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Film: How African American Cuisine Transformed America

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By Neenah Payne

Living high on the hog” refers to eating the best and costliest cuts of a pig such as the loin rather than lower parts such as the feet, knuckles, hocks, belly, and jowls which were given to Blacks during slavery. So, “living high on the hog” refers to being well off.

The Netflix film High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America explains that “Black food is American food. Chef and writer Stephen Satterfield traces the delicious, moving through lines from Africa to Texas in this docuseries.”

High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America Plot and Cast

“High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America is a food and travel show, so it’s about places as much as it is about food. It’s also a history show, so as we look forward to Season 2, we can’t help but wonder not just about the foods we’ll learn about, but also the places and the history.”

“Fabienne Toback told in an interview that Season 2 will probably be based on the second half of Dr. Jessica Harris’ 2011 book. An excerpt of the book version of “High on the Hog,” from Apple Books, shows that later chapters are about the Great Migration to the West, Black entrepreneurs, and the civil rights movement. Stephen Satterfield, who hosted Season 1 of High on the Hog, is coming back for Season 2. Satterfield announced the second season through his Instagram account on August 2021.”

High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America | Official Trailer | Netflix

Netflix Film: High On The Hog

Season 1 of the High on the Hog docuseries was released in May 2021.  In its four episodes, culinary experts talk about the history of African foods and their relationships to American foods.

Watch High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America

Book: High On The Hog

The docuseries is based on the book High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Jessica B. Harris. Season 1 of High on the Hog covered the first part of the book. Season 2 which may be released in 2023 is expected to cover the other half of the book.

Amazon Description

“New York Times bestseller
Now a Netflix Original Series

The grande dame of African American cookbooks and winner of the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award stakes her claim as a culinary historian with a narrative history of African American cuisine.

Acclaimed cookbook author Jessica B. Harris has spent much of her life researching the food and foodways of the African Diaspora. High on the Hog is the culmination of years of her work, and the result is a most engaging history of African American cuisine. Harris takes the reader on a harrowing journey from Africa across the Atlantic to America, tracking the trials that the people and the food have undergone along the way.

From chitlins and ham hocks to fried chicken and vegan soul, Harris celebrates the delicious and restorative foods of the African American experience and details how each came to form such an important part of African American culture, history, and identity. Although the story of African cuisine in America begins with slavery, High on the Hog ultimately chronicles a thrilling history of triumph and survival. The work of a masterful storyteller and an acclaimed scholar, Jessica B. Harris’s High on the Hog fills an important gap in our culinary history.”

Dr. Jessica Harris and Stephen Satterfield

‘High on the Hog’ Gives Credit for American Cuisine Where Credit Is Due —

“Dr. Jessica B. Harris and Stephen Satterfield deftly steer this Netflix series on African American foodways with sensitivity and optimism.

By J. Fergus

In the shadow of the Zoungbodji Memorial, a mass grave for the many Africans who didn’t make it to the slave ships that once floated offshore of Ouidah, Bénin, Dr. Jessica B. Harris comforts host Stephen Satterfield. Behind the scenes, the multinational Black crew is similarly overwhelmed by the gravity of where they stand, likely also barefoot out of respect.

Whether from the four-day march to the city, illness from cramped barracoons where they were held, or a defiant refusal of “food” known as slabber sauce, many enslaved people died in this West African port city. The final monument to the city’s dark past, “The Door of No Return,” looms on a picturesque beach, a perfect juxtaposition of beauty and a painful reminder for Netflix’s High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed Americawhich premieres on May 26.

“The deep history of Africa in America and of African Americans—of my history, of our history—is rooted in that journey from West Africa to this hemisphere,” says Harris, the renowned cookbook author and culinary historian behind the book this series is based on. “But I think equally the tale becomes not only one of pain and suffering but one of survival.”

Those who made it onto the ships, despite the horrors they and their descendants would face, survived. They found analogous foods to what they knew, like sweet potatoes, and applied their knowledge cooking the entirety of animals to transform “off cuts,” allowing culinary traditions to persevere while creating new staples like mac and cheese.

