“So often when we talk about veganism, we don't imagine Black people,” says Bryant Terry, the James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, chef, and educator. But Bryant sees veganism as deeply rooted in Black communities and traditions. And, he points out, veganism is growing faster among Black Americans than among any other group. After publishing another popular vegan cookbook last year, Bryant just released a new book that he edited: Black Food, which includes recipes, playlists, art, poetry, and essays from more than 100 contributors. Bryant joins Dan to talk about the many influences that guided him towards veganism, what it took to get the wider publishing community to take his work seriously, and why Black Food will be his last book.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Back At It" by Bira
- "Gravity" by Hayley Briasco
- "Kenny" by Hayley Briasco
- "Stacks" by Erick Anderson
- "Summertime Delight" by Cullen Fitzpatrick
- "Mellophone" by JT Bates
- "Happy Jackson" by Ken Brahmstedt
Photo courtesy of Adrian Octavius Walker.
Dan Pashman: I saw that you did a Grub Street Diet.
Bryant Terry: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: For the blog, Grub Street. I always love reading people's Grub Street Diets.
Bryant Terry: What do you think about mine?
Dan Pashman: The thing that I zeroed in on, I think that you and I have something similar, Bryant. You said, "I've got a couple of big meals coming up, big dinners that I'm really excited for." So you're planning out days in advance, what you're eating and you're like, saving stomach space. You don't want to overeat at lunch when you've got a special dinner. These are the things that keep me awake at night.
Bryant Terry: It's true. And I'm fueling up throughout the day, so I'm having like, you know, smoothies and vegetable juices. So things that are nutrient dense that are going to make sure that, you know, I got — I can keep it moving.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Bryant Terry: But nothing that's going to —
Dan Pashman: Weigh you down.
Bryant Terry: Weigh me down. Exactly.
Dan Pashman: It's like you're training. You're in training for a meal?
Bryant Terry: I mean, that's a good way to look at it.
Dan Pashman: Hey, respect. I respect that.
Bryan: dun dun dun... [SINGS ROCKY THEME SONG]
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people.
Dan Pashman: Hey, quick note before we get into the show — last week’s episode was an update on Mission: ImPASTAble. Lots of big decisions and big news about the pasta shape I invented, including that our limited edition cascatelli holiday gift box is on sale now! It includes a recipe booklet, a very adorable dish towel, and 4 boxes of pasta. We only made a limited number to ensure that you’ll get them for the holidays, so order now at sfoglini.com. That’s S-F-O-G-L-I-N-I ,com. Ok, here we go...
Dan Pashman: My guest this week is Bryant Terry. He’s a James Beard Award winning cookbook author, chef, and educator. His books focus on vegan food generally, and Black vegan food in particular. He’s been a hugely influential voice in these areas for nearly two decades.
Dan Pashman: And now, he’s got a new title, as a publisher at one of the big publishing houses. That means he’ll be finding new cookbook authors, and getting their work published. So he’ll have even more of an influence on the food world in the years to come. We’ll get more into all of that later.
Dan Pashman: Growing up, Bryant was never far from a vegetable garden. He was born in Memphis, and often went to visit relatives who owned farms in Mississippi and Tennessee. He also spent a lot of time with his grandparents, who grew a lot of their own food in South Memphis, a neighborhood near downtown with a longstanding and vibrant working-class Black community.
Bryant Terry: My grandmother had practically a mini orchard in her backyard. Pear trees, peaches, nectarines, apples... She had a kitchen garden and it was respectable. I mean, you know, it was producing enough food for her to fill her larder before winter with all types of pickled pears, peaches, sauerkraut, all types of preserves. My paternal grandfather, every bit of available space in his backyard was being used to grow food. I mean, he had Muscatine grapes and walnut trees and he was raising chickens back there at some point. I remember at one point there was a hog back there, you know? All types of dark, leafy greens and corns. And so, it was just an ethos that they had. It wasn't even anything special. They didn't talk about it like, oh yeah, we're doing local, seasonal, sustainable food.
Dan Pashman: Right, right, right.
