“The institution of chattel slavery was complex, and it wasn’t a monolith,” he said. “Enslaved Africans’ relationship to food and cooking was shaped by a number of factors, including geographic location and the financial status and disposition of plantation owners.”
Cooking during the era of slavery in the Americas looked different in the Carolinas, in the Caribbean, in Louisiana, and to call it “slave food,” he said, is “a misinformed, reductive and racist way to frame Black cuisine.” These labels flatten the story of Black cooking in this country. They don’t speak, for instance, to the beauty and nuance of cooking techniques and ingredients like dark leafy greens, beans, pole beans and sweet potatoes (what Mr. Terry calls “Black superfoods”) that have long been a part of Black cooking.
Mr. Terry’s childhood in Tennessee, where his family lived mostly off the land, showed him the importance of holding on to these traditions. As a child, he said, he was fascinated by his grandmother’s cupboard of pickled peaches, tomatoes and other items that she had canned herself.
After moving to Brooklyn to study history, with an emphasis on African American history, at New York University, Mr. Terry enrolled in 2001 at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts, where he noticed that teachers, his peers and the media were leaving Black cooks out of the conversation.
“It’s much more appealing for these national media outlets to cover a college-educated white person who is doing canning, pickling and preserving when people have been doing that for years,” he said.
In considering which authors he’d like to work with, Mr. Terry said he looked for those who are shaping the culture at this moment and who will continue to do so. After “Black Food,” 4 Color Books will publish the debut cookbook from Rahanna Bisseret Martinez, a 17-year-old chef in Oakland and a “Top Chef Junior” finalist, as well as a new book from Scarr Pimentel of Scarr’s Pizza in New York City.