Kwanzaa Principles Can Turn Our Nation's Food Problems Around

By: Michele Wolfson

Guess who observes Kwanzaa? The amazing chef, cookbook author, and food activist Bryant Terry! In a recent interview, Terry stated that he started celebrating Kwanzaa in college and continued to do so a few years after graduating. Although he has not celebrated the holiday in recent years, last week in preparation for a talk celebrating Kwanzaa at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, he has done a substantial amount of research on the holiday. Since then, it has become a frequent topic of discussion in his home. Terry and his wife have decided to make it a family tradition starting this December, because of their newborn daughter.

The holiday of Kwanzaa lasts for seven days from December 26th to January 1st. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to a principle. One of my favorite days is committed to "Kujichagulia", which means to define one's self, to speak for ourselves, and make choices that benefit the community. Under this principle, Terry has expressed himself by promoting his vegetarian and vegan cuisine, particularly to low-income black communities that have often falsely deemed plant-based food regimes as "white diets."

In reality, the roots of soul food are home-cooked meals that used fresh produce and were created out of love. Terry says, "Sadly, over the past four decades most of us have forgotten that what many African Americans in the South ate for dinner just two generations ago was diverse, creative, and was comprised of a lot of fresh, local, and homegrown nutrient-dense food." As a cookbook author, he is one of the pioneers who are bringing soul food back to its original healthier origins.

Bryant Terry recently came out with his new book called The Inspired Vegan, which brings soul food to a whole new realm of delicious. It also brings the cuisine that is stereotyped as being not-so-figure friendly back to it's true roots by creating healthy recipes that combine vegetables with hearty flavors and love. This book empowers its readers to cook at home and share meals with family and friends. While this may sound simple, his book is a revolutionary first step towards food justice.

"We can talk about local, seasonal, and sustainable for days, but if people don't feel connected to this type of food why would they fight for it? In my mind, building community around the table and strengthening the food justice movement must go hand in hand. When you consider that educating, strategizing, and organizing for many social movements throughout the 20th century happened in people's homes, it seems appropriate that the food revolution will find its spark in home kitchens," says Terry.

This country is facing an uphill battle when it comes to the fight against obesity and sustainable agriculture. We need more outspoken chefs like Bryant Terry and we also need more days in the year besides Dec 27th that embody Kujichagulia. If we practice Kujichagulia everyday, perhaps we can turn our nation's food problems around.

Photo: soulchristmas 

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