Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen

Oakland-based eco chef, food justice activist, and author, Bryant Terry works to move the intersections between poverty, structural racism, and food insecurity from the margins to the center of food justice activism to build a more just and sustainable food system. (Read more...)

Oakland-based eco chef, food justice activist, and author, Bryant Terry works to move the intersections between poverty, structural racism, and food insecurity from the margins to the center of food justice activism to build a more just and sustainable food system.

I'm very excited to learn about Vegan Soul Kitchen (VSK): Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine, the forthcoming book by Oakland-based eco chef, food justice activist, and author Bryant Terry.

Terry's previous book, Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, co-authored with Anna Lappé, has been on my to-read list since I first learned about it through an interview with Satya magazine a couple years back. I've put off reading Grub for way to long now and the announcement of VSK is as good a reminder as any that I need to move it to the top of my list. [ETA: I've since read Grub, and was disappointed by it.]

I just learned about Terry's new book project thanks to Breeze Harper and her post on the Sister Vegan Project blog about a recent brainstorming session to promote and support Terry's new book. In her post, Breeze writes the importance of books like VSK, noting that:

To support Terry's project is to support a part of the the food movement in the USA that is generally ignored by the status quo. Basically, within the mainstream, it is assumed that everyone is white middle class and has the transportation, financial, and educational means to access healthier and tastier foods. The mainstream food movement generally doesn't have to think about environmental racism, 'food deserts,' legacies of colonialism on brown, black and red bodies, etc.

I think Breeze is absolutely right on this. I just recently read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma and what Breeze points out was exactly what I observed with that book. For a book of some 450 pages, Omnivore's Dilemma could have been much, much shorter and gone a whole lot deeper into the justice issues of the U.S. food system if it wasn't written as a "personal journey" about a White middle-class author who can afford to ignore all those deeper issues that Breeze mentions.

This is exactly why there is a such a pressing need for books like Terry's Grub and VSK. Terry's work moves the intersections between poverty, structural racism, and food insecurity from the margins to the center of food justice activism to build a more just and sustainable food system.

Re: Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen

i listened to breeze's podcast today about this book and was really excited to promote it... except when i checked out bryant terry's website, one of the most recent posts in his blog was all about his thanksgiving dinner recipes -- including one for turkey. how can we reconcile the fact that he has written an incredible vegan cookbook with recommendations and resolutions for food justice with the fact that his other endeavors result in and in fact celebrate the slaughter of non-human animals?

Reconciling

Jenna,

I think we start to reconcile the facts by acknowledging that none of us are prefect. We all live in a speciesist society and I would be the last person to claim to be nonspeciesist.

There is a significant lack of incredible, let alone mediocre, vegan or otherwise plant-based cookbook that includes food justice issues. Even more so if we are talking about books that look at the intersections between poverty, structural racism, and food insecurity.

In the course of things, Terry may rethink publishing recipes that exploit other animals, or he may rethink his affiliation with veganism. If so, I sincerely hope he give up the former rather than the latter. As I said in my post, there is a real need for voices like Terry's. In spite of the recipes, I still think that's true.

Re: Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen

i have read several of terry's interviews, and he clearly has a complex analysis that takes into account that much of the audience that he hopes to educate (i.e., african-americans, working class, and working poor people) will not be giving up meat anytime soon. given this, he chooses to educate them about more humanely raised sources with the hope that they will open up to a deeper understanding of our connection to non-human animals.

Race, Class and Access to 'Humanely Raised Sources'

Anonymous,

I disagree with the assumption that people who are Black, working-class, and/or poor are less receptive to veganism or plant-based living than anyone else is. I believe this is a stereotype that privileges those who are White and middle class.

Nor does it make sense to promote the more expensive flesh, eggs, and dairy from "humanely raised sources" to people who are economically marginalized or otherwise lack access. For instance, one of the "humanely raised sources" of dead turkeys that was linked to the turkey recipe cost between $158 and $205. People who use the recipe but lack access to these "humanely raised sources" will just go to conventional sources instead.

