BLOGHER FOOD 2012 Conference


Keynote Panel Discussion: The Intersection of Great Food, Good Health, and Social Justice

BlogHer Food LIVE BLOG | June 8, 2012


Elisa: The topics of great food, good health and social justices all stand on their own and intersect. Tell us about your path and how you came to the place you are today, where this is what you’re know for.

Terry: I always ate “healthy food.” When I was in college my dad had a heart attack. My mother told me get my cholesterol checked. The clinic looked at me and said I’m in the non risk category and sent me home. My mom sent me back and I learned I had very high cholesterol. At 19 I had no interest in being on drugs my whole life. I tried brown rice and kale and hated it. I knew I had to find a way to make it work for me. The penuchle was when I had children. They weren’t so healthy when they were born. Food became a tool to nourish and heal my children. All of the sudden it started attracting people to me. People wanted to know what I was eating and feeding my family. I started teaching classes. My work today is about education and empowering others to make healthy choices. I write about foods we all need more of. It’s not a diet, it’s about fitting these foods in our lifestyle. It’s insurmountable to ask people to slow down. Our job is to keep up and take care of ourselves in a way the nourishes us.

Bryant: A lot of people know me as a cookbook author, but I started as a grassroots activist. During grad school I was drawn to programs that focused on feeding people. The program that moved me the most was a free breakfast program for young people. For me, this was the most revolutionary act- feeding people. In grad school I worked on a number of social justice issues but a lot of the issues were remised if they didn’t address feeding people. Many of the communities with issues had few options for healthy, affordable, appropriate food. I decided to start a project to engage young people to work to create a more healthy, just, sustainable food system. What’s a more powerful way to get young people engaged in these issues than to empower them to cook? So I went to cooking school. I went in with the purpose of starting this not for profit to empower food justice leaders. Now it’s a part of our everyday vernacular. It wasn’t this big back then. I talked about my idea on the first day of cooking school and was laughed at. When I started the program, young people would tell me I don’t drink water and I don’t eat vegetables. We wanted to raise their food IQ. We wanted to prepare them to go to supermarkets and food co-ops and select produce and to go into the kitchen to prepare meals for family and friends. We found the more that they prepared and tried diverse food the more it opened their palates. At the time there were so many organizations focused on urban agriculture, but I noticed young people didn’t know what to do with the produce. We found cooking to be the missing component to the movement. We found that our friends who were educated and had the disposable income, didn’t know about the complex issues around farming, agriculture, global economy and the environment. I wanted to write a book that was hip and interesting and discussed issues around agriculture aimed towards people in their 20s and 30s. We included recipes to encourage people to think about the issues and move into action. So many of the ways that people approach making changes, especially with marginalized communities, start with heavy politics. That just doesn’t work. When I became a vegan and started to harangue people, I was ignored. I found cooking to be a nice way to engage people and encourage change. It started with delicious food. I don’t care how ethical and sustainable food is, if it tastes bad, I don’t want it.

Elisa: From our research this morning we’ve seen that food bloggers are influential people. There are fruits and vegetables I never tried until I met you here. I eat healthier and am more open-minded than I was before because of this whole media. Tell us about great food, and the experience you create with music and reading. What inspired you to take food to that level of artistry?

Bryant: We don’t eat in a vacuum. I want to mirror the way that we eat at the table. It’s about building community, connection with family and friends in ways that we can’t with technology. My mentor Alice Waters uses details in her books that take you into her world. The addition of music to my recipes do that for me. I feel strongly about writing recipes and including a soundtrack that goes well and serves a story with the food. The diversity and breath of food African Americans eat is important to me. I see how food carries a story and I want to communicate that.

Elisa: Terry your recipes are beautiful. The colors blend together beautifully. How do you start to put things together? What’s your inspiration?

Terry: I like what Bryant said about the story. For me it’s the pursuit of the food. It’s talking to the farmers, asking what they had to ate last night. I gain insight into their lives and backgrounds. The food is one piece of the nourishment. It needs to nourish all our senses. That’s one of our problems with food. We’re eating empty foods and are never satiated. Food needs to nourish all the senses and bring us all together. Food is very powerful. Food can separate us too. I’m a believer that if you’ve had something that you don’t like, then you’ve probably had it not made well. Something made in balance brings out the deliciousness of food and really nourishes us.

Bryant: Terry I want to ask you a question. I find it extremely challenging to get any work done now that I’m a father. How do you balance family life with producing? How do you engage in a book project with the responsibility of raising a family.

Terry: Sometimes there’s no balance at all and that’s a choice. You’re pulled in both directions. Projects are a way to connect me to a community and nourish myself. Looking back there are things that affected my children as well. Taking them to the dump and the farm each week helped them understand that everything comes from some place and goes some place. This influenced a lot of choices they make. Sometimes there’s just no difference between work and family and sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it’s not. In my house we decided there would be no such thing as should and shouldn’t, just choices. We created dialogue with no judgements where everything is safe for discussion. That put food into a healthy perspective. My work became something that my children could look at and see Mommy make a career out of what’s in her heart. That’s the greatest gift of what I do, empowering my children. I bring my children with me to the farm to see the work that I do. They don’t have a stay at home mom but they have a phenomenal childhood.