Bryant Terry: It was just — I'm hesitant to say, it was, like, the way that they survived. It was the way that they thrived. I didn't like weeding and harvesting and shelling, you know, peas and shucking corn. But I am very clear that he was aware of the benefit of me being out there with him. And my grandfather used to say this often, when you have to rely on other people to feed you, if they decide they don't want to, you’ll starve. And so everything that I've been trying to impart, teach people terms of health food and farming issues over the past two decades, these are the lessons I learned as a young person from my family.
Dan Pashman: Bryant also learned a lot about food from pop culture. In high school, he got into a socially conscious hip-hop group, Boogie Down Productions. In 1990, they released an album called Edutainment, which included the song “Beef.”
Dan Pashman: Am I right that your turn to being vegan started when you heard this song, "Beef"?
Bryant Terry: Oh yeah.
Bryant Terry: That song was — yeah, that song has a special place in my heart.
Dan Pashman: Paint a picture for me the moment that you heard that song for the first time.
Bryant Terry: I feel like someone had given me a tape to borrow and I was just kind of floored. You know, I just kept listening to it over and over again.
Bryant Terry: "Beef, what a relief, when will this poisonous product cease...
[CLIP "BEEF" continues by Boogie Down Productions]
Boogie Down Productions: “This is another public service announcement. You can believe it or you doubt it.”
Bryant Terry: “Let us begin now, with the cow, the way it gets to your plate and how.”
Boogie Down Productions: "The cow doesn't grow fast enough for man..."
Bryant Terry: It gets much more graphic, so I'll stop there. But, you know, hearing that I like ran to my dad after listening to a song like 15 times. I'm like, "Dad, you got to give me this tape!", because I had to get the tape back and my buddy. So he agreed to get it for me if I would first read this book, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair — because I had a tiger dad. And so...
Bryant Terry: You know, I credit that song, that book, the librarian who, you know, I checked the book out from who's a vegetarian and was like, "Why are you interested in this book, is for school?" And I was like, "No, I want to be a vegan. I heard the song." And then she kind of gave me other books and helped me learn more about veganism. So, yeah, like that just really shifted my whole reality and changed my habits, my attitudes, and my politics. When I was on that journey, and especially when I was — saw myself as like, "I'm a vegan now.", whatever stereotypes you have about the most dogmatic, judgmental, self-righteous finger wagging on a soapbox just haranguing people jerk of a vegan, that's who I was.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Bryant Terry: And I asked my parents for forgiveness almost weekly because I just was such a terror.
Dan Pashman: So early on, it was more about the ethics of animals, the ethics of factory farming. And like, when did it start to also become about health?
Bryant Terry: I mean, that was part of it too.
Dan Pashman: Okay.
Bryant Terry: Because growing up, my diet was very healthful because we literally would harvest food right before we ate. And not that we never went out to, like, Pizza Hut. Yeah, we used to have Pizza Hut Fridays at our home sometimes.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Bryant Terry: And those type of, you know, consuming industrial foods were a special treat. It was few and far between.
Dan Pashman: So often what we hear about southern food and soul food is this food is unhealthy, um...
Bryant Terry: That’s racist.
Dan Pashman: I want to get to that. But like, I'm curious from your personal perspective, like we don't hear as much about how vegetable centric so much of that food is.
Bryant Terry: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: And we certainly don't hear as much about the long standing focus on vegetarianism and healthy eating in a lot of the Black community going back decades, let alone the connection to vegetables and living off the land that traces back to Africa.
Bryant Terry: Yup.
Dan Pashman: How aware were you of all that as a young man first starting down that path?
Bryant Terry: I was very aware of it because I had access to resources that help me understand those histories and those practices. I think a lot of people have traditionally kind of seen that as like these practices of upper middle class white suburbanites and more recently, more like, you know, urban, white young folks gentrifying urban centers, like Williamsburg, where I'm staying now cause I love the neighborhood.
Bryant Terry: But you know, my first contact with veganism? I mean, it was Black Seven-Day Adventists in our community who told me about it. And, you know, obviously iy was more theologically driven, but this idea that you don't have to eat animal products and they can have these benefits, I learned from them. And then after I had the obligatory, you know, kind of being fascinated with the Nation of Islam because I read the autobiography of Malcolm X and just being like, "What is this thing?, and learning about their health ministry, you know?