Sure, Terry can offer an amazing vegan cookbook. But that doesn't mean it's okay to promote recipes that exploit other animals, or sources for purchasing dead turkeys.

However, one of the reasons we are led to assume that people who are Black, working class, and/or poor aren't going to come around to veganism or plant-based living is because the ones who already have are being marginalized. Therefore, if we say Terry can't offer an amazing vegan cookbook, then all we're really doing is reinforcing racism.

Re: Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen

and does the fact that he presented a turkey recipe mean that he cannot offer an amazing vegan cookbook?

Re: Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen

Yea sure he can offer a great *plant based* cookbook, but that does not mean it's *vegan*. As a vegan who believes in the vegan ideal, I will not waste my time promoting his cookbook (that misuses the word "vegan" in the title) when he is openly promoting the exploitation of other animals for "holidays" based on genocide (or when he's promoting the erroneously titled "Peaceful Poached Salmon with Disarmament Dill Sauce" for Obama).
I mean, he uses a picture of Geronimo holding a gun over the blog entry titled, "Give Thanks", in which he promotes some far from vegan, omnivorous recipes.
I'm thinking, "niche market". Maybe that's just me.
Thanks, but no thanks.


Re: Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen

Hello,

A friend who loves your blog thought that I would be interested in the thread of conversation that follows the post about my upcoming book, so I decided to check it out. First of all, thank you for positing about it. After reading a couple of the responses, I got a little heated because I felt personally attacked. Then I looked at the adage posted on my corkboard “don’t take anything personally” and let it go. Five years ago I would have written a scathing response (because I needed to mask my pain by ripping someone to pieces), but now I understand that we are all on a journey of discovery and growth, and I will simply offer a few words.

*While I may occasionally offer recipes that use animal products, I currently do not eat animal flesh (mostly because of my compassion for all living beings that has developed from my Buddhist practice). I chose not to frame myself as a “vegan” years ago because of the connotation (dogmatic, judgmental, finger-wagging) that the word has in many of the marginalized communities in which I am working to effect change. And for the record I used to be one of those “crazy” vegans that many non-vegans have constructed in their imagination (ha, ha).

*I am not celebrating the slaughter of other animals. Working in the deep-south and in many historically underrepresented communities all over the country, I understand where most people are in their journey; what alienates them and causes them to shut down to anything that you have to say; and how to slowly awaken people’s consciousness. (Imagine me YELLING at my family members at holidays that they are murderers for eating animals.) If there is anything that I have learned over the past eight years it is that the art of subtlety is key in populist movement building (or just getting your parents to stop eating meat everyday). I am not asking anyone to agree with how I choose to do outreach, I simply ask that you understand that there are more than one way to achieve similar goals.

*I am not celebrating a holiday based on genocide. By presenting a “Harvest Menu” to a mainstream audience I am hoping to help people consider the genocidal relationship that “settlers” had with native people and illuminate the ancient celebration of the period of gathering crops for leaner winter months that predates “Thanksgiving” by millennia. The image of Geronimo is a symbol of Native American resistance. And I think that it is obvious to most people that the menu that I offer for my “application” to be Obama’s chef was simply a way to advance a progressive agenda. (Can you imagine how corny it would be to offer a real menu with those names.)

*Oh g-d I wish I had enough power to determine the title of my book. My editor and I had a contentious few months, precisely because I did not want to have “vegan” in the title. But when one chooses to work with a major corporation there are certain decisions about his artwork that are out of his hands. While I do ask people to consider the moral and ethical implications of eating other sentient beings in the introduction to the book, my decision to create a plant-based book inspired by African American cuisine was mostly driven by my desire to illuminate the history of black southerners being “green” (i.e., maintaining home gardens, eating lots of nutrient-dense greens, tubers, whole grains, and the like) before the industrialization of food and globalization of agriculture. Ultimately, it is not my role to tell others how to walk their path. I can simply offer information to help them make a more informed decision. Ask anyone working around health and food issues in historically underrepresented communities about how tricky it is to change lifelong habits. Everyone did not enjoy the same privileges that I and (I would assume) many of the readers of this blog have, and I have to be sensitive to that.

