The Soul of the Kitchen

Over the years, Slow Food Portland has been really lucky to have been able to bring so many great speakers to Portland. Still, I don’t think we’ve ever had the chance before to bring someone who’s been compared to Melvin Van Peebles and Alice Waters in the same sentence! That’s just part of why we’re so excited to bring chef and activist Bryant Terry to town to cook for you and to share some of his (many) projects.

With Terry, it’s hard to believe he even has time to eat all the great food he cooks. He’s a history and culinary school graduate, a past non-profit founder, an author, a chef, an activist, and a 2008/2009 Food and Society Policy Fellow. After studying the Black Panthers’ free breakfast programs for children, Terry became focused on using food as the basis of his social activism. Food access was largely overlooked among other activists, and he quickly realized that while you can talk to people about lifestyle changes and societal injustices until your face turns blue, inspiring real action requires a different strategy. Cooking gave Terry a tool for reaching out to people in a way that would get them thinking, talking, and tasting.

Terry’s recipes offer the sort of delicious, simple foods that get average people cooking and eating real meals again. In his first cookbook, called Grub, which he co-authored with Anna Lappé, Terry set out to demystify healthy, sustainable food, and inspired a few parties along the way. Terry brings that same open approach to his new cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen, in which he updates some classic soul food dishes to help shift the way people around the country are eating. The point is to make food flavorful and fun, without dumbing it down. To that end, in both of his books, each recipe is paired with its own soundtrack, to set the right vibe for the dish. His tastes are diverse (and good) – everyone from Al Green to Kanyé, Duke Ellington to Public Enemy. Music, like food, is just another way to connect with people emotionally; if you can hook someone with a taste or a sound, then you can really start connecting them with the politics and ideas of food justice. At the root of all of Terry’s work is a belief in the power of cooking to affect individual and community change.

While not a vegan himself, Terry’s new book argues for the benefits of cutting back on the animal products we eat. Yeah, we may all love fried foods and slab bacon and rich desserts, but they certainly aren’t the foundation of a healthy diet. However, Terry is also quick to defend Soul food against the blanket criticisms that blame it for chronic illnesses in the black community. In a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Terry explained how the soul food of his grandparents was a healthy meal: “When I think about my grandparents, they were eating food that was as local as their backyard garden and as fresh as harvesting it immediately before eating.” Today, major structural issues of how cities are laid out and where funding is spent has had a huge impact on the diets and health of ignored urban communities. When neighborhoods no longer have grocery stores and they’ve lost the funding for community gardens, it’s not surprising that residents turn to unhealthy lifestyles. For Terry, Soul food isn’t the problem; fast food is.

As a Food and Society Policy Fellow, he’ll be focusing on creating the Southern Organic Kitchen Project, which will address chronic, diet-related illnesses by supporting existing community- and faith-based groups in the work for better eating. Recently, in response to people’s increasing concern over their jobs and incomes, he’s initiated the Grow. Cook. Grub. project to share creative ways for continuing to eat sustainably, while living on a budget. His recipes and tips for gardening and purchasing food will be posted on CivilEats.com and TheRoot.com. You can hear more about these various projects in an interview he did with the Big Vision Podcast.

Terry’s an engaging young chef, whose recipe demonstration will get you in the mood to cook. Along with his sometimes co-author/co-conspirator Lappé, Terry demonstrated his recipe for “Sauteed jalapeno corn” at Slow Food Nation’s Green Kitchen. You can check the video out here. For more tastes of Terry’s food, you can preview some of his new cookbook here on Google Books. Or try out this recipe for Black Eyed Pea Fritters with Hot Pepper Sauce.

And make sure to come over to the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center to catch him (and his cooking) in person.

When: Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Hosted by: Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center,  5340 N Interstate Ave., Portland, OR 97217 (map)
Time: 7 pm
Cost: $8 Slow Food members/non-members
RSVP to: rsvp@slowfoodportland.com; or if you do not have email, call 503-236-4087 Monday to Friday, 9 am to 6 pm only.

Seating is limited to 120 people; reservations are required. There are some tickets available at reduced rates. Contact rsvp@slowfoodportland.com for more information.
And if that isn’t enough to entice you to come, he’s also a gardener:


Thanks for sharing