In 2011, Jessica B. Harris, cookbook author and culinary historian, wrote a fascinating book titled “HIGH ON THE HOG: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America” for which she received a James Beard Award. There is so much history packed in this book but as wonderful as that it is I’m not sure our younger generations will take the time to read it. I am so happy that a documentary series was created for Netflix so we can walk the path Jessica B. Harris wrote about.
Understanding that Black food is American food, chef and writer Stephen Satterfield guides us through the delicious history of food from Africa to Texas in this docuseries.
The African American Film Critics Association (AAFC) hosted a roundtable conversation with Satterfield and Executive Producers Karis Jagger and Fabienne Toback on how they brought the spirit of the book to the screen.
I’ve watched the series several times and each time I experienced different emotions and memories.
Satterfield stated that one of his most memorable parts in filming the series was being in the presence of Jessica Harris. “That experience for me had a great sense of importance in that I was in the presence of Dr. Jessie B. Harris. And Dr. J is someone who has been outsized in her influence in my career as a thinker, as a writer, and really just the whole way of tying my Black identity to our culinary history and learning about our history through our identity and using those kinds of as interchangeable. So, that was certainly the most memorable experience for me.”
I have been to West Africa and to Goree Island and seen the Door of No Return. I know about the foods that came from Africa with the enslaved Africans, but I think, like so many others, I really didn’t pay attention to the connection between Africa and what and how we eat today. HIGH ON THE HOG opened that door for me.
Executive Producer Karis Jagger stated somewhat the same feeling: “We feel the same. I mean, that’s why we wanted to make the project, because we read the book and we were shocked how much history we didn’t know, and we wanted to bring that to a wider audience. I think Fabi and I both love history, love food, and we couldn’t believe that there were so many stories that still needed to reach a wider audience.”
When I was growing up we had a big garden in our backyard in Champaign, Illinois, and grew all of our vegetables. Every summer we would go “down-home” to Tennessee and bring back fresh crowder peas and ham. People don’t do that as much anymore.
Executive Producer Fabienne Toback gave her thoughts on why:
“I think it touches a little bit on the topic that we covered in episode two with the eminent domain and Black farms and being displaced. I can’t speak specifically outside of my own understanding of the series. But I would have to say that has a lot to do with it.
“I think also, we find ourselves mostly in urbanized areas where kind of those urban gardens and sort of plants growing is limited. It’s in the headlines, the displacement of Black farmers. That’s a very real issue. Also, we have a lot of food deserts here in those urban areas.
“I recently moved to downtown L.A., and believe me, I have to travel to find fresh produce beyond Whole Foods, which is cost-prohibitive for a lot of people, and especially the people that this area serves. So, yeah. That’s just from my own perspective and limited understanding.”
HIGH ON THE HOG invites us into great conversations around dinner tables, and preparations of food. I promise you that you will be hungry after viewing this series, not only for food but knowledge. I asked Fabienne to give the final words on what this docuseries meant to her as they were filming it.
“I think it really illuminated the resilience of our people, and I think that was really important for us in covering the simple things like mac and cheese or looking at the food waste. We had set out to make this so much more than a documentary about food waste. And that was why having Stephen at the helm … He’s an activist. It was why it was so important to have BJ Dennis and the preservationists that are so integral to preserving these things. And then, just allowing the muses, the ancestors, whatever, the universal flow, the divine, to use this opportunity to reach and remind us, especially right now, where things are really tough, that we are resilient, and we will continue to be.”
HIGH ON THE HOG is a Netflix Original Documentary Series. To view the AAFC Roundtable visit http://aafca.com/aafca-roundtables/#.
Until next time, keep your EYE to the sky!