Monday, March 30, 2009

Man on a Mission

I wasn't looking forward to going. It was a week night, and it would have been nice to stay home and hang out with the family, have dinner, maybe watch a movie. But my friend Susan was meeting me, and I sighed heavily so everyone would know I was only going because I had to.

But once Bryant Terry walked out and opened his mouth, I was glad I came. A former graduate student in history studying social movements of the 60s, he eventually stumbled across references to the Black Panther Party. The food programs the Panthers ran in black urban neighborhoods were revolutionary at the time, centering around issues of food justice, with grocery giveaways and free breakfasts for poor children.

His own grandparents were from a rural area of Tennessee, and brought their rural food traditions with them when they moved to Memphis. This included vegetable gardens covering every inch of yard that fed not only their family but provided goods for bartering with the neighbors.

It was a tradition rich in community and bolstered by sharing food, and his interest in hip hop, the social efforts of the Panthers and educating people about healthy eating came together when he left the graduate program to enroll in culinary school. He sees cooking as a way to bring people together to build communities around good food and quotes freely from Anna Lappé and Alice Waters.

His new book, Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine,is an imaginative take on the traditional cookbook, not only because of its updating of traditional soul cuisine, but because he also includes suggestions of music to listen (and dance!) to while you're making the food. And I know that I, for one, will be looking forward to listening to more of what this young man has to say in the future.

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