Papa Glow: Food, Family, & Fatherhood with Chef Bryant Terry
When it comes to soulful vegan cuisine one name comes to mind- Bryant Terry. An eco-chef, educator, and author renowned for his activism to create a healthy, just, and sustainable food system Bryant Terry has been on the vanguard to reclaim healthy ancestral foods. Bryant’s mentor Alice Waters says, “Bryant Terry knows that good food should be an everyday right and not a privilege.” He truly puts the soil back in soul food, using fresh seasonal ingredients in his recipes.
Bryant’s fourth book, Afro-Vegan, published by Ten Speed Press. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine, which was named one of the best vegetarian/vegan cookbooks of the last 25 years by Cooking Light Magazine. Bryant also authored The Inspired Vegan, and he coauthored Grub (with Anna Lappe), which The New York Times called “ingenious.” Bryant is also proud to have served as the “humanities advisor” on the Between Meals cookbook project, which shares the recipes and stories of newly-arrived refugee and immigrant women and explores how they have nourished their families in the US. His list of accomplishments is extensive and impressive but what I love about him most is his commitment to family. He is an incredible father and he and his wife Jidan have a new bun in the oven. We had a chat and chew with Bryant and here’s what he had to share about food, family, and fatherhood.
Bryant, you really brought gourmet veganism to the mainstream, made it cool, especially with your books, vegan soul kitchen, The Inspired Vegan etc, so what’s next for you?
My new book Afro-Vegan was published in April 2014, I spent two months vigorously promoting, traveling the country doing everything from readings at bookstores to cooking demonstrations at Farmer’s Markets, to potlucks at churches, to lectures at colleges. And it was encouraging to see a major shift in the way that people are thinking about these issues. I’ve been doing this work for close to fifteen years now, and it’s just exciting seeing veganism move from the margin closer to the center of peoples culinary consciousness. It’s not as scary as it was for people just five years ago. Even if people aren’t invested in fully committing to a full on vegan diet, people are open to doing “Meatless Mondays”, “vegan before six”, or just not feeling the need to have meat at every plate. Those are small but very important steps especially given the public health crisis that were seeing among Americans. People understand the role that plants in their diets can play in improving their health.
Given that so much of my work has been focused on addressing the health crisis and communities that are most impacted, particularly African- Americans, seeing so many black people coming out to events and really excited to learn more about these issues and to embrace more plants in their diet makes me really hopeful.
I’m focusing on family because my wife is having a baby, any day now, she’s due on June 25th but we’re expecting the baby to come out whenever she’s ready. Often times as an author, as someone working on improving our food system through lectures, through community grassroots activism, through writing, there can be an imbalance where I’m putting a lot of energy into work and not focusing on family. To remedy the imbalance, I’m going on sabbatical. I’m taking three months off for the summer when my wife will be on maternity leave. I will simply focus on our new child, and invest in supporting my wife through this phase and just be a family man.
Any new book projects or dreams on the horizon?
I will be thinking about my new book project, or I should say our next book project, cause I really want it to be a family project. This Afro-Asian cuisine that Jidan and I have been cultivating since we started dating where we bring both of our cultural cuisines to the table and create a culinary combination drawn from foods from the African and the Asian diasporas. We want to do a fun book grounded in Afro-Asian cuisine, that’s vegan, have a lot of gluten-free, family friendly recipes in the book. We just want it to be what it is. We don’t feel the need to couch it in any particular genre, its just going to be “Afro-Asian Cuisine”.
Ok so what about for all the folks out there who get nervous about trying vegan preparations, what’s the most important thing for them to remember when it comes to plant based cooking?
I encourage people to work with food that’s locally grown, that’s seasonal, fresh, and whole. When you work with really good ingredients, you actually don’t have to do a ton of work. I don’t even want to talk in terms of vegan cuisine, because you can have vegan food that’s very unhealthy. You can have processed vegan food that’s devoid of any animal or animal product but not necessarily healthful. I’m more invested in encouraging people to have plant-strong diets, vegetable forward diets, eating a lot of whole vegetables and fruits, beans, grains and seeds. It’s important to let the food shine. I’m about doing as little to the ingredients as possible, having lots of raw salads, fresh fruit and smoothies. People are into the Food Channel, Cooking Channel, and all the cooking contests, cookbooks, but people still are afraid to cook! People still shy away from their kitchens. We must re-embrace making food from scratch. Get in the kitchen and practice, you will make mistakes, but the more you work with food and experiment, the better you’ll get. I’m a trained chef and I’m constantly improving, making mistakes, and trying to become a better chef.
I love that. What are the five key ingredients everybody should have in their kitchen?
I would say sea salt, salt is essential for making good plant-strong meals. The key is using just enough where you can bring out the natural flavors of the food and not so much that you actually taste the salt. Sea salt has 42 minerals, trace minerals, aids in digestion, closely resembles blood composition, and its an essential nutrient that we need in out diet.
