Miles wrote this article with Peter D’Auria. Originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of YES! Magazine, and online at http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/together-with-earth/rad-vegan-chefs-share-their-inspiration-and-their-recipes
Bryant Terry: Fighting oppression from the kitchen
Bryant Terry’s first forays into cooking were, ironically, driven by selfishness. “I was such a greedy child,” he says. “I didn’t really want to wait for people to cook me food.” And he was picky: “If my parents made certain things and I didn’t like it, I wanted to make it the way that I liked.”
But cooking has since become an altruistic act. In high school, after hearing “Beef,” the anti-meat hip-hop anthem by KRS-One, Terry became a vegan. While at New York University, Terry’s experiences in the city’s working-class boroughs showed him that food availability was tied to other forms of oppression. “I started making those connections,” he says, “being on the subway in the morning and seeing kids drinking soda and eating red-hot chips and knowing that that was their breakfast.”
Since then, Terry’s work—which has included founding a youth outreach initiative, a web series, and the publication of several acclaimed cookbooks—has focused on making healthy, sustainable food more accessible. He explains that his favorite recipes provide both instructions for a meal and useful cooking skills. Ultimately, he says, Terry hopes to help his readers “get spontaneity and creativity back into the kitchen.”
Haile Thomas: Creating healthy alternatives for kids (like her)
Haile Thomas is the founder and program director of the nonprofit Healthy Active Positive Purposeful Youth (HAPPY). She’s written for Edible Baja Arizona magazine and Today.com. She attended the 2013 State of the Union address as a guest of Michelle Obama. She just turned 14.
Thomas has always loved cooking, but the importance of diet hit home in 2008, when her father was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. As her family began to re-examine their eating habits, Thomas started experimenting in the kitchen, creating healthier—but still “crazy delicious”—versions of her favorite foods. “That’s kind of when I realized, whoa, this can actually taste good and be good for me, too.” Thomas’ passion for healthy cooking led to HAPPY, an organization dedicated to educating young people about nutrition and empowering them to take their health into their own hands.
“I think it’s really important for kids to see that there’s an alternative to the health standards that we have now,” Thomas says. “Just being able to reach kids and adults and share my ideas with people is probably the thing that I’m most proud of and grateful for.”
Kevin Archer: Raising awareness at the dinner table
Before Kevin Archer began his life as an issues-conscious New York chef, he spent 20 years building a successful IT career. But success stopped being enough. “I needed to get into something that was replenishing my own spirit,” Archer says. “So I went to school, got myself some good, solid information to build on and set out to change the world one plate at a time.”
Archer’s cooking revolves around his increasingly popular Peace Meal Supper Club—“a fine dining experience with a discussion salon.” Archer prepares a four-course meal in which each course relates to a theme: pollination, for example. “The first course focused on native squashes like butternut and pumpkin, and talked about the tie between the native plants of this region and native pollinators,” Archer says. “The second course focused on plants that require pollination, not so much for fruit production but for seed production.” His next theme: utopia.
Archer advocates veganism, sustainability, growing organic, and food workers’ rights. “Making peace with all the living beings on the planet—taking meat off the plate, and other animal products—has the biggest impact of any other choice.”