Dan Pashman: Even like Dick Gregory, the great sort of comedian and social commentator, he wrote a whole whole healthy eating cookbook
Bryant Terry: Cooking with Mother Nature. You know, that was an early book that mentors gave me. And just even talking to older — you know, there is a health food store in Memphis that I would often go to get my new staples that I needed for my vegan diet and I would meet Rastafarians, and elderly black folks, who just were, you know, eating more healthily. So I had to — like, I was in community with a lot of Black people who were values align. And so I I feel like it's important for me to uplift those legacies, as you said, because so often when we talk about veganism, we don't imagine Black people. And you know, the interesting thing, I don't know if you know this, but in terms of like the fastest growing population of vegans in the United States, it's Black people. As much as people like to vilify African-American diets and and talk about how artery clogging and unhealthy it is, those are reductive ways of thinking about a large, diverse, and complex culinary traditions. And that's just one subset of it. But the foundations, the core of a lot of traditional Black diets are largely vegetable centric.
Dan Pashman: Just to back up what Bryant’s saying — according to a Pew study, 8 percent of Black Americans are vegan or vegetarian, compared to only 3 percent of the general U.S. population.
Dan Pashman: After high school, Bryant went to college at Xavier University in Louisiana, then got a master’s in history from N.Y.U.
Bryant Terry: I learned how to write a lot better. I learned how to think a lot more critically and much of the work that I was doing as a grad student, the research I was doing led me into this food work that I've done.
Dan Pashman: Sometimes he thinks about going back to get a Ph. D.
Bryant Terry: I do think that, you know, being a university professor would be a great kind of like, I don't know, third, fourth act for me, however you want to put it.
Dan Pashman: Doesn’t publishing five cookbooks — can you like a swap that in instead of the Ph.D.? I think, I'm giving you a Ph.D., Bryant.
Bryant Terry: OK. Honorary Ph. D. from Sporkful.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Bryant Terry: I'll take that.
Dan Pashman: I'll write it up. I'll give you a certificate before you leave.
Bryant Terry: Appreciate that. Sporkful U!
Dan Pashman: That's right!
Dan Pashman: During his time in New York, Bryant also started thinking more about what many kids in the city eat and the effect that has on their development.
Bryant Terry: I probably saw young people on the subway, you know, in the morning eating candy bars and red hot Cheetos and drinking sodas and energy drinks. But in the midst of doing that research, I looked at it and I was like, oh, this is a problem. Now I describe it is what my friend and mentor Raj Patel talks about, you know, “stuffed and starved.” I was like, Oh, these young people, they're eating a lot of food, but these are empty calories. I mean, like, this is breakfast. You shouldn't be eating that for breakfast. But just in general, the kind of nutrient-rich foods that we all need, but especially young developing bodies and minds, like there has to be some intervention.
Dan Pashman: As part of his graduate work, Bryant had done research on the Black Panthers. In the 1960s they created a free breakfast program for kids in low-income neighborhoods. It started in Oakland, and spread to over 45 chapters across the country.
Bryant Terry: And so I was really inspired by that work of the Black Panthers and decided to found this organization B-Healthy in response, partially to noticing things like that and just feeling like we had gone off the rails. And we really needed to figure out a way to take care of our young people.
Dan Pashman: Bryant’s non-profit, B-Healthy, used cooking as a way to engage and inform young people from marginalized groups. He wanted to train them to be food justice activists in their communities. Bryant also enrolled in culinary school, to get the skills, and a degree, that would help him run his non-profit.
Dan Pashman: But as he worked to educate younger Black people about veganism and healthier eating, he kept bumping up against a lot of the same misconceptions and stereotypes, even among the people he was trying to reach.
Bryant Terry: A lot of Black folks have these very negative stereotypes about our own cuisine, these reductive ways of thinking about it. "Oh, I'm not going to eat that soul food. That's so unhealthy, you know, that's why Black people are so sick," without looking at the multiple factors that might contribute to public health crises in the Black community from medical apartheid to, you know, environmental racism in many low-income Black communities, where literally the air and the soil and the water is being poisoned or, you know, just the lack of access to healthy, fresh, affordable food in communities so that people can actually consume the things that are life giving.
