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The Power of the Plate

5 yogi chefs, impassioned by their principles and practice, are changing the way America eats.

By Susan Piperato & Charity Ferreira


Food has always preoccupied humankind, but it's fair to say that we are growing ever more aware of the food we eat—not just its flavor and nutritional value, but also its environmental, political, and socioeconomic impact. Every day, we choose whether to buy from local farmers or international corporations or something in between, and whether to eat food that's organic or "conventionally" grown. And those choices have power: Few everyday decisions have the kind of far-reaching consequences as does what we put on our plates.

Not surprisingly, some food-savvy members of the yoga community are helping to shape our enlightened relationship to food. The five yogis profiled here believe that food has the power to improve our health and well-being, the welfare of our fellow human beings, and the health of the planet. Yoga fuels their work for change in some surprising ways and reminds us that we each have a new opportunity to make a difference every day, at every meal. We have only to look within.

Feed the Change

Bryant Terry | Chef and food-justice activist |Oakland, California

When Bryant Terry began calling himself an "eco-chef" 10 years ago, he had never heard anyone else use the term. Today, he's a nationally recognized writer and speaker on issues of sustainability and "food justice"—a phrase he defines as universal access to wholesome, sustainable food.

As a child, Terry learned to grow and cook wholesome food from his grandparents in Memphis, Tennessee. Later, as a graduate student in history at New York University, he became interested in the combined effect of poverty, poor nutrition, and institutional racism on communities. "I saw that in many marginalized communities throughout the United States, there was little access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food, but there was a plethora of foods that were high in salt, sugar, and fat," Terry says. "Many of these communities did not have full-service supermarkets, and if they did, those markets would have very little fresh food and lots of processed junk, while the same stores in higher-income neighborhoods would have lots of fresh produce."

Looking deeper, Terry saw that these same communities had some of the highest rates of obesity and diet-related illnesses like type 2 diabetes and hypertension. His desire to effect change in these communities through food led him to enroll at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Arts in New York City. Terry's first book, Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, which he co-wrote with Anna Lappe, inspired Terry to partner with People's Grocery in Oakland, California, hosting monthly cooking demonstrations with gift bags of fresh produce. His second book, Vegan Soul Kitchen, celebrates the healthful, sustainable roots of African American cuisine.

Terry says that yoga was his career catalyst, bringing together his passions for food, activism, and social justice. He practices with San Francisco yoga teacher and activist Katchie Ananda, and says that yoga has helped him to see food as a means to help people discover connection. "My desire is to use food as a way to help people understand the symbiotic relationship we all have, with the hope that when people are aware of that interconnectedness, they will make decisions that are in the best interests of all living beings," he says. "That's the definition of 'justice' for me."

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March 2011

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