I like to keep raw almonds because I love making fresh almond milk. it’s exciting there are a lot of really good quality mass produced almond milks that you can buy now, but its incomparable. Nothing tastes as good as making fresh almond milk from scratch. Not only can you use it as a dairy substitute, you can freeze it, or put it in the freezer until its almost frozen and have it as a light refreshing drink. Whole raw almonds are a great snack.
I keep coconut water in the fridge. Coconut water is one of my essential ingredients, especially during the summer when I’m really trying to stay hydrated. I recently discovered Harmless Harvest and I can’t drink any other bottled coconut water. It’s so delicious and the closest you’ll find to actually cracking a coconut open that you’ve actually retrieved for yourself.
Clean Oats. We make sure that our daughter has a really hearty meal in the morning. In addition to fresh fruit she likes kefir or some type of cultured yogurt product in the morning and then we have oatmeal or granola. I’ll soak the oats overnight and first thing in the morning when I get up I’ll make her oatmeal. In the warmer months I like to keep homemade granola in the house so that she can pour some almond milk over or she can just eat it with her fruit.
Noodles. We eat a lot of Asian food at home. My wife’s been doing a lot of the cooking and she’s so adept at making all types of Asian food, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and we do a lot of noodles. My daughter has grown up eating noodles so that’s what she gets on a day-to-day basis.
Now that Jidan is pregnant, what are some of your go-to glow foods when you want to whip something up for her?
I’ll make a big batch of guacamole, harvest some tomatoes from out back, and make a French heirloom tomato pico de gallo. Then I’ll make a pot of beans, cause now that I’m actually getting back into the kitchen and cooking more I try to make a big pot of beans at the beginning of the week that we can eat throughout the week. Add some fresh corn tortillas, and were good. It’s so easy, so quick and everybody’s happy. So that’s kind of like my go to thing.
Tell me a little bit about your wellness journey and your food philosophy.
One of the things that I underscore is the need for us to listen to our bodies for what we should consume for our own health and wellbeing. I think often people get very caught up in whatever diet that they are convinced is the perfect diet. I would argue that there is no one perfect diet. Our bodies are just so different. There’s a range of factors from age, to season, to geographic location, to what your ancestors were eating, and you really have to let those things guide what you’re eating. In addition to whatever our values are: How do we want animals to be treated? How do we want to contribute to global economies? How can we support the maintenance and thriving of the very foundation of our food system, i.e clean air, clean water, clean soil? Let those things guide what we’re eating.
People must understand, there is no magic flute, no panacea. What a 13 year old boy needs is radically different than what an 80 year old woman needs. I do believe that we should have plant centered diets. But in terms of what people eat, we need to have a more complex approach. Having an omnivorous diet and growing up eating everything, in high school I ate lots of fats and fast food cause that’s what my friends were eating. I didn’t want to be the odd man out, so the peer pressure really moved me into eating the foods typical of the Standard American Diet. That part of my journey enabled me to experience the impact of that diet on the body and spirit. Having shifted back to a clean diet and actually going into a vegetarian and vegan diet, I enjoyed how good my body felt when I was eating this way. But it hasn’t been a linear journey.
What’s the best thing about fatherhood?
One of the best things about fatherhood was discovering that the most powerful parenting tool is modeling. Understanding that no matter what you say, your children are watching you, and doing what you do. It’s not so much about telling them what to do, telling them how to be in the world, or how they should act, it’s about being how you want them to be- on a different level. Just thinking about my relationship with my child helps me to be a better person. I feel charged being introspective and really considering how I’m moving through the world and embodying everything that I want my daughter to be. I feel like every day I’m improving. Everything from the way that I’m eating, to mindfulness in general, impulse control, dealing with anger, to the way that I treat people- especially my wife. Being in relationships with people, having good work ethic, and thinking outside of myself, and in every aspect of my life I’m constantly pushing myself to improve because I want my daughter to witness someone whose really committed to being an involved person and committed to improving every day.
What’s one of your essentials you take out with you when you’re on the go with your daughter?
Snacks! Yeah, this goes for everyone but particularly my daughter. When she’s grumpy, or a little off, the first thing that I try to determine is if she’s hungry or sleepy. I keep some type of nut mix, something that’s crunchy and protein rich. She loves rice crackers so that’s one of her big snacks. I make sure I have those handy, both in the car and in my little attaché.
What’s your Papa Glow tip you would share for new dads?
For new dads, step outside of yourself and do as much as you can to support mama. As challenging as parenting might be for us, I think it can be so much more challenging for mothers. The level of commitment that most moms have, trying to maintain their own hobbies and work life, especially when moms are nursing and in those first couple of years, its hard and they need our support. Ideally, you’re in a committed partnership, but if not you have to just show up. Being present in your child’s life and enjoying fatherhood is the way to support mama.
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