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Soul Food That's Vegan and Healthy? A Cooking Remix Made in Heaven

From the author of Vegan Soul Kitchen, this cookbook charts a new course for southern, African American, and Caribbean cuisine.
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Bryant Terry's sweet potato and lima bean tagine. Reprinted with permission from Afro-Vegan by Bryant Terry (c) 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photography (c) 2014 by Paige Green.

Bryant Terry's new cookbook, Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed, highlights the sensual pleasure of food, but doesn't stop there. Woven between vibrant images and innovative vegan recipes are essays on food nutrition and politics.

The book contains an introduction by food historian Jessica B. Harris and commentary from food activist Michael W. Twitty, as well as Terry's own musings, all of which remind us that cooking is a social, a cultural, and a political act. As Andrea King Collier wrote in an article for Civil Eats:

Terry doesn't shy away from addressing health disparities, lack of access to fresh and healthy foods, and the importance of going back to the kitchen.

Terry’s work has long pushed the boundaries of Southern and African American food, which is often assumed to be fatty, fried, and full of sugar. But recipes that are full of fruits and vegetables—like okra, watermelon salad, and collard greens—prove those stereotypes wrong. In this book, Terry also extends far beyond American Soul Food by including grains, spices, and herbs from Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil, and Cuba.

Terry also delved into the ways in which the foods of Africa and the Caribbean have traveled to the Americas and remained deeply woven into the traditions of Blacks in this country. Telling that part of the story was complicated, he says. "I didn’t want to reduce it to the triangle of slave trade, and I wasn’t just looking at the way that food traveled."

This is more than soul food. It's a remix made in heaven.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this book is the way it works to overwrite the powerful culinary stereotype that Collier describes: the notion that soul food and African American cuisine is defined by fatty, sugary, and fried foods. Afro-Vegan builds on rich culinary traditions to create mouthwatering, garden-fresh dishes like summer veggie kebabs with pomegranate-peach sauce, creamy coconut-cashew soup with okra, or cinnamon-soaked wheat berry salad.

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Nevertheless, there's a daunting gap between southern classics like fried chicken and vegan staples like quinoa salad. To bridge this divide, Terry is steering soul food in a new direction. Reinventing a traditional collard greens recipe, he replaces the ham hocks with garlic, blood orange, and raisins. Combined with a tagine nouveau—minus the lamb and packed with sweet potatoes and lima beans—this is more than soul food. It's a remix made in heaven.

Francis Moore Lappé has written that "Every aspect of our lives is, in a sense, a vote for the kind of world we want to live in." With Terry's recipes, eating vegan is more than a political act, more than a vote. It's enticing.


Molly Rusk wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Molly is a recent graduate of the program in Creative Writing at the University of Washington and an online reporting intern at YES!

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