Award-winning eco-chef, Bryant Terry is here to set the record straight—vegan style. The 35-year-old, Memphis, Tennessee, native proves that there's no such thing as ho-hum, healthy cuisine. Author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen and Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh Healthy, and Creative African American Cuisine, Terry stretches the culinary imagination with his vegan approach to classic and inventive African, African-American, Caribbean and soul cuisines. ESSENCE.com caught up with the eco-friendly chef to talk about his healthy and delicious soul favorites; plus he dispels those nasty health-food rumors.
ESSENCE.COM: How would you describe the vegan lifestyle?
BRYANT TERRY: It's about the focus on fresh, seasonal, sustainable, good food, which, I would argue, is the origin of African-American and southern cooking, which have been lost over the past four decades. The way people think about this cuisine is now reduced to the comfort food-fatty meats, the sugary desserts. My book mostly focuses on diet with an avoidance of meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products and honey—any animal derived products. I'm really trying to make people remember that this is a part of the African-American legacy.
ESSENCE.COM: What do you say to those people who are skeptical about veganism?
TERRY: Especially within the African-American community, it often brings up bland, tasteless, White, hippie—a lot of images that are traditionally associated with [veganism]. There's a legacy that African-Americans have about growing good food, eating good food; certainly eating animal products, but not making that the center of the meal. I think the more accurate way to talk about it is just real food, good food; that's what I eat.
ESSENCE.COM: Do you have any tips for beginner vegans and people considering this lifestyle?
TERRY: I'll be the first to say, if there's crappy food around, I will eat it. So, first purge your pantry of all the stuff you don't want to eat. Secondly, I think it has to be a gradual process of figuring out what are some things you might like. I don't care how healthy it is, if it's not bangin', nobody wants it. Also, doing it alone is hard, so get support by friends to make the transition a lot easier. Seek out people who might already be eating good food and avoid food that is processed or packaged. I encourage people to have food parties, where you come together and each person brings a dish in bulk. If you're buying stuff in bulk, it's cheaper. We all connect and then split it up amongst ourselves, and we all have food for the week.
ESSENCE.COM: How do you know if this is the best lifestyle for you?
TERRY: Keep a food journal or a food diary, that's what I do. So many people are used to eating what they eat and used to the feeling, but they're not really aware of what is happening to them. So at least for two weeks, document what food you're eating and note how it's making you feel, not only physically, but emotionally, psychological, and spiritually so that you can determine what is working for you and what is not.
ESSENCE.COM: So, the question everyone's been waiting for: does it taste good?
TERRY: Let me tell you something. In "Vegan Soul Kitchen," I have a chocolate pecan pudding pie that does not use eggs, does not use milk and it is so bangin'. The test for this book was presenting the [recipes] to my family, who live in Mississippi, Memphis and Alabama, who have a regular, industrial diet. They like these dishes. One of the goals was to provide people with cooking techniques and basic skills on how you modify and change ingredients from less healthy ones to more healthy ones so that you can have the same spirit of the meal. I know how good some greens with fat back or bacon grease are, but that's the easy way out. You might have to use some more creativity, but you can get just as much flavor.
Want more of Terry Bryant? Check out his column, "Eco-Soul Kitchen," on theroot.com, or visit www.bryant-terry.com. Click here to view his favorite Black-eyed Pea Fritters and Hot Pepper Sauce recipe from the book, "Vegan Soul Kitchen".