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Black Food Matters: Vegan eco-chef Bryant Terry shares his recipe for food justice

Kale, mustard greens, dandelion greens, black eyed peas, broccoli rabe.

These are foods many of our grandparents ate and grew in their gardens decades ago that are now enjoying a resurgence as people begin to embrace healthy, farm fresh meals.

Fast food alters the taste buds, said Bryant Terry, an award-winning chef, educator, author and TV personality. Terry is the author of several books including Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed. He is currently the Chef-in-Residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco.

More than two dozen people attended Terry’s talk Monday evening at Duke’s John Hope Franklin Center, organized by Left of Black host Mark Anthony Neal. Neal is also the director of the Center for Arts, Digital Culture and Entrepreneurship.

During his talk, Terry encouraged the audience be more attentive to food issues, to grow their own food and to connect with the food justice movement in their own communities.

“I want people to think about these issues in the context of their personal lives and community. It’s about structural issues, not just individual transformation,” said Terry who began his career as a grassroots activist railing against the industrialization of pre-packaged and processed food.

“I’m pretty sure I’m the only guest on the Martha Stewart Show who talked about food justice,” Terry said.

His philosophy on introducing people to the food justice movement is to “start with the visceral to ignite the cerebral and end with the political.”

“Heady intellectual ideas don’t resonate with everyone. For some, it’s a farm fresh meal, memories of cooking with grandparents, could be a conversation with a fast food worker,” he said.

He became politicized around food as a high school student listening to KRS-One’s “Beef,” a rap song about factory farming. And he also read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair on the horrors of the meat-packing industry.

As a college student attending NYU, Terry saw young children drinking soda and energy drinks in the morning before school. “This was their breakfast” he said, noting the link between academic performance, behavior and nutrition.

“The larger social justice movement would be remiss not to talk about the connection between healthcare issues and nutrition. Food justice and social justice are inextricably linked,” he said.

Neal raised the issue that some complain that fast food is much cheaper than healthy foods. Terry pointed to multinational corporations subsidized by the government.

“If the government supported young farmers and subsidized them, healthy food would also be cheap,” he said.

“Major companies market to kids as young as 2-years old,” he said. “They are spending more on marketing than on the product. It’s a form of psychic violence.”

When he started his ‘Be Heathy’ program, his young students didn’t even know where carrots came from.

“I wanted to raise their food I.Q. and to get them to think more critically about food. And I learned that when they prepared things, they ate it,” he said, realizing the connection between food, health and self-empowerment.

Making a meal from scratch, having a garden or a farm — these are things people in the community already know how to do, he said.

His web series, Urban Organic, explores the connections between food, health and technology. The first episode featured a tour of an Oakland, Calif. aquaponics farm. “You can do a lot with a little land,” he said.

“We need a holistic understanding around these issues and a sea change. We should be owning our own land, providing healthy, fresh food, employing people and beautifying the community.”

For more information about Terry, visit www.bryant-terry.com.