of attending the talk he gave at the 2012 Healthy Food Summit. I’ve been a big fan of Bryant Terry not only because of his delicious cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen, but also because his approach to food politics is so right-on. He talks about problems with food in our country in terms of systems, structures, and power, and his critiques are always intersectional.

Bryant + Leafy Green.

[source]

On October 1st, Mr. Terry shared his views on veganism and how to transform the food system. A local chef also catered the event with food she made from recipes in his new (amazing!) cookbook, The Inspired Vegan. (The coconut lemon cookies were to.die.for!).

BT began by explaining that choosing to devote his life to food justice is entirely related to growing up with a family who used food as a way to connect, a way to be in communion with the earth, a way to share love. In an effort to pay homage to his ancestors and draw on the history of the African diaspora and its deep connection to agriculture, he said he wanted to “move beyond looking at food simply as fuel.”

Furthermore, Mr. Terry rejected a model of identifying what is and isn’t “healthy” food. “That’s too subjective,” he said, “People have different opinions on what is and isn’t healthy…I’m interested in more concrete things.” He went on to list his main areas of focus when it comes to “health”:

  • seasonal food (“this allows us to listen to the wisdom and the rhythm of the Earth)
  • local food
  • growing food (or getting supermarkets to carry local, culturally appropriate food)
  • cooking (“the act of cooking is so important”)
  • physical activity

His final message had to do more explicitly with food justice: “We must talk about larger structural inequalities that keep people from having happier and healthier lives. Lack of access to food is simply one indicator of larger problems; most communities [with “health problems”] have crumbling infrastructure, poor schools….” He sort of trailed off, paused, then said, “I’m just gonna say it: We need to talk about how capitalism is negatively impacting our communities.”

He continued to describe the ways in which our current culture of “personal responsibility” tends to blame the victim. “Of course personal responsibility is part of it, but we still have to focus on structural inequality.”

In an effort to make structural change, Bryant Terry said that food is a great place from which to begin, “If we start at the visceral [food], we can move into the more cerebral, and end at the political.”

That is a vision for the food justice movement, if I ever heard one!

After his talk, the audience got to have a little bit of Q & A. He was asked about his opinion on health requirements for food stamp programs (“Setting criteria is important,” he responded, “but we need to ask who is setting that criteria and how they are making those decisions.”); the Farm Bill (“I wish they would call it the ‘Food and Farm Bill’ so people realize that it effects them even if they aren’t farmers,” he said); and ‘food desserts’ (“I have a problem with the term ‘food desserts’; it erases much of the work that has been done in these communities, like the knowledge of black elders, immigrant farmer, all the grandma’s gardens in the neighborhood. What happens is that the conversation turns into trying to get chain supermarkets in the neighborhood, which ends up not bringing in any money to the community itself.”).

headshot from the crowd!

Whew! So much amazing insight, right?! I was so happy to get to hear his perspective on these issues in person. He was even more inspiring than I had imagined. Hope this summary could give you a little bit of that too!

Do you know Bryant Terry’s work? What do you think about his vision for the food justice movement?

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5 thoughts on “An Evening with Bryant Terry

  1. Unny Nambudiripad says:

    Thanks for the summary. It sounds really fantastic, and that he has a lot of insight about food politics and justice. I didn’t know he was in town, but Compassionate Action for Animals had an event at the same time anyway so I was unable to attend.

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