Bryant Terry: So to pin it on our cultural foods? Its just B.S. And I'm not denying — yeah, pig's feet and chiterlins or chitlins, however you want to say it, and you know, all these kind of stereotypes of just like what people see is the remnants of the institution of slavery. You know, like those are the worst parts of the animals that Black people were just forced to eat. It's painting the institution of the monolith. You know, it looked different in the Coastal Carolina than in Louisiana than in the Caribbean. You know, my thing is we can hold it all. We can hold that, you know, the remnants of the institution of slavery. We can hold the other way that I think people kind of imagined Black food, which are the big flavored meats and the overcooked vegetables and the sugary desserts that you might find at a soul food restaurant. Yeah, that's a part of it, too. But what about the food that my granddad was eating and cooking? You know, I hate that so often we like to fetishize these, you know, different nutrient-rich foods from other places — goji berries and quinoa...
Dan Pashman: Acai.
Bryant Terry: Acai from Brazil. I’m like, "What about the dark, you know, leafy greens like collards, mustards, turnips, kale, dandelions, sugar snap peas, pole beans, butter beans, black-eyed peas? Like these are the foundations of any healthful diet. I think any dietitian nutritionist, physician would say, we all should be eating a diverse diet with these type of foods. These are our cultural foods. These are superfoods.
Dan Pashman: When we come back, Bryant pitches his first cookbook about Black vegan food and runs into obstacles. Plus, he tells me how he really feels about kale. Stick around.
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman, and it’s time for our annual tradition. I can't belive it's that time of year again. I want to hear your New Year’s Food Resolutions. I want to know what’ll be on your menu in 2022. If you’ve always thought about sending us a resolution but you just never got around to it, this is your year! Record a voice memo on your phone, first tell me your name and where you’re from. That part's really important. Then tell me this: What food do you resolve to eat more of in the new year, and why? Send it to me at email@example.com and you may hear yourself in our year end spectacular! Again, that’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Dan Pashman: Okay, let’s get back to Bryant Terry. In 2006, after four years running his New York non profit B-Healthy, Bryant decided to shutter the organization and move his cooking, and activism, in a new direction. He moved to Oakland and co-wrote a cookbook with Anna Lappe called Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen. Off the success of that book, he decided to pitch his first solo cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen.
Bryant Terry: We shopped it to about 12 publishers and 10 of them flat out said, no. Nuuh. And what we heard was, well, it's just you're cutting the the pie too thinly. I literally had one of these editors be like, "Well, it's kind of oxymoronic, Black people and vegan?", you know, like people, just thought — some of these people thought it was absurd. And I recognized that there were some editors who were very enthusiastic about the idea, but when the number crunchers came in and then they were looking at the potential of it making money, they just didn't feel like there was a big enough audience for it.
Dan Pashman: Eventually Bryant did find a publisher for Vegan Soul Kitchen, and the book came out in 2009. Over the next several years he wrote two more cookbooks. One of them, Afro-Vegan, was named by Bon Appetit as one of the best vegetarian cookbooks of all time. In 2015, he became the Chef-in-Residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, where he creates public programming that relates to many of the issues he’s been working on for so many years.
Dan Pashman: Then last year, right at the start of the pandemic, he released the cookbook, Vegetable Kingdom. It got a ton of great attention, sold well, and won an N.A.A.C.P. Image award. Bryant’s work has put him right at the intersection of a bunch of hot button issues in food. So I knew what I had to do.
Dan Pashman: All right, Bryant, I’ve got a lightning round coming your way.
Bryant Terry: Let's go. Let's do it. I love lightning rounds.
Dan Pashman: All right. All right. Here comes the lightning round, Bryant. You ready? We'll add in a sound effect later.
[MIMES SOUNDS EFFECTS]
Dan Pashman: Sure, it would be great if everyone a vegan and vegetarian, but that food is too expensive.
Bryant Terry: Let me just say this. That argument always — the main thing about that argument that bothers me is because it is really relying on this individualistic approach to eating well. And I think that's the biggest problem. We need to think about ways in which we can be in community eating better together, right? I don't know if this is lightning. I feel like this is like a thunderstorm.
