Updated: May 7, 2021
In today’s blog post, I will cover a segment from the New Yorker Podcast called ‘How to Blackify Fennel’ with Chef Bryant Terry. Chef Bryant Terry is a food activist and a world-renowned vegan chef who released his book ‘Vegan Kingdom’ earlier this year. If you are interested in listening to the original podcast, I highly recommend you listen to this segment at the new york radio podcast at wnyc studios.
Warning: If you intend to listen to the NPR podcast or simply want to get to the point quickly, Treat the interview section below as optional. Otherwise, I will cover what I determined to be highly significant and actionable portions of this podcast in this article and what we here at Solo’s Food think about it.
Interview (Main Segment Starts: 3:10/13:51):
Note: Q is for Questions asked by the interviewer Helen Rosner while A, answer is for Chef Terry’s response.
Q: You've been doing this stuff for a long time, Have you always known that
you were going to be a cookbook author. How did you come to this?
A: You know. I didn't... I always thought that I was going to be a professor.
And when I was a grad student at NYU, I started doing more research on the Black
Panther party and their survival programs and I think they were so cutting edge
in their analysis and understanding this intersection of poverty, malnutrition,
and institutional racism back in the late 60s, so their grocery giveaways, and
free breakfast program for children excited me to do my part in creating a
healthy and sustainable food system.
Q: So we talked a little bit about fennel but I was so struck by one of the phrases
you used to describe your approach to fennel, You talk about "blackifying" it and that
you wanna bring to food this sense of your "blackness" and the blackness of the context of your culture and used this very beautiful phrase "Your blood and spiritual ancestors" which I think is such a moving way of talking about the communities that we arise from. Has it always been kind of a conscious choice for you to "blackify" food?
A: I feel like more than blackifying it, my approach has been about uplifting black food and you know that started when I was in culinary school when I was just really, I wouldn't say put off, but it was disappointing that there was such an emphasis on classical French and classical Italian techniques and one of the things I feel like I have been fighting since I started this work is pushing back against the kind of reductive ways in which people imagine and think about, talk about black food and I think so often that when people think about black food, what they are thinking about are two different things and sometimes they are playing with each other.
One is Antebellum survival food. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people vilify African-American cuisine and reduce it to what they call 'slave' food. You know whatever the plantation owners didn't want, the scraps, the remnants of the vegetables or the animal viscera, whatever it is. That was the stuff that was discarded and we just had to make do why would we eat that.
So there is that line of thinking and the other one is people reduce African-American cuisine to soul food, which in my mind are the kind of big flavored meats and you know uh fatty desserts and over-cooked vegetables which you might find in soul food restaurants. But in terms of like the kind of core, the traditional staples of African American cuisine, we're talking about things like black-eyed peas, sugar snap peas, pole beans, lima beans, you know dark leafy greens like collards, mustards, turnips, kale, dandelions, uh...and so one of my major projects has been kinda helping people reimagine uh black food and all of its diversity and complexity.
Q: And how does this connect to the fact that your recipes are vegan and the cooking you are doing is plant based? Does this come from a similar politics?
A: Yeah, well, you know, in terms of the way that most people imagine veganism, they’re either thinking about an upper middle class white suburbanite or kinda like young white hipsters who are living in urban centers ...
Q: Like veganism as an aesthetic rather than a politic? (9:12/13:51)
A: Its an aesthetic, its something that white people own and I think its important that people understand that there's a history of black food and health-led activism throughout the 20th century; and my first contact with the idea of vegeterianism came from Black Seventh Day Adventists and then after I read Malcolm X and was obsessed with the Nation of Islam, I learned about the honorable Elijah Muhammad and his health ministry. He wrote two books: ‘How to eat to live’ was his way of helping black folks think about eating more healthily.
You know I think about Dick Gregory, the comedian and social justice activist and his emphasis on food. I mean the thing that politicized me was a hip hop song about factory farming called 'Beef' by the rapper KRS-one and the group buggin-out production. So black people are suffering from the highest rates of preventable diet-related illnesses: heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. I would argue that we needn't look further than our own cultural cuisine in order to find better health.
Our Personal Interpretation:
After listening to Chef Terry’s interview, It filled me with a sense of relief and encouragement. A professional chef has agreed that it is possible to reverse the staggering amount of diet-related diseases that plague African-American communities by examining what we eat, especially meat.
This is vital because this is one of main tenets that we have based Solo’s Food’s operation: The food we provide must combat the preventable metabolic diseases common in minorities in urban areas!
Another significant point raised by Chef Terry is the notion of decoupling the concept of soul food with scraps of food African-Americans ate to survive in the past and greasy, fatty, sugary foods that worsen an individual’s health in general.
An important point to recall, however, is that we are not shaming those who eat meat (I know I can't anyways...). We are simply acknowledging that veganism is a way to boost the healthy prospects within soul based cuisines. It supplements traditional soul cuisine with additional nutrients, increased satiety (increased water + fiber intake), and unlocks more flavors in existing dishes. Whether, you are vegan or flexitarian (both meat and veggies) as long as the food you eat is healthy, delicious, and aligns with your lifestyle is what matters (to us...).
You can eat your well-portioned piece of steak and lentil soup too! (If that's your jam I suppose)
Soul food can be a modern day remedy for the ailments of fast foods!
Although modern veganism is a concept popularly and exclusively associated with Caucasian Americans, African history suggests that African cuisine is within the range of vegetarianism to veganism at least according to the traditional staples mentioned in the interview.
In short, Solo’s Food approves Chef Terry’s views on soul food as a vehicle to improve African-American health. More importantly, Solo’s Food agrees with the process of helping the public re-imagine what soul food truly is moving forward. As advocates of healthy soul food, Solo’s Food aims to start by helping Essex county re-imagine what soul food is, one plate at a time.
Call To Action:
If you haven’t please, go to the NY Radio Hour to listen to the podcast here: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/tnyradiohour/segments/chef-bryant-terry-how-blackify-fennel. This article was possible thanks to the incredible interview covered by WNYC Studio's audio journalist, Kala Lea so please watch the original interview.
If you are interested in Chef Terry’s latest book: Vegan Kingdom, you can find it here: https://amzn.to/3nTgwll. By purchasing the book using this link: you will be supporting the blog without having to pay an extra cent from your own pocket.
If you want to learn more about Bryant Terry, Follow him on his website: www.bryant-terry.com. He has a lot of products and events to check out!
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