Bryant Terry’s The Inspired Vegan is aptly named; it’s truly, well, inspiring. Terry, who dubs himself an “eco-chef,” is more than just a cookbook author, and this is more than just a cookbook. It is a delicious spark of revolution and call to action, and filled with many delectable recipes, along with the music, literature, and art that inspired his menus. It is an ode to movements and people that fight for justice, set to an infectious soundtrack.
Terry has been a food justice activist for over ten years. His commitment to seasonal, homegrown produce is as strong as his determination to bring healthy food options to food deserts and communities of color. His last book, Vegan Soul Kitchen, defied stereotypes of what “traditional” African-American cuisine means. To Terry, some traditional foods have been vilified or turned into something people think of as unhealthy. He wants to change that.
Like Vegan Soul Kitchen, The Inspired Vegan is chocked full of delicious vegetable dishes, yummy drink concoctions, and perfectly spiced sauces. The recipes are also accompanied by helpful tidbits about the ingredients. (For instance, Terry talks about how during his wife’s pregnancy, beets played a major role in helping with her iron deficiency.)
Though this certainly is a cookbook, Terry is incredibly creative, and the book reads like a work of political art. He interweaves thoughts on institutional racism, social movements, and pioneers in the good fight to make this a powerful read. These sections on activist histories are seamlessly incorporated, spliced between recipes and cooking tips. While he has a great section on cooking “basics” that includes recipes for different sauces, simple vegetable preparations and hints on what spices to use for what; the soul of the book really comes through in Terry’s menus. These are whole meals, complete with a main course, drinks, side dishes, and desserts. They come complete with an illustration, book recommendations, and some musical accompaniment. They also come within a context, usually related to a social justice movement. (One of his menus, called “Detroit Harvest,” is inspired by the urban farm movement that blankets vacant lots all over the city with fresh food. He dedicates this menu to Detroit social justice activists Grace Lee Boggs and her late husband, James Boggs.)
Though I am in love with the book’s theme (intersecting social movements is what ecofeminism is about, after all!), the most delicious part is, of course, the recipes. From his menu “South Asian Supper” (which begins with an illustration and a quote from activist/writer Arundhati Roy—can I love this book anymore?), Terry gifts us with his recipes for masala chai, aromatic asparagus, and sweet potato curry with cilantro, saag tofu, yellow basmati rice and cardamom-saffron sweet lassi with candied cashews.
Before any more drool lands onto your keyboard, I suggest looking this one up. This cookbook, while mouthwatering, manages to also inform and ignite. As Terry says in his introduction: “If I did my job well, The Inspired Vegan will move seamlessly from your kitchen countertop to your coffee table to your nightstand. You will be equally informed about black and brown kids starving in the hood, animals being brutalized in factory farms, and tomato pickers being exploited in Florida. But most importantly, you’ll be cooking.”
Stay tuned for part two, my interview with Bryant Terry, coming soon!