Bryant Terry, food-justice activist, answers questions
What work do you do?
I’ve committed myself to feeding people; illuminating the connections between poverty, malnutrition, and institutional racism; and working to create a more just and sustainable food system for everyone.
In 2001, I founded b-healthy (Build Healthy Eating and Lifestyles to Help Youth), a New York City-based food-justice organization made up of adult and youth social-justice activists, chefs, and mothers. Most recently, I initiated the Eat Grub project with Anna Lappé.
How does your work relate to the environment?
How we produce our food and what we eat has an immense impact on the environmental health of our planet. Ask anyone who lives within a two-mile radius of a factory farm. They’ll smell — I mean tell — you a lot about this relationship.
What are you working on at the moment?
After writing a book — Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen — that hit shelves in April, Anna and I started “grub parties” and created an online educational space. We also began a Grub Tour, traveling the country speaking about the food-justice movement at bookstores, farmers’ markets, food co-ops, churches, clubs, cafés, and universities. I’m planning and fundraising for an offshoot of our Grub Tour that will specifically target people of color.
I’m also constantly coming up with recipe ideas and testing them for future book projects.
How do you get to work?
I walk (from the bedroom to the kitchen in my apartment).
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
I started learning about food systems and sustainable agriculture in my grandparents’ backyard gardens in Memphis, Tenn., when I was just knee-high to a June bug. When I was getting my master’s in history at New York University, I learned about the “Free Breakfast for Children” program started in 1968 by the Black Panthers. Within one year, the program spread across the country, and they were feeding over 10,000 African-American youth each morning. Other groups working to create social change (e.g., Brown Berets and Young Lords) replicated this model.
When I finished graduate school, I started working for an organization that gave training and technical assistance to youth development organizations throughout New York City. I was troubled that most of these organizations did not have programs addressing food-justice issues, given that many of the youth were in some way affected by lack of access to grub.
Inspired by the free-breakfast program, I decided to go to the Natural Gourmet Cookery School. I founded b-healthy to raise awareness about the need to improve individual and community health as part of building broader social movements.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Memphis, Tenn. I moved to Oakland, Calif., in January 2006 after living in Brooklyn, N.Y., for eight years. Before that, I lived in New Orleans.
What has been the worst moment in your professional life to date?
Getting booed off stage by about 100 high-school students for describing some of McDonald’s unsavory practices. That’s when I realized how powerful advertising and “fake food” can be.
What’s been the best?
Handing my parents a copy of Grub.
What environmental offense has infuriated you the most?
The U.S. government’s refusal to label GMOs [genetically modified organisms]. Most people don’t realize that up to 70 percent of processed foods in the U.S. market contain products of genetic engineering.
Who is your environmental hero?
The Green Worker Cooperatives in the South Bronx, N.Y.
What’s your environmental vice?
I don’t compost at my new home yet.
Read any good books lately?
What’s your favorite meal?
In the summer, it’s grilled corn and heirloom tomato salad with fresh purple basil.
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
I hug trees.
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
Who was your favorite musical artist when you were 18? How about now?
What’s your favorite movie?
Which actor would play you in the story of your life?
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Do their unique part as community members, consumers, and citizens to help create a more just and sustainable food system. Every positive action we make with our voices, votes, and our dollars makes a significant impact. And I must say that reading Grub is a great place to start.