Bryant Terry: Chef and Food Activist

Jihae Oh CMC ’24
Staff Writer

On Feb. 10, Scripps Presents hosted chef and activist Bryant Terry for the Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative lecture. Terry cooked a Tanzanian tofu curry recipe from his book, “Afro-Vegan,” while discussing his path to a plant-based diet, the intersectionality of structural oppression, and what food activists call food apartheid. To begin the recipe, he preheated the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Terry began by explaining what he hopes to achieve through his work. “I work to help transform our food system,” he said. “To fix our broken food system. To ensure that we have a food system that’s healthy, that’s equitable, and that ensures that everyone has the human right to healthy, fresh, affordable, and culturally appropriate food.”

Terry pushed us to consider that when we think about the criteria for a healthy diet, we think about the eating practices of our ancestors, or as he put it, “what sustained our mothers, and their mothers, and their mothers.”

The moment that drove Terry to become a food justice activist came from a Black hip-hop group called Boogie Down Productions. This group came out with the song “Beef,” and it turned Terry’s world upside down. In the song, rapper KRS-One raps about the graphic process cows go through before landing on our plates and criticizes the FDA for the public’s addiction to meat. Terry then performed the beginning verse of the song, leading me to immediately open my Spotify.

If you are like me, then you might have a clear image of a person that identifies with veganism: white upper-middle class suburbanites or white hipsters living in gentrified urban areas. “This smacks in the face of my lived experience,” said Terry in response to this stereotype. In fact, Terry adopted the plant-based lifestyle through the Black community.

“My first contact with the idea of eating a vegetarian or vegan diet came from Black people in our community who are seventh-day advenists, and then learning about the nation of Islam and mount of the honorable Elijah Muhammad’s health ministry and his two volume collection How to Eat to Live, and then learning about the Ital diet that Rastafarians have that’s devoid of any animal products and chemicals,” said Terry.

There are structures in place that prevent marginalized communities from having access to healthy food, but I was surprised when Terry noted that Black people in the United States are the fastest growing population of vegans.

In order to address food inequality and injustice, Terry reminded us that it is necessary to consider all the other forms of oppression in which food is intertwined. “The same communities that don’t have a lot of healthy fresh food are the same ones that have crumbling infrastructure, that have horribly funded segregated public schools, that are suffering from environmental racism with these industries in the communities adjacent to them poisoning the air and the water and the soil,” said Terry.

Now back to the recipe. “If you can boil a pot of water, you can make this dish,” said Terry. He used this recipe to convince vegan haters that plant-based meals are both easy and tasty. Even though the event was held on Zoom, the depth and richness of this dish shone through.

Below are the instructions so you can try Terry’s Tanzanian tofu curry.

14-16 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 cup white onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
6 pods cardamom, toasted, then seeds removed and ground
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes with juices
1 heaping tablespoon chunky peanut butter (or any nut butter)
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
3 cups vegetable stock, homemade or store-bought
12 ounces leafy greens (Terry used swiss chard), stemmed and cut into bite-size pieces
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut 1 block extra-firm tofu into 1/2-inch cubes. Drizzle cubes with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and toss until evenly coated.
Transfer tofu onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, then roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Turn tofu after 15 minutes (this creates a crispy texture on the outside and creamy texture on the inside), and bake until firm.
Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
Lightly sauté mustard seeds in the oil until they start to pop.
Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook on medium-low until translucent (5 to 7 minutes).
Create a spice blend using the minced garlic, fresh ginger, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, chili powder, black pepper, garlic powder, and dash of ground ginger.
Add spice blend to pan and slightly increase heat, cooking until fragrant (for about 2 minutes).
Add a can of tomatoes, large spoonful of peanut butter (or any nut butter), and jalapeno. Mix well and add a dash of salt.
Let simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Add 6 cups of vegetable stock.
Add the leafy greens, in this case, swiss chard, and bay leaves.
Add tofu back into the pan, gently stir for 10 minutes, garnish with cilantro and enjoy!

Image Source: New York Times