*Yes I want to sell lots of books. This is my artwork that I want to share with everyone, and the better this book does the more it opens the door for similar books that combine food with progressive/radical politics to be published by a major publishing house.

*Lastly, I would invite everyone to at least thumb through my book before deciding that it is a "waste of time promoting it." I want all vegans to have some new, exciting, and delicious recipes for themselves and their community. The quickest way to people’s hearts and minds is through their stomachs. . .


Lovingly and Respectfully,

bryant


















Recipes that Exploit Other Animals

Hi Bryant,

Thanks for joining the discussion. I can see how it is a little heated, and I'm glad you're not taking it personally.

While I share the concerns that others have about any recipes that exploit other animals. But I still plan to read Grub and VSK, although I think I might want to read these books before I start promoting them.

I agree that cooking can be used as a tool to liberate, but it can just as easily be used as a tool for furthering oppression. Recipe that exploits other animals are oppressive. They perpetuate our domination over other animals. So I don't believe recipes that exploit other animals promotes food justice "for everyone, everywhere," because this just isn't true if your work is putting other animals on the menu. Such recipes not only endorse the socially shared belief that we can exploitation other animals as "food," but also give directions on how to go about it.

While I think a recipe that exploit other animals is by itself oppressive, I feel additionally put off by what I read as boastfulness about the results of that exploitation. By boastfulness I'm referring the use of phrases like "will blow your guest away" and "off-the-hook" for referring to the final results of the recipe that exploits turkeys. To me, I don't know, it just seem extra insensitive to suggest that this is a particularly impressive way to benefit from oppressing other animals.

And I think it really comes down to those material and psychological gains that come from exploiting other animals. That's what holds our oppression of them in place. As long as we identify with the benefits of exploiting other animals, it's not very likely we're going to really want to feel any true connectedness to them.

So it maybe true that the quickest way to a person's heart is through their stomach, but what are we really feeding those hearts? I believe recipes that exploit other animals feel our hearts and minds with speciesism, and that's what causes a blockage of the heart that keeps us insensitive the oppression of other animals.

Re: Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen

Hello. I find the cooking book really great, but that with the exact approach is of course difficult and everybody must find their own ways.

Me personally, I for myself, have this thought in my head, that I would like to share in this context:

Telling people that a war waged on the animal kingdom is wrong:

can one really always wait to tell the other: you are hurting others and yourself?

Why shouldn't I cry: !STOP NOW! and believe: that my friends will hear me - they will give me their ear!

"WHY??????????"









Re: Recipes that Exploit Other Animals

thanks for your edifying comments. i am reexamining what recipes i contribute in the future. all the best.

Thanks For Commenting

Bryant,

I'm happy that I posted about VSK, and I honestly look forward to reading both your books. I still think VSK sound promising in how it links seemingly divergent social justice movements. In my mind veganism naturally intersects with racial justice, economic justice, and food justice.

Truth is, I could never have guessed my post would become so controversial. I hoped it could be a positive change to the usual post about what's wrong in the world. I'm concerned that this has turned into framing social justice issues as competing with each other, instead of highlighting the ways the vegan ideal is mutually inclusive with other visions of social justice. I can imagine this discussion has only confirm those negative connotations that led you to distancing yourself from "vegan" in the first place.

I'm glad that you found my previous comment edifying, and that you are reexamining what recipes you contribute for publication. I wish you all the best, as well.

Re: Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen

This thread mainly makes me sad because it follows the script so well.

(I'm addressing white folks below.)

Some of us might say, well if the author was white, I would have the same reaction. And if that were the case, that reaction might be totally appropriate.

But Bryant Terry is not white. If we ignore this fact, we ignore white supremacy--that is what being "colorblind" does--it allows racism go unexamined and unchecked.

