The stories behind some of this country’s most beloved dishes are finally being told, thanks to a new Netflix series about how African American cuisine transformed America, called “High on the Hog.”
“We have, for many years, been overdue for a serious look at the contributions that Black folks have had to food culture in the U.S.,” Stephen Satterfield, host of the show, told TODAY’s Sheinelle Jones.
“Ultimately, what we’re talking about is a chronicle of our identity,” he added. “So often, in our country, the role and impact of Black people has been erased from the story. And we know that these stories have immense power.”
The four-part series, which started streaming last week on Netflix, shows Satterfield traveling in Benin and throughout the U.S. to meet chefs and learn about the history of foods that are central to African American culture.
“I love food,” he said. “It really brought me to a place of deeper curiosity. I really began to see it as a way to better understand the world around me. And really the story of human beings.”
One clip from the show includes an interview with a woman who comes from “one of the great Black catering families of Philadelphia,” and whose family helped popularize mac and cheese in the U.S., for example.
“High on the Hog” is based on a 2011 book of the same name by Dr. Jessica B. Harris, an award-winning food historian.
Harris told TODAY she was immediately on board with the idea for the show.
“We’ve set the table and often cooked the meal and harvested the food,” she said. “So at this point, it looks as though we may be getting a place at the table, and we certainly deserve it. And it’s been a long time coming.”
The show explores how the origins of so many American foods can be traced to enslaved people from Africa.
“They brought rice. The yams. Peas. Beans. Black-eyed peas. Fava beans. All those things that now join us are things that came with us,” Harris tells Satterfield in one scene. “This is how our food, and their food, conjoin.”
And yet the show is one about “resilience,” Satterfield says.
“For African American people, the foundational relationship that we have with this country is one of servitude and forced labor,” he said. “And that is rooted in agriculture, right? That is rooted in rice and the food that we eat. And so it is at times a difficult story to tell. But it is a true and necessary story to tell. And I think that the overarching theme and the vibe of the show is about our resilience.”
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