Question: I just watched a four part series called Weight of the Nation. They talked a lot about social justice and food. Did you see that series? Do you have comments?

Terry: What we’re doing here is of ultimate importance. An organic farm at the White House is nice but not creating change. What is creating change is knowledge being spread. It creates empowered consumers that create the demand to make the changes to support sustainable food systems. I didn’t see the series, but I love that it creates dialogue.

Question: I’ve been lucky enough to go into my son’s classrooms to talk about food. I want to get into the school district to work with the kids. Do you have suggestions to do that?

Bryant: One of the first things my organization tried to do was interventions in the schools. We found so much bureaucracy in the schools that I vowed not to get into it.

Terry: That’s why I teach adults. Most schools don’t even have functioning kitchens. Every school system is configured differently. Sometimes you can go to the board, sometimes you can go to the PTO, sometimes the individual teachers. There’s tremendous opportunity, especially if you’re willing to do the work. Sometimes after school activities are an easy way in. Yes you’re preaching to the choir because you get the students whose parents encourage them to sign up. The most important thing is to find out how your system works and make sure they know who you are.

Elisa: Diana has done some of this.

Diana: We talked about this with the Hunger in America Panel. Four and a half years ago I approached the school district to talk about nutrition. I found a local farm that was passionate about nutrition education. They decided to donate produce and bring people in to teach. Collaborate, you might find some great connections.

Terry: Collaborations go both ways. If parents are going to the farms to purchase food, the farm doesn’t have to send out as many employees to the farmers market.

Question: I started my blog in response to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. I find that many of the neighborhoods lacking access to nutritious food are comprised primarily of people of color. Can I be relevant to a community with people of color if I’m not a person of color?

Bryant: The issue is complex. It varies greatly, such as people in rural versus urban areas. There’s complicated race and class issues. There’s issues with someone from an affluent background going into a community they have no connection with. I’ve had this issue. I don’t necessarily relate to some of the young people I work with who don’t know where there next meal is coming from. Partnering with the community is a great way to be relevant. Policing people creates barriers. It’s important that the projects that change the community are owned and driven by the community. Have someone in the community become the project director. Were talking about giving people the ability to be self generated and work with stake holders with issues that are relevant to them. We need to stop only thinking in terms of not for profits. We need to think about revenue generating projects that are creating jobs. Only 13% of people working in the food working community make a livable wage.

Elisa: I like Charity Water because one of the key parts of their project is training the community to maintain and create wells. That has to be the ultimate goal.

Comment: I’m the founder of California Food Literacy Center. There’s increased funding for Farm to School programs. We have a curriculum we’re willing to share. If you’re interested in doing something in the schools, find out who’s already there, even if it’s not necessarily a nutrition program.

Question: Are there social justice pacts out there that we can support financially?

Elisa: How does it become a policy conversation?

Terry: Most of the policy conversation is happening on a state level. I wish I had a really good answer for you. I would go to the farmers market and talk to the board and the founders. Slow Food is based in a variety of communities they might have some insight. is another place that might have insight.

Elisa: Why do you think there is a media hype around this but it’s not really followed through with on a fundamental level?

Bryant: I had a disagreement with my publisher over the term vegan in my book because I know how the term triggers people. There’s a zeal that can cause people to be a little self righteous. I’m trying to cast a wide net. People see the word vegan and think it’s not for them.

Elisa: Why did they insist?

Bryant: There’s a growing market of vegan consumers. I think it’s exciting that more people are looking to eat plant based food. I don’t personally believe a vegan diet is best for everyone. I don’t think any one diet is the best. We need to have a complex approach to diet. Given the health crisis that we are dealing with, I do think plant based diets are a powerful tool for healing us. In general people need more vegetables. A big hunk of meat shouldn’t be the center of your plate. A lot of my work is about normalizing and destigmatizing plant based foods.

Terry: It’s a bottom-line issue. That’s where changes have come from. It’s food that serves the bottom line. I think vegan, paleo and gluten free are trends. I think these diets are like trying on a dress. The danger is saying this is the only dress that will fit me and that’s not true. I try not to put anything out there that says this food is a diet. Everyone needs more help bringing in the foods we all need more of. There was a fight with my publisher because the growing market is vegan and that’s where they want to put me, but I won the fight. I told them you can sell my book however you want but you can’t put a label on me. Labels don’t help us. There’s no way a label can listen to your body more than we can listen to our bodies. We have different needs and abilities.

Question: Both of you seem to come at this with an approach of “choices”. How do you feel about the approach of taxing certain “unhealthy foods”? What doesn’t government get about instituting change? What do you think about Bloomberg prohibiting certain soda sizes?

Terry: I loved that he put it out there. Not because I wanted it to get passed but because so many people were talking about it. What people are actually eating is completely different from what they say they value. Someone told me this was the first sign of the government getting in the way of what I want to eat. But the government has always been involved.

Bryant: It shows us the illusion of choice we have with food. We see this in ads. Food and beverage industry targets young people. How much information are people getting about whole foods? Our goal is for young people to have all the information. Then make the informed decision.


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