Mainstream vegan and animal rights movements are extremely racist. Yet we expect people of color to participate in them and become perplexed/annoyed if they don't.

Can you imagine if people of color had a racism litmus test? They'd never work with us. Yet we have a vegan litmus test that all too often masks racism. Andrea Smith in Conquest discusses animal activists who basically use that test, find American Indians lacking, and proceed to challenge their treaty rights—all despite the fact that working in coalition with them would protect more animals.

I feel like a similar dynamic is going on here. White folks have done an abysmal job welcoming vegans of color. Here is a Black person who wants to promote a plant-based diet in Black communities. We need this guy! Big time! (We as in the animals we profess to be working in solidarity with, not we as in let's co-opt him.)

I am sympathetic to the fact that the dead animal recipes are problematic, but I think we really need to, as Terry suggests, look at the broader picture. We can have both compassion for Terry--as we would for anyone who is not up to "our standards"--and have a good handle on our own privilege.

Imagine if we were to waltz on over to some radical person of color's blog who's really on point about every single social justice issue and complain that she wasn't vegan. That would be pretty gross. OK, we might be vegan, but are we even close to being on point about other social justice movements?

It's really hard to put all of our ideas into action at once. Most of our vegan campaigns are probably racist, classist, sexist, ableist, and on and on. But despite our failings, we expect that other people will work with us--will listen to us when we promote veganism.

So Terry's work--intersectional work that many of us aspire to--falls short of being totally anti-speciesist. To me the solution is to work more closely with him, not reject him. Then we might have true dialogue and learning on all sides, not simply following the well-worn path of requiring Black folks to conform to neutral (that is, white) standards.



















After re-reading my previous post

After re-reading my previous post I see that it does come across as elitist and that it completely overlooks the incredible work that Bryant does. I could have chosen my words better and I apologize if the comment felt like a personal attack and almost got you heated, Bryant.

As a person of color, and a regular reader of The Vegan Ideal, I think this situation would have basically played out the same way if posted a blog about promoting the "vegan" cookbook of a "white" author that also makes recipes with dead animals in them. I don't see any reason to think anyone was being racist, and it seems that I was the only one who was out of line by saying I wouldn't waste my time promoting Bryant's book. Again, it was the wrong choice of words and I apologize.

Noah, I agree that everyone seriously working for positive social change should work together even if we're not all on the same page on every issue. I also agree that the mainstream animal rights movement is extremely racist. However, to suggest racism as soon as there is any criticism of a person of color by a (perceived) “white” person is, in my opinion, not going to end racism, but perpetuate it. Also, regarding your comparison of this situation to going to a “radical person of color's blog who's really on point about every single social justice issue” and complaining she's not vegan, I don't see how that relates to this situation. The issue here is with the misappropriation of the word “vegan” by non-vegans to sell things (Bryant, I now understand that that was not your choice). If the hypothetical non-vegan radical person of color you're referring to was attempting to sell a book with “vegan” in the title while, at the same time, was glorifying the exploitation of other animals, she would be open to the same honest criticism that Bryant received here. I would expect nothing less from The Vegan Ideal.



Veganism with an Anti-Racist Perspective

Lucas,

I'm glad you could see how your first comment was aggressive. And I do agree that "Peaceful Poached Salmon" contradiction in terms.

While I don't think anyone was being consciously racist, I think it's also true that had there been a conscious effort to be anti-racist thing would have gone much differently. Stated differently, because of structural racism I don't think that the situation with a White author and a Black author could be the same.

As I mentioned in the previous comment, the vegan and plant-based works of cookbook authors who are people of color do not get equitable recognition. This is the reality that Breeze Harper pointed out on her blog and podcast about the VSK brainstorming session. The contributions of people of color to veganism and vegetarianism is consistently being Whitewashed.

It is interesting that the publishers are the one's pushing the inclusion of "vegan" in the title. Why is that? If the book is written for a Black audience and "vegan" is associated with Whiteness, is this about marketing it to a White middle-class audience? But if the book itself is true to veganism in its promotion of a plant-based diet and food justice, then I don't see the problem. I'm perfectly willing to withhold judgment until I've seen the book.

