Thanks for coming back to part 2 of our interview with Bryant Terry for Africa on the blog. Bryant is the published author of Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Food Remixed. Yesterday we got an introduction to what Bryant is all about and what influenced his decision to be plant based. You will be surprised the influence came from within the black community, so it is not just a practice reserved for white suburbia.
As we continued our chat, I shared how I embarked on my first journey of exploring vegan diets. I chose to do it during a time where I wanted to heighten my spirituality, LENT, a 40 day period of forgoing something in the lead up to Easter. This opened us up to our next topic of discussion.
Spirituality, violent laden animals and veganism
I mentioned a personal observation I had about the connection between veganism or a more plant based diet and spirituality and asked whether Bryant shared these views.
Part of the reason why Bryant started thinking about these issues on a personal level and changing his relationship with food was his own Buddhist practice and the idea of interconnection. He believes there is no separation and that all things are connected on a spiritual level. So if we harm any other living being; another person or an animal, even when we harm the earth itself, we are harming ourselves, doing it to ourselves. So it is important to understand that connection.
Bryant: “And so the violent and horrible existence that factory farmed animals have from birth to being slaughtered before we consume them means we are taking in disruptive energy, especially if consumed in large amounts. Avoiding this brings a level of centeredness and quietness back to our lives if we are over indulging in consuming violent laden meat. And the meat industry is very good at hiding these sorts of conditions to ensure most of us remain disconnected from the realities of the meat we consume.”
However discovering these things at such a tender age took Bryant on an initial journey of what he describes as the “Self righteous, dogmatic, judgemental vegan phase.”
Bryant: “It is natural to go through a period of being over zealous as you take on new philosophies however I have learned that the least effective way about getting people to rethink their habits is to yell at them and judge them or making them feel wrong for what they are doing. It is important to have compassion towards other people for where they are in helping them along on their journey instead of criticising them.”
I couldn’t have agreed more on any life changing event which could take a person through that “self righteous, dogmatic and judgemental” phase.
Freedes: “Moving forward from your journey from activism to your book, how did it actually happen? How do you tell people about your idea and what you want to achieve; and actually get them to visualise it?”
Bryant: “I feel blessed. My journey to becoming an author happened so easily so I feel like it was something I was put on this earth to do at this point in my life. Sometimes when the universe supports you, things flow so easily whereas when you are doing something you are not supposed to do, it may be a bit more challenging. Of course there are obvious challenges but it shouldn’t be challenging all of the time.
“So I met a woman called Anna Lappé whose mother, Frances Moore Lappé, wrote this book in the 70’s, Diet for a Small Planet, which looked at the whole idea of hunger, dispelling the myth that there is a scarcity of food, and it really talked about the waste, inefficiency and the misuse of resources in growing food for consumption. When I met Anna, she felt connected with and loved the work I was doing so we became friends and she had just written a book with her mother a couple of years before and they had travelled the globe promoting the book.
“She had the idea of us writing a book that combined essays that looked at the impact of industrial agriculture on human health, on the environment and on local economies; combine them with recipes, so that people didn’t just feel like they left the book depressed focusing on the problem, but felt like they had some tips and tools for making change in their personal lives and their communities, thinking about the fact that these are deeply entrenched structural issues that need to change through public policy.
Start with the visceral, move to the cerebral then end at the political
“So how can we make policy changes? By starting that practical thing of just making meals for our friends and families and having that as a tool for really galvanising other people in our communities to also be invested in this work. It is all just about starting at the table. So my guiding mantra is to start with the visceral, move to the cerebral then end at the political; understanding that the most primal thing we have is eating; cooking and then eating. And then use that as the jumping point to talk about the ideas and be more engaged as advocates and activists around who to choose.
Freedes: “Which one do you love more? Cooking or eating?”
Bryant: “Eating! That’s easy! As much as I enjoy the process of conceiving a book, it is hard writing a book and as you mentioned, it is work. It is an arduous process and especially with a cook book, the investment in resources and time, testing recipes for consumers to use and that work, it takes a lot of energy to put into it and sometimes I test recipes up to 5 times which when you are talking about writing over100 recipes, that is a lot of cooking and by the time you are done with this, usually a year long process of working on a book, I am so burned out from cooking that I just don’t even want to be in the kitchen anymore. My wife is a brilliant cook and so I just love having her food and just sitting back and eating it and doing the dishes.
Freedes: “Bryant, what are you going to do over the next couple of years?”
Bryant: “One of the things I am committed to is doing more activism in communities, where I started, although I haven’t been doing that as much but I want to make an impact in my local community where I am a home owner and have children. As much as I travel I want to contribute to the place where I am raising my children. I am working on some things locally in terms of community gardening, cooking and more health advocacy.
“But I am open to doing more media in terms of broadcast and web. I have hosted a number of shows, I hosted a show for PBS and have made a lot of guest appearance on shows like Martha Stewart. I had web series called Urban Organic which can be found on YouTube. So I feel like it would be great to do something like have a television show. I have talked to a number of people about it before and nothing that has really resonated with me strong enough or other times it is someone else’s vision. I want to make sure that it has integrity with my own vision for what I want to put in the world.
“The thing I am most excited about now though is my next book project. The idea is a book that brings together food from the African Diaspora and the Asian Diaspora because my wife is Chinese American. And so we often in our home are very clear that one of the ways that we can share our culture with our daughters is by sharing the foods from the Diasporas so we really want to do a book that celebrates that in a very fond and creative way. I hope my publisher is as excited about it as I am.”
Bryant, thank you ever so much for taking the time out to talk to me. Your publisher is not the only one who will be excited about this project. God bless and stay blessed.
Check out a couple of recipes from Afro-Vegan, courtesy of Bryant Terry.