Bryant Terry: I could stop.
Dan Pashman: No, no. But I understand what you're saying.
Bryant Terry: I mean, I get it. A lot of people are working a lot to work in one or two to maybe three jobs because they can't find a job that pays a living wage that would allow them to just work one thing and be able to have all that time with their family
Dan Pashman: So that you have these larger economic factors that put people in a position where they have no choice but to go pick up McDonald's on the way home from their second job?
Bryant Terry: If we were to ensure that people got like a living wage, then that would address a number of these issues. There are a lot of structural barriers that I think could be addressed through public policy that we need to be paying attention to.
Dan Pashman: Next item. Often, when an area does get an increase in access to a broader range of healthier food options, it comes with gentrification. When you see that happening in an area that feels like a difficult tension. How do you how do you process that?
Bryant Terry: Can I curse on here?
Dan Pashman: Sure.
Bryant Terry: It’s bullshit.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Bryant Terry: I mean, look, gentrification is not just about white people who two decades ago wouldn't have considered moving in Brooklyn. And now people are like, Oh, I'm living in Brooklyn. That's not what it's about. It's about corporations. You know, buying up blocks, buying up neighborhoods, building, you know, expensive buildings that raise the rent and push out long-term residents. So I know people say that, you know, like, "Well, yeah, there are some benefits to gentrification." Look, I can talk about the changes that I saw in my neighborhood. I saw the supermarket across the street. I was like, oh, now I'm seeing kombucha.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Bryant Terry: Now I'm seeing like, you know, kimchi. I was seeing all these things and I was happy about that. But I think this idea that like, well, gentrification can be good because it brings in more options. That's a very simplistic way of looking at gentrification. So gentrification is economic violence, period.
Dan Pashman: Kale versus collard greens?
Bryant Terry: Damn. Collards. Well —
Dan Pashman: I mean, if you want to boil down so much of what we're talking about though, to something that you can like holding your hands? This, to me, is such a — it crystallizes so many of these issues of perception of different people’s foods.
Bryant Terry: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: I mean, they're in the same family of cabbage. And yet the perception and where you will find them sold and served and what they are and what they cost and how they are discussed is radically different.
Bryant Terry: Yeah. I'll say this. Collards for eating, kale for smoothies. So I'll leave it at that.
Dan Pashman: What's your take on the new meat substitutes, like impossible meat beyond meat? OK.
Bryant Terry: Boo! Boo! I mean, look, I just had an Impossible Burger for the first time, like two weeks ago. I had it and it was fine. I'm like, yeah, if I'm out drinking and there are some Impossible Burgers on the menu, I might get one. But let me tell you the thing that really irks me about the ascendance of a lot of these fake meat burgers. Many of the places that I would go to restaurants that used to have these super inventive and interesting house-made plant-based burgers like whole grains and legumes and vegetables, and they were just killing it. I go back to these places now and they're like, "Well, we have Impossible Burger or Beyond Burger," and that's what irks me. You know, it's taking away from the creativity of chefs who could really bring their technical skill and know how to introduce people to more options.
Dan Pashman: That's the end of the lightning round, Bryant. You survived the lightning round.
Bryant Terry: Whoo!
Dan Pashman: All right.
Dan Pashman: I think you see why Bryant is a leading voice in his field. And now, his platform is bigger than ever. Back in May, he announced that he was starting his own publishing imprint, 4 Color Books, at Penguin Random House. 4 Color is a reference to the printing process that prints books in full color, and also a nod to the idea of including more people of color in publishing both in authors, and target audience.
Dan Pashman: As publisher at 4 Color, Bryant now has the power to decide what kinds of authors and cookbooks get published. Last month, he released the first book under his imprint, one he edited himself, called Black Food. Over 100 people contributed recipes, blending styles, and influences from across the African diaspora and beyond. But that’s not it. There are essays by folks like Michael Twitty, Osayi Endolyn, and Dr. Jessica B. Harris, plus art, poetry, and music playlists.
