GSAS ’01 | MA in History
A Food Justice Visionary
By Dulcy Israel
Portrait by Peter Prato
Fresh, healthy, locally sourced food is a birthright for everyone, asserts chef, author, and activist Bryant Terry. As a kid growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, he shucked, seeded, and weeded in his paternal grandfather’s urban garden and prepped, pickled, and preserved in his maternal grandmother’s kitchen. Their agrarian roots and traditions “deeply shaped who I was as a child,” Terry says, laying the foundation for a career blending cooking with social justice. But the impetus for moving into food activism formally was his time at the Graduate School of Arts and Science, where he studied radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s. He was particularly interested in the Black Panthers’ grocery giveaway and free breakfast for children initiatives that addressed the intersection of poverty, malnutrition, and institutional racism.
After graduating from NYU, Terry started an educational program called b-healthy (Build Healthy Eating and Lifestyles to Help Youth). Funded by an Open Society Foundations fellowship, these classes taught New York City kids about cooking, but “as a mechanism to teach them more about the politics of food,” he says. At the same time, Terry, by then a vegan, enrolled in the chef training program at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts, which puts a heavy emphasis on plant-based food.
Since then, Terry has become a noted public speaker, cohosted the PBS show The Endless Feast, served as chef-in-residence at San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora, been named by Fast Company as one of the nine people changing the future of food, and penned six cookbooks, collecting a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award and an NAACP Image Award along the way. His latest book, Black Food, made multiple best-of lists and is the first release by 4 Color Books, Terry’s imprint with Penguin Random House’s Ten Speed Press for BIPOC chefs, writers, artists, activists, and innovators. This fall, he begins work on a Master of Fine Arts in art practice at the University of California, Berkeley.
Terry continues to advocate for everyday acts of resistance on the food front. “It means a lot to uproot your front yard and put a garden there, to buy fresh ingredients and make meals at home,” he says, and “to have gatherings where you bring family and friends over to share and enjoy the bounty of the season.”