“The series itself is really much more about where we are today and that in itself is a massive celebration,” says Satterfield, a journalist, sommelier, and founder of Whetstone Magazine. “The word resilience is often used in the context of African American people, the things that we have overcome, and I think a lot of that celebration is on-screen.” Speaking to potential Black viewers, he says: “Don’t be deterred by some tears. It’s a little emotional, but it’s a journey.”

Even in the first episode about Bénin, there’s more to marvel at than cry about. From the nation’s exciting culinary future to a traditional feast with Yoruba artist Romuald Hazoumé that Satterfield was particularly excited about, you may find yourself reaching for the screen for a bite.

Romuald Hazoumé laying out a historical spread for Satterfield, Dr. Harris, and food blogger Karelle Vignon-Vullierme. | Courtesy of Netflix

“It’s hard to explain, but it was just an inspiring meal because you see the vastness, the ingenuity, the technology of African people, and you can’t help but wonder how different our diets would be had we not had that colonial contact,” says Satterfield.

As Harris says in the show, the cuisine covered is part of “a communal table.” Fried fish feels like home whether it’s in a lake village in Bénin or a Southern church repass. Though North and South Carolinians might butt heads over barbecue sauces, you’ll find sheet metal creating outdoor grills capable of cooking entire animals in both states.

A Gullah Diva makes magic from pig’s feet while Black cowboys in Texas build hearty stews with intestines. In Brooklyn, Mothershucker Ben Harney reintroduces oysters to Black people who are unaware that nearly 200 years ago the Oyster King of New York was a Black man. Harney hits the nail on the head remarking “there’s nothing we don’t do.”

Hickory-smoked beet cornbread by cultural preservationist Gabrielle Eitienne. | Courtesy of Netflix

The through line is the notion that an African American person invented or influenced a huge swatch of American cuisine, though rarely gets the credit. Harris, affectionately known as Dr. J, is no stranger to exclusion.  She recently received a lifetime achievement award from the James Beard Foundation after being almost completely ignored by the organization throughout her career. In 2019, when she was inducted into the foundation’s Cookbook Hall of Fame, she began her speech with “I was in food before food was cool. I was definitely in food before food was diverse.”

Many of High on the Hog’s guests stand on her shoulders, getting their flowers in real time, especially as organizations like the James Beard Foundation scramble to become more inclusive. In the Carolinas, Northeastern cities, and Texas, we meet a smattering of recent James Beard Award finalists and winners including culinary historians Michael Twitty and Adrian Miller as well as cookbook author Jerelle Guy.

Every expert and descendant interacts with one another with ease, even when meeting for the first time—an immediate connection that is most strongly seen between Satterfield and Harris. The two-way street of admiration and respect makes you wish the pair were co-hosts, but Satterfield manages to carry the show with care and purpose on his own, as well.

So much of my work personally is really about deepening these cultural connections through food and helping people understand history through food,” Satterfield says. “That particular way of thinking and that particular interrogation, that Dr. J’s scholarship contributed to immensely, it already led me to this incredible opportunity to be true to my own personal mission and curiosity.”

High on the Hog taps into the viewers’ curiosity, as well, showing us something new and then pulling the thread so we can see what unravels. Ultimately, in a media landscape where Black entertainment can still swing towards the realm of trauma porn, this series educates and uplifts. Each episode is punctuated by Black musical performances that sink into your bones and every upsetting historical fact is offset and overtaken by tales of ingenuity.

I hope that, as a friend of mine would say, shoulders might drop,” says Harris about her hopes for African American viewers in particular. “Maybe we can exhale a little bit—not a lot, but a little bit—and just say yeah, we did that and now it’s part of a record.”