Dan Pashman: Yewande Komolafe contributed a recipe of Crispy Cassava Skillet Cakes from West Africa. The pastry chef Paola Velez has a recipe for Flan de Arroz con Dulce, a hybrid dish inspired by her Afro Dominican roots. Karina Rivera, a chef from Mexico City, has a recipe for charred okra tamales. As I told Bryant, reading it feels like joining an ongoing conversation about the many facets of Black food.
Dan Pashman: It felt to me like it's not just a cookbook or a collection of essays or art. It's an immersive experience.
Bryant Terry: Well, first of all, I might have to bite that term because thus far people talk about it being a tome and a compendium. But for now, I'm going to be like, it's an immersive experience.
Dan Pashman: Take it. It's yours. Yeah, go for it.
Bryant Terry: What I'm doing in this book, I've done this all along. Like if you look at my body of work, I've always had some type of like inclusion of art. I've had the suggested soundtracks. I, you know, offer ideas about books and films to help build it out. This is the first time I've gotten a lot of money to do it so well and beautifully but...
Dan Pashman: But that that's how you were able to do it so well is that you had been preparing and doing it in other venues for a long time.
Bryant Terry: Yes, I'm clear. I always say that my — every other project I did prepared me to write this. And so I used to be embarrassed about whenever I do a new book, I'd be like, "Oh, I hate that other project," like the prior book. "Oh, that book sucked. I could have did this. I could have done that," and I've reframed it now as, you know what? I was practicing in public.
Dan Pashman: As we said this book includes playlists. A lot of people listen to music when they cook. But I think that for you and your work, that connection between food and cooking and music is especially powerful. It has a deeper significance.
Bryant Terry: Mm-hmm. Coming from a musical family, like when we had gatherings, there was food, there was music because my family — I come from a family of musicians, so people always singing and playing the piano. It was community building and it was bringing in folks from not just our family, but from the neighborhood and my family's faith institutions. And then we would be sharing bags of the surplus from their orchards and garden.
Dan Pashman: That's what reading this book felt like to me. It felt like being at a family picnic or at a party and like, there's great music on, and there's folks in the kitchen who were cranking out different dishes. And you walk through the kitchen and grab something off a plate. And there's some other folks in the corner over there who are mixing drinks and passing out the drinks. And there's some folks over here who are laughing. And then there's some folks over here that are like having a deep, intense philosophical conversation. Like that's the perfect party, you know, and that's what this book felt like.
Bryant Terry: Man, you’re giving me all types of amazing talking points. This book is a party.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, that's right. It’s an immersive party experience.
Bryant Terry: Well, I’m done writing books. I don’t know if you know that this is my last book.
Dan Pashman: Really? I had no idea. I wasn’t aware of that.
Bryant Terry: Yeah, Black Food is my last book. And you know I didn’t write it, I compiled it. But yeah, I’m done after this. But also, now that I’m a publisher, I need to clear my plate so I can focus on learning how to be a good publisher.
Dan Pashman: If we take a step back, there has been this increasing effort in the last — especially the last year, but the last few years to shine more of a light on the diversity of Black food and Black Americans’ contributions to American food.
Bryant Terry: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: From my perspective, as a white person from a mostly white suburb, a lot of this was new to me, to be honest. It feels to me like there's some progress, certainly more to be done. But I'm curious from your perspective, does it feel like things are changing?
Bryant Terry: I'll tell you what, I was very clear we would see post the uprisings and the embarrassment of a lot of these big companies because of their unsavory practices. Why am I saying unsavory? Because they're racist practices? Stop trying to be all diplomatic.
Bryant Terry: You know, people are trying to repair reputational harm. People are embarrassed. And not that the institutions don't have good people in them, who understand the need to bring more diverse voices in the food media. I get that, but it's also about like, yeah, like, we look bad now. We got to fix this really quickly. And so what we'll see over the next couple of years are a lot of books and TV shows and, you know, all types of projects that are coming from Black/BIPOC folks around food. And you know, I'm afraid and many people are arguing that that door is starting to close already. You know, I'm like, yeah. The door is going to be open and then we need to be very conscious about when it’s starting to close.
