'Black Food': Bryant Terry's new project is a jubilant anthology not easily defined
Bryant Terry, born in Memphis, has built a career as vegan chef, cookbook author, activist and educator. Now he is making books with others. This year Ten Speed Press launched a 4 Color Books, a new imprint with Terry as its editor-in-chief. Terry’s first project is “Black Food: Stories, Art & Recipes from Across the African Diaspora,” a bright, jubilant anthology of Black voices who explore food, including recipes but also odes to the joys and complexity of cuisine, in a book that defies easy definitions. Terry spoke to The American South about how he created “Black Food” and his future plans for 4 Color Books.
The American South: “Black Food” has recipes, but it's not merely a cookbook. There are essays, personal memories, poetry, prayers and art. How do you describe this work?
Bryant Terry: It is an immersive Black experience. I wanted this to be about us having a conversation with each other without concern for the white gaze, without concern for the need to translate ourselves for others. We're inviting the world to listen to this conversation, but it is really us celebrating us.
TAS: Food activism has always been central to your career. How does “Black Food” further that work?
BT: 2020 was a pivotal year, following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the uprisings and then the reckoning. When I was younger, I had these limited ways of understanding activism. It meant either grassroots activism or confrontational protests, which I think are both essential to movement building. But I'm nearing 50. I have a family. I'm just not trying to be in the streets like that. But I always encourage people to consider how we can all see ourselves as activists and give back in a way that makes the most sense. In 2020, I had to ask myself those questions. It led to this anthology that brought together these voices to explore our beautiful, complicated and amazing history.
TAS: The role of African Americans in creating Southern food has long been recognized. Today more people are acknowledging the roots of Southern cuisine in the food of Africa. How do you see that connection?
BT: I don't even know how you can have a conversation about Southern cooking and Black American cooking without understanding that at its core it is a diasporic cuisine. It's one of the original global fusion cuisines. The flavor profiles, the ingredients and the cooking techniques traveled from West and Central Africa, melded with indigenous flavors and cooking techniques, and then interacted with European cuisine.
TAS: “Black Food” is the first book in your new imprint, 4 Color Books. How does it lay the foundation for your future projects?
BT: I was clear that we needed to have not just a book that spoke to Black people but also a team making the book that was mostly Black. It's important for 4 Color to do all we can to promote Black talent. We're amassing a database of Black art directors, photographers, food stylists and prop stylists. There will no longer be the excuse, which I've heard too often, "Well, we looked for someone, but we couldn't find them." With this imprint, bookmaking is simply one part of it. 4 Color will be a model of how publishing companies can do things differently. It put teeth behind diversifying the industry and supporting more BIPOC talent across the board.
Note: The interview was edited for length and clarity.
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