— End of Thrillist article —

‘High on the Hog’ & the People Preserving Black Cooking Traditions —

“With host Stephen Satterfield, we travel from Benin to Brooklyn and beyond, learning about the culinary influences that shaped American cuisine.

by ISOKE SAMUEL June  2, 2021

“The story of food is also the story of who we are,” proclaims host Stephen Satterfield in Netflix’s High On The Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America. The new docuseries, which came out just this week, sets out to reveal the origin stories of what we know as “American” cuisine. But this time the focus is on the people whose contributions have often been overshadowed or erased from the collective memory of American history—African Americans.

Adapted from the book of the same title by culinary historian Jessica B. Harris, the series traces African American cuisine from the African content to South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, and beyond. In the process, it uncovers the culinary traditions of African Americans that have shaped American food since before the country’s beginning.

The series begins on a walk through Benin’s Dantokpa marketplace, the largest open-air market in West Africa. Here, Satterfield and Harris explore stalls selling native ingredients that also happen to be staples of American cuisine—okra, black-eyed peas, and rice, to name a few. These fruits, vegetables, and grains seem to remind Satterfield that in some way Benin is also his home.

High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America. Episode 1, “Our Roots”. (L-R) Pictured: Stephen Satterfield and Dr. Jessica B. Harris. PHOTO BY NETFLIX © 2021

Although much about Benin feels foreign, the food, the smells, and the sounds do not. There is a sense of familiarity that Satterfield describes as “fragments of a lost memory.” Throughout the series, those fragments are gradually pieced together with various origin stories—ones that trace foods like rice, yams, and watermelon back to the places enslaved people were taken from.

With help from experts, historians, chefs, and preservationists, the four-episode series touches on everything from whole-hog barbecue to Black cowboys; to the enslaved cooks of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson that introduced and popularized American staples like mac and cheese, ice cream, and french fries.

Viewers travel with Satterfield to locations around the world: one moment, absorbing the breathtaking beauty and resilience of Ganvie, a village built on water; the next, feeling the weight of ancestors who did not survive the journey to the Americas and the plight that awaited those who did. Satterfield holds all these truths, and in doing so, encourages viewers to do the same.

Satterfield told us that this duality is the Black experience exactly. “It’s not possible for us to tell these stories without talking about exploitation, without talking about loss: loss of land, loss of life, loss of health,” he said. But it’s also impossible to tell these stories without the celebration, joy, and pride that is shown throughout the series. “This is our story. That is a source of tremendous—it’s not just pride—power.”

— End Food52 article —

Why I Made High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America | Netflix

The Vibrant and Complex History of Black Oyster Culture — Thrillist

“From their roots in slavery to modern day shuckers, oysters have always been an integral part of the Black community.

Moody Harney, chargrilled oysters from The Urban Oyster, and Zella Palmer
Design by Grace Han for Thrillist

Rarely have we ever thought about the history, all the moments leading up to this one when people realized oysters were a delicious snack, a social experience, or had a culturally diverse lineage. Not often does it cross our minds that Black people have been harvesting, cultivating, and selling these bivalves since at least the 18th century.

In the third episode of High on the Hog—a Netflix docuseries that examines how African-American cuisine transformed America—host Stephen Satterfield takes viewers on a journey to states along the east coast to explore the lives of founding chefs of the African American community and their impact on food culture.

One of the chefs highlighted in the episode is Thomas Downing who went from being the son of slaves to the oyster king of New York City in the late 1800s. During that time, oysters were cheap, plentiful, and associated with brothels and working class bars. But Downing changed that. He opened an oyster cellar in the heart of the Financial District and, essentially, helped elevate oyster consumption.

In the same way that Downing carved a career path for himself in oyster selling, many Black oystermen down in New Orleans did the same. Zella Palmer, culinary historian and Dillard University’s director of the Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture, says that Black men created this bustling community of oystermen, shrimpers, and fishermen.”

— End Thrillist article —

Netflix’s ‘High on the Hog’ Is an Overdue Celebration of African American Cuisine

For More Information

Neenah Payne writes for Activist Post and Natural Blaze

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