Bryant Terry: And like I said, some people are like, yeah, it's kind of starting to close. People getting comfortable again. And so my thing is, it's one thing to reward "talent", you know, giving out book deals, giving out shows. But what about ensuring that the people who are in decision making power? We need to make sure that those spaces are diversified. We need to make sure that you're seeing more Black and Brown faces who connect with the culture, who have a real investment in ensuring that, you know, we hear multiple voices. And that's why it was important for me, for my agent and me, to pitch this imprint and actually have the opportunity to not just mentor and kind of guide different food creators, but actually help them take their career to the next level with book deals.
Dan Pashman: And for folks who who haven't published a book, which is most of our listeners and who don't understand the inner workings of publishing, you get an advance. I wrote a book a few years back and I did — I thought the advance — I thought I meant like, "Oh, you get paid that in advance." No, that's not what the word advance means in this context. It is an advance against royalties.
Bryant Terry: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: And it is paid out in increments over a couple of years.
Bryant Terry: Yup.
Dan Pashman: And if your book sells beyond where your royalties would have gotten to that point, then you may make more. But most books don't.
Bryant Terry: Yeah, a lot of people aren't earning those advances out.
Dan Pashman: Right, right. Obviously, it's nice to get paid more for your work. What are some of the other ways in which a larger advance impacts the process?
Bryant Terry: I mean, look, I think what people need to understand is that a lot of people who are getting book deals, they're paltry. If you don't have like a huge platform, you're not necessarily getting a big advance unless you just like, you know, hot at the moment. Even people who are lucky enough to get, let's say, a six-figure advance. Right? That sounds like a lot. But when you think about how a typical book deal is structured, so you might get a little bit of that when you first sign, maybe it's a third, maybe it's a fourth? And then when you, you know, turn your book in, you'll get another little chunk of it. And then when you —
Dan Pashman: When it publishes —
Bryant Terry: Yeah, when it publishes, you get a little chunk. And then six months later or a year later, you get a chunk. I don't want to discourage anyone from writing books or becoming an author, because if you're passionate about it, do it. You know, you got to, like, whatever, push through it. Everything's hard. You know, life is hard. And so I encourage you to put the work in. But just be clear, going into it, that is not IG. This is real life.
Dan Pashman: So as for your publishing imprint, 4 Color Books, where do you hope to see it 10 years?
Bryant Terry: You know, with all of the authors that I'm working with? I really want them to be able to grow their — excuse the colonialist language — their empire. You know, like Rahanna Bisseret Martinez, the now 17-year-old Oakland based chef, which was the first acquisition that 4 Color made. She's a runner up on Top Chef Junior when she's 13. She staged at Chez Panisse and Ecoi in London and cooked at the James Beard House. I mean, this young woman is genius and she's telegenic, she's smart. She needs her own TV show. I don't want her just to write books. I want her to like, grow and her reach in whatever ways she wants to. I mean, I imagine she wants a show, but if she wants to, I want to be — like, use my my social capital, my platform to help her get that. And I feel like that way with many other authors that I work with and I see 4 Color helping to just kind of support that.
Dan Pashman: Bryant tells me about another chef who he thought could write a great cookbook, but the chef didn’t have publishing experience, didn’t know how to shape a book proposal. So Bryant and his team worked directly with the chef, which is very unusual in the industry. More often an agent would work with a chef to shape a proposal, then take it to publishers. Bryant took a more active role in mentoring an author who he thought had potential.
Bryant Terry: I think one of the most powerful things that I imagine 4 Color will do as an imprint is modeling, modeling how things could be done differently in the publishing industry, modeling the way that, you know, when you bring more diversity into publishing, everybody wins. I do imagine that 4 Color will be doing things so differently that people are going to take notice so that, you know, people will be inspired to consider ways that they can do it differently as well.
Dan Pashman: That’s Bryant Terry, publisher of 4 Color Books and editor of the new book, Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora. I really love this book. It’s an immersive party experience! What more do you need to know? Okay, get it now wherever books are sold.
Dan Pashman: Next week on the show we’re heading to the Library of Congress, for a holiday luncheon hosted by the library’s cooking club. The two women who run the club — you're not going to believe this — their names are Laverne and Shirley. But despite their efforts, the club has been dwindling over the last couple of decades. Can Laverne and Shirley revive it? We'll find out. That’s next week.