Mac and cheese, beans, ham and yams are traditional foods eaten in America. We eat these foods without realizing that they have roots in traditional African American cuisine. “High on the Hog,” a limited series recently released to Netflix, follows culinary specialist and food activist Stephen Satterfield along on his cultural journey. Satterfield started in Benin and ended in Texas, sampling traditional African American cuisine and learning more about his culture along the way.
The series is based on Jessica B. Harris’ book, “High on the Hog,” which inspires Satterfield to get in touch with his roots, as an American born black man. Harris accompanies Satterfield, guiding him to important landmarks and restaurants where he tastes the most authentic African American cuisines.
“We have to understand where we’ve come from to understand ourselves and the story of food is also the story of who we are,” Satterfield says in the pilot, ‘Roots.’ He has a genuinely grateful attitude during his experience in Benin, a small strip of land in West Africa, home of many things that shape African American culture. This episode is extremely emotional, as Satterfield visits The Cemetery of Slaves and walks the same clay road his ancestors walked when they were being forced onto boats for enslavement. Satterfield walks barefoot on the red clay road, the same red clay they honor in his home state, Georgia.
The people of Benin fear that their traditions are dying. Most of their cuisine dates to a time before slavery, so it’s important to them that these traditions remain, and they use foods to center themselves to their culture. Stolen people lead to stolen cuisine; Harris importantly noted that the people doing the enslaving knew these cultures and brought the foods along with them such as rice, beans and yams, making these stolen foods a staple in America.
In other episodes, Stephen visits the Carolinas, Virginia and Texas, where chefs are keeping African American traditions alive. It’s extremely important as Americans to honor all cultures that make up our country. In the wake of recent events, it becomes even more necessary to remind us that the foods we’ve come to know and love, root back to cultures that are not our own. The chefs preparing traditional cuisines put heart and soul into each dish, which is familiar in African American culture. With the convenience of take-out in America and fast-food, we begin to lose gratitude for our foods. Restaurants “Americanize” many traditional foods to keep up with demand in our overpopulated country. The chefs staying true to their roots are allowing these traditions to be accurately represented in America, which in turn gives people in these cultures’ familiarity and comfort.
This series is deliciously educational, both for the viewer and Satterfield. Though short, there is a ton of history packed into four, hour-long episodes, ranging from the history of recipes to the symbolism these cuisines possess. As somebody who enjoys eating various foods, my mouth was watering constantly. Make sure you grab a few snacks before indulging in this series. Some foods were familiar and others were not, but it was amazing to see the array of foods and become more educated in African American cuisine.
“High on the Hog” is now available to stream on Netflix
By Mia Godorov