What I do know is that the U.S. vegan movement, as opposed to the nonhuman animal protection movement, isn't as White as we're led to believe. H. Jay Dinshah's contribution to founding the North American vegan and modern North American vegetarian movements is testament to this fact. And Dick Gregory is a lifetime member to the American Vegan Society. I think it's important that we recognize and maintain the multi-racial, international, and grassroots foundation of our movement.

I think it is sad that Bryant Terry should have reason to express reservations about using "vegan" in the title. That this is seen as a hurdle to reaching Blacks I think speaks to another, equally troubling appropriation of "vegan." That is, the appropriation of "vegan" as exclusively White. Terry's book could challenge this other kind of appropriation.

Yes, I do believe there is a need for honest criticism that challenges the exploitive use of other animals in recipes. At the same time, I also see a need for anti-racism that considers the structural and historical context. As such, I am willing reserve judgment on VSK.

Re: Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen

I find T. Bryants cooking book projects real good. And it's really cool that he posted on here. And it's even more cool that he reacted in such a positive way. WOW!

I also find all the other posts on here really interesting and inspiring. Awsome!

People are usually omnivore because of reasons that have something to do with: society, religion, tradition, philosophy, ideology or habit. These reasons make an omnivore person convinced that it probably is ok to eat "meat". All such possible reasons are related to a view, in which animals somehow play secondary role (animals are considered to be subordinate to humans). And for those reasons, nonhuman animals are "something" that a human person can classify as "something edilbe" in his or her thinking and actions.

I find it hard to approach people in another way than saying directly what I think. I think one shouldn't make a difference with humans or nonhuman animals when one sees the injustices that are systematically going on. I think one can rightly assume, that nonhuman animals are inasmuch faced by a mill of human totalitarian structures, as are or have been humans themselves.

Just my two and a half cents.







Lucas, I honestly did not assume

Lucas, I honestly did not assume you were white. That is in part why I addressed my comments to white folks. My comments were also addressed to readers who had not commented but might agree with what has been written. Your comments were incorporated into others' comments, and Jenna's original question expressed a similar view "I was excited except..." There had yet been no answer to her question as to how to reconcile the two, so I was offering one way to think about that.

I was so excited to see "Vegan Soul Kitchen" because I naively thought that Terry had deliberatly chosen such a loaded word. So the part of the thread that actually made me the saddest was hearing that Terry had been forced to use the word vegan.

It just speaks volumes, about how he lacked power, as a reminder of how alienating the word vegan can be to Black people in particular, about how it seemed clear to me that the word vegan was being used to capture a white market.

I never understood your comment because I'm not aware of anyone who uses "vegan" to capture a market--except in the unusual scenario above. When white people want to reach a broader audience, they deliberately avoid the word vegan. Imagine Vegan Skinny Bitch or Vegan Cowboy. Yet those authors were able to make the choice about the use of the word vegan because of their whiteness and that their books therefore were directed to a "general" (white) audience. But if the book is directed at a Black audience, that's not good enough. We have to tag it vegan to get the white vegans to consume this "exotic" book.

This is the kind of white supremacy I am concerned with taking into account.







Re: Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen

Get over yourself. Of course Terry lacked power over the final title of his book. Consumers need products neatly categorized. The job of a publisher that needs to make a profit is to make sure that they present their author’s products so that people “get it quickly.” Most consumers and plant-based eaters would see his book as Vegan. It’s only elitist Vegan activists who scrutinize every aspect of his politics to see if it lives up to your standards that antagonize him when they don't. Terry even wrote “I want all vegans to have some new, exciting, and delicious recipes for themselves and their community.” This guy is your ally, and the first thing you do is disapprove of him without hearing where he is coming from. I see why he didn’t want to have “vegan” in the title. I’m white, I don’t eat meat, and that word turns me off because of the type of knee-jerk reactions coming from some people who have been a part of this discussion.