Cookbook author and food activist Bryant Terry is back with a new book, and this time he’s leaning heavily on flavors from the African diaspora. “Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed,” out today from Ten Speed Press, is Terry’s third solo cookbook and a step away from the primarily Southern-focused vegan menus of his earlier offerings. But, says Terry, “It’s all soul food to me.”
“Celebrating food of the African diaspora is one of the most meaningful ways for me to improve the physical and spiritual health of people of African descent,” Terry says. This time around Terry was inspired by African-American artist Romare Bearden, whose collage work incorporates print, magazine clippings, old paper and fabric to reflect the black American experience. What Bearden did with visual art, Terry aims to do with fresh ingredients and comforting African, Caribbean and Southern flavors. And like with all of Terry’s books, his menus come with suggested soundtracks and autobiographical and political notes. It’s hard to read a Bryant Terry cookbook and not want to get immediately eating, cooking, reading and partying—all at once.
Colorlines asked this prolific author to share the books that shaped him and his understanding of his place in the world. He spills the beans, as it were, about the books which influenced his worldview and writing style, and the books that give him continual inspiration and wisdom.
Here’s what Terry had to say, in his own words:
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley
I read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” when I was a freshman in high school. I was attending a predominantly white private school, so I was like Michael Evans from “Good Times” after I read this book. It really shaped my racial and political consciousness, and made me much more aware of the impact of structural racism as well as the racist micro-aggressions that I dealt with on a daily basis. I try to reread it every few years.
“The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
This was my introduction to Toni Morrison’s work. I read it as a freshman in college—I couldn’t talk for a day after reading that book. It was disturbing and depressing, and it helped me further understand the impact of white supremacy on black minds, bodies and spirits. In my opinion Toni Morrison is the most important American writer of the 20th century.
“The Taste of Country Cooking” by Edna Lewis
This book by the black Southern cooking legend Edna Lewis was a major influence. Similar to all my books, her mission was to help people connect with the flavors of real food that she enjoyed growing up in the South.
After taking New York City by storm with her approach to Southern cuisine at Cafe Nicholson in the late 1940s and ’50s, she wrote several cookbooks that focused on seasonality and freshness. This book had a major impact on my style of recipe writing—her book reads like a memoir infused with recipes and it inspired me to draw heavily on history and memory in my own cookbook writing.
“The Art of Worldly Wisdom” by Baltasar Gracian
I discovered this book when I was in college. I was living in New Orleans and got stuck in the city the day after finals. It rained two days straight and my car was flooded. I walked to the bookstore near my apartment and the book literally fell in front of me while I was browsing. I try to revisit it every year and I have given it as a gift to over a dozen people.
“Race Rebels” by Robin D.G. Kelley
Reading UCLA history professor Robin D.G. Kelley’s “Race Rebels” as an undergraduate made me want to study history with him—I read the book after hearing him speak and then applied and got into NYU’s Ph.D. program in history. That book helped me understand the political nature of seemingly apolitical acts like growing one’s own food, cooking meals from scratch at home, and building community around the table. I would argue that those things are crucial acts of rebellion and resistance in a runaway food system controlled by a handful of corporations.
“Super Natural Cooking” by Heidi Swanson
This was one of those cookbooks that changed the game for me. I remember seeing it on display at a bookstore and speeding across the room to grab it because the cover was so striking. I love Heidi’s focus on whole, unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods. What really brings her recipes to life though are the gorgeous photography and the simple, clean, modern design of her books. Heidi has been one of my biggest cheerleaders since the publication of my second book, “Vegan Soul Kitchen.” Without her, there would be no “Afro-Vegan.”
For more information on “Afro-Vegan,” and to order your own copy head to bryant-terry.com.