The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

From Grandmother’s Music to Tofu Curry

Phyllis Graber Jensen
Byrant Terry giving the keynote address to an audience in Gomes Chapel.

Snow glittered on the ground as over 200 Bates students and faculty rose early to trek to Gomes Chapel. Conversations filled the calm winter air, and students filed in lines, walking into the pews and sitting down among friends. The warmth upon entering the building felt like sitting by a fireplace with a cup of tea and a book. It was Jan. 15, a special day nationwide and especially at Bates College: Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The day began in Gomes Chapel with a keynote address from Bryant Terry, a James Beard Award-winning chef, cookbook author, NAACP Image Award winner, artist and food justice activist. President Garry Jenkins introduced Terry and explained this year’s theme: “food justice.” Jenkins highlighted King’s words on the topic: “Let us march on poverty until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat.” Phoebe Stern ’24 spoke about her thesis on food justice following Jenkins’ remarks. Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Tyler A. Harper then introduced Terry.

Terry began his presentation with an anecdote about his childhood. He described the cupboard in his grandmother’s kitchen in vivid detail and how he could always tell that his grandmother was cooking when he heard singing coming from the kitchen. Terry then surprised the audience by singing a song his grandmother used to sing.

With the audience captivated, Terry delved into the history of food justice. He spoke about food apartheid, which describes the systemic and structural inequalities in the food system. Terry discussed the importance of the living wage over the minimum wage, explaining how the majority of Black people during King’s time worked in manual labor jobs with low wages. Terry continued, saying that King would abandon tailored suits for overalls in order to relate to these people and better understand them.

Terry acquainted himself with the audience by discussing what influenced him to advocate for food justice. Among these influences were the song “Beef” by Boogie Down Productions, “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair, the Black Panther Party of Self-Defense and “Race Rebels” by Robin D.G. Kelley. He even attended culinary school in New York City in order to empower youth to make healthier choices. Terry used this newfound knowledge and inspiration to write books such as his latest, “Black Food,” which combines stories, essays and recipes to translate the Black experience.

Next, Terry showed “Razed Bed #2,” an inspired sculpture, to the audience by playing a recording of a song that he and his bandmates had created over a series of images of the piece and his artistic process.

To conclude his presentation, Bryant Terry awed the audience with a surprise cooking demonstration. He took out pots, pans and spices to make a tofu curry with mustard.

“Our industrialized food system has taken the practice of cooking from so many of us,” Terry went on as he set a pot of stock to boil. Terry even sprinkled his own cooking tips and tricks throughout the presentation, explaining how canned tomatoes are actually okay to use and “one of the keys to being efficient in the kitchen is being organized.”

Bates students left the chapel that day with not only new knowledge of food justice and Martin Luther King Jr., but also music in their ears and the smell of vegetable stock wafting over them. They may have also gained a new appreciation for cooking that could come in handy back in their dorms and beyond.

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