Freestyle Cookery

Freestyle Cookery

Bryant Terry’s cookbook includes a manifesto for food justice, recipes, and music playlists

It was a notable moment when Bryant Terry—co-author of the just-published Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen—flew in from New York City and met his future girlfriend in the Edible Schoolyard at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Middle School.
“ She said she knew she was in love with me when she saw me eating salad with my fingers,” says Terry about Bethanie Hines, a teacher at MLK who promptly invited him to one of her cooking classes that summer in 2003.

Terry, an award-winning chef and food justice activist who moved to the East Bay this year, had come out west that July to learn more about how local teachers educate young people here about healthy eating. This January he moved to Oakland permanently to live with Hines, but it was in New York that he befriended Anna Lappé—coauthor of Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet, and forged a vision for a new kind of book about food.

“ We didn’t want to have a book that just laid out the problems,” says Terry. “Books like Fast Food Nation and films like Super Size Me brilliantly raised the public’s consciousness of the impact of this failed dietary experiment. Anna and I wanted to give people practical tools for creating change in their personal lives and in their communities.”

They wanted to create an entire experience with Grub “that would appeal to people of our generation” and move them to help create a “more just and sustainable food system.”

While others before them have trumpeted the wisdom of eating local foods, Terry and Lappé have tapped into concerns about the politics and economics of sustainable eating.

The first page of the book defines grub as food “produced with fairness from seed to table . . . grub should be universal . . . and delicious.” Brooklyn-based Lappé wrote the first part of Grub, a practical primer explaining the social impact of our food choices. Terry, in the second half of the book, incorporated these ideas into dinner party menus.

Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Terry credits his grandparents with teaching him to grow, cook, and appreciate good food at an early age. He often quotes “Ma’Dear,” his maternal grandmother, who hummed gospel songs as she cooked.

In 2002, Terry graduated from the Chef’s Training Program at the Natural Gourmet Cookery School in New York City. He also holds an M.A. in American History from New York University and a B.A. in English from Xavier University of Louisiana.

A year before graduation, Terry had founded b-healthy!—Build Healthy Eating and Lifestyles to Help Youth—in New York and was awarded an Open Society Institute Community Fellowship (Soros Foundation) to support his work in the food justice movement.
“ Bryant has spent years helping inner-city kids make the connection between a poor diet and poor health,” Eric Schlosser, author of the bestselling Fast Food Nation, writes in Grub’s foreword. “Anna has been challenging the logic of industrialized agriculture since practically the day she was born.”
Helping folks learn to cook is one challenge. But Terry and Lappé have added another: getting the best-quality food into everybody’s hands, no matter the income level.

And Terry might just be one of the best men for this mission, says Moses Ceaser, founder of Frugal Foodies in Berkeley. Ceaser hosts weekly meals for groups of ten diners, setting the menus and doing all the shopping. Guests cook, eat, and talk about the challenges of eating well on a budget.

Ceaser first corresponded with Terry online, exchanging recipes. His favorites in Grub? The Spicy Barbecued Tofu Triangles, Rosemary-Chile Mashed Potatoes, and Citrus Collards with Raisins. He first met the Grub authors in person during their book reading at Diesel Books this spring. “It was one of the most engaging talks that I’ve heard in a long time,” Ceaser says. “Bryant is an excellent speaker about [eating organic on a budget], tying together things that he learned from his grandmother about nutrition and health to the things he’s learned from young people in New York City.”

Grub lays out in clear terms the costs of organic versus commercial food, and the real facts may surprise you.

“ It’s not about doing an item-by-item comparison,” says Terry. “We want you to think about the big picture.”

In the book Terry compares food bought “from a large mainstream supermarket” with “food bought at a local food cooperative” or food-buying club. If you look at the entire daily menu of a supermarket eater—who has a turkey sandwich, bag of chips, and soda for lunch—versus a co-op eater—who has a hummus and avocado sandwich with an organic apple and water—the price of the latter is half the amount.

