Food writer and Atlanta native Stephen Satterfield (not to be confused with the Miller Union chef who spells his first name with a “v”) takes viewers on a wide-ranging journey in the critically-acclaimed Netflix series, High on the Hog. The series, an adaptation of the book written by food historian Dr. Jessica B. Harris, digs deep into the rich history of Black American food. Whereas the show’s first season explored the history of Black American food in relation to its West African roots and the impacts of slavery, season two uncovers the role that Black American cuisine has played in fueling social justice movements, transforming communities, and awakening cultural creativity. To do so, Satterfield visited New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York, and, of course, Atlanta.
“My big thesis in life is that food touches everything. If one of the things is a movement for the liberation of Black people, then there’s going to be a food story there. There’s actually going to be a lot of food stories there,” Satterfield explains. “One of the ones that we covered was twofold. One about Black college students doing a tactical, strategic, and mindful interjection of a public food service establishment. The other side of that was the role of an establishment like Paschal’s as a safe place to organize and galvanize, especially after you were just released from jail or after a demonstration. Coming together to talk about what comes next—to talk about what to do, how it went, how to improve. This happens over food. Food touches everything.”
It’s impossible to discuss the Civil Rights Movement and its profound impact on American history without discussing the many sit-ins that took place in restaurants across the South. The sit-ins that took place in downtown Atlanta played a significant role in the work towards desegregation. During one protest that took place on October 19, 1960 at Rich’s Department Store’s Magnolia Room, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. joined several protesters, including Charles Black, a Morehouse student at the time, and Dr. Georgianne Thomas and Marilyn Pryce Hoytt, who were then studying at Spelman College. In episode three, over a meal at Paschal’s, Satterfield heard from Thomas, Black, and Hoytt about their experiences as teenage activists during the Civil Rights Movement.
“If you think about the importance of college students and the importance of Atlanta as a shining beacon of African American higher education—particularly, the Atlanta University Center, with Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark—you’ve got this place where students are coming together, they’re eating and they’re planning,” says Harris, the author of the High on the Hog book. “That’s another thing that makes Atlanta that hub for those movements; that galvanizing point of the higher education system, and particularly African American higher education.”
Satterfield’s passion for food and storytelling started in kitchens in and around Atlanta during his childhood. “I was primarily raised in Southwest DeKalb, Decatur, and then later, Stone Mountain. A lot of my early memories of food come from my grandmother’s house in Decatur. Watching my maternal grandmother and my father do their kitchen dance after church,” Satterfield says. “I went to a church called Turtle Road Church of Christ, a Christian church in South Atlanta. And after the service we would either cook at church, or most often, we would go home and my dad and my grandma would cook for all the children and the cousins. I grew up with Black Southern family Sunday suppers, and, of course, that made a huge impression.”
In High on the Hog, Satterfield acknowledges the relationship between Christianity and the stories of Black liberation, especially in Atlanta—as the significance of Black churches during the Civil Rights Movement is often discussed. To expand on the relationship between Black liberation and places of worship, he has a conversation with historian Zaheer Ali at Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam. The two discuss the influence of Black Muslims in Atlanta, from collective liberation to culinary influence. As he mentioned, there are food stories everywhere.
As viewers learn more about American history by way of Black American cuisine, Harris hopes they’re encouraged to be present in shaping our future. “The whole notion of community, large and small—your family, your extended family, the community in which you live, African Americans in the United States, and then the larger community in the diaspora—I would like people to think about this need for community and the need to respect community,” she says. “Also, [think about] the importance of intergenerational conversations. Talk to your elders. We like to think we’re going to be here forever, but we’re probably not. So get that knowledge. Talk to us while we are here.”
Season two of High on the Hog is available on Netflix, starting Tuesday, November 22.