The closest thing to a food co-op locally, Terry says, is the People’s Grocery in West Oakland. As a store, the People’s Grocery buys its food wholesale as well as growing produce in community gardens, and then sells just above cost. In neighborhoods like West Oakland where, as the Grocery’s Web site notes, the leading cause of death is heart disease, providing affordable and healthy food is a powerfully positive endeavor.

“ This store is bringing the cost of good food down for the community that needs it most,” Terry says. The People’s Grocery also runs a Mobile Market van that cruises West Oakland three times a week selling fresh organic food.

Here’s where Terry’s passion lies, and where he spends the bulk of his working hours of late. “We have seen amazing examples of people living in low-income communities,” he says excitedly, who have “combined food justice with economic development, youth activism, and community beautification. So in one fell swoop, communities are infused with healthier food, jobs, leadership from the bottom up, and a more beautiful environment.”

Moreover, Terry says, “most people don’t realize that there are many hidden costs to buying conventional food: Our bodies are paying the cost for the toxic pesticides that blanket the United States, which results in higher health care premiums.”
And this, Terry says, is the gist of Grub: getting people to think about not only healthy eating, but about other important issues, “such as your personal and environmental health.”
When Terry and Lappé set out to write Grub, they didn’t want to write just another cookbook, and they haven’t. It may be the world’s first with poetry and playlists for each meal. Terry’s “Straight-Edge Punk Brunch Buffet,” with its spicy tempeh sausage patties and tangerine mimosas, also recommends five “must-have” punk albums.

“ We want people to have fun,” Terry says. “I move through the world as an artist and an activist, and I approached Grub with both of those identities.” Hip-hop runs through his veins, Terry says; his dad bought him Run-D.M.C.’s first album when he was ten years old. As a freelance writer and photographer in the late ’90s, he has interviewed and photographed many hip-hop luminaries.

“ Although I am not working directly in the hip-hop industry anymore, I freestyle every single day. I DJ as a hobby, and stay current with cutting-edge hip-hop culture,” he says. “Grub is a product of being a part of the hip-hop generation.”

Terry and Lappé hope to spark a movement for young people, with the universal right to healthy food at the center. They’ve hosted “grub parties” across the country: “intimate, spirited dinners inspired by our love of good food, good conversation, and good wine and music to go along with it,” Terry says. Oakland writer Mike Molina, who like Terry has lived in New Orleans, contributed a poem to the “Getcha Grub On” menus in the second half of the book, where artwork and poetry run alongside recipes.

Molina was at both East Bay grub parties this spring and led the blessing, just before the sun went down, at the first meal in the backyard of a West Berkeley bungalow.
So far the book has been well received. The San Francisco Chronicle gushed about Terry’s Cuban vegetarian meal with yucca chowder, watercress and grilled-pineapple salad, picadillo-stuffed chayote, and tropical corn dumplings.
Molina says that Terry’s delicious recipes and creative approach attract people who might otherwise never break bread together, such as published authors and founders of local nonprofits. When you cook and eat together, Molina says, everyone is on the same footing.
“ Our diets should be spontaneous, flexible, and creative,” Terry writes in Grub. “We want people to be fired up. As cheesy as this sounds, people are hungry for this information.”
Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, by Anna Lappé and Bryant Terry (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2006). For information about Grub events this month, visit
Rachel Sarah’s first book, Single Mom Seeking: Play Dates, Blind Dates and Other Dispatches from the Dating World, will be out in November (Avalon/Seal Press). Contact her at:

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=FOOD WARRIOR | While researching his latest book, about the industrialization of food in the U.S., Michael Pollan hunted a wild boar and barbecued it. “We have three food votes a day,” he writes. “If you cast one of them in a thoughtful manner, you’ll be making a tremendous contribution because that is how alternative food chains are built.” By Paul Kilduff

=FULL MOON RISING | A modern-day forager, Jessica Prentice hunts for food from local producers and tries to eat seasonally. Prentice shares her knowledge with guests at feasts, sometimes serving only food found within a 100-mile radius. The most difficult things to find? Pastured chicken, good salt, and pepper. By Angela Hunnicutt

Faces of the East Bay