Stephen Satterfield

Host & Executive Producer – Latasha Morrison
Senior Producer – Lauren C. Brown
Producer, Editor & Music By – Travon Potts
Transcriber – Sarah Connatser

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About Sam Acho

Since 2007, Stephen Satterfield has spent his career redefining food and beverage as means of organizing, activating, and educating. He is the founder of Whetstone, a groundbreaking magazine and media company dedicated to food origins and culture worldwide. Before his career in media, Satterfield was a sommelier and social entrepreneur promoting wine as a catalyst for socioeconomic development for Black wine workers in South Africa. Satterfield is among the most prominent and respected voices in U.S. food media and host of the critically acclaimed Netflix docuseries “High on the Hog.”

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The full episode transcript is below.

Narrator  0:01  

You are listening to the Be the Bridge podcast with Latasha Morrison.

Latasha Morrison  0:06  

[Intro] How are you guys doing today? This is exciting!

Narrator  0:09  

Each week, Be the Bridge podcast tackles subjects related to race and culture with the goal of bringing understanding.

Latasha Morrison  0:16  

[Intro] …but I’m going to do it in the spirit of love.

Narrator  0:19  

We believe understanding can move us toward racial healing, racial equity, and racial unity. Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge, which is an organization responding to racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world. This podcast is an extension of our vision to make sure people are no longer conditioned by a racialized society, but grounded in truth. If you have not hit the subscribe button, please do so now. Without further ado, let’s begin today’s podcast. Oh, and stick around for some important information at the end.

Latasha Morrison  0:54  

Since 2007, Stephen Satterfield has spent his career redefining food and beverage as a means of organizing, activating, and educating. He is the founder of “Whetstone,” a groundbreaking magazine and media company dedicated to food origins and culture worldwide. Before his career in media, Satterfield was a sommelier and social entrepreneur promoting wine as a catalyst for socioeconomic development for Black wine workers in South Africa. Satterfield is among the most prominent and respected voices in U.S. food media, and host of the critically acclaimed Netflix docuseries, “High on the Hog.”

Stephen Satterfield  1:31  

[Clip of intro to High on the Hog] “We call our food, soul food.”

Unknown Speaker  1:35  

[somebody speaking in clip] “This type of food, you can feel it when you eat it.”

Stephen Satterfield  1:39  

[somebody speaking in clip] “The truth is, a lot of American food has its roots in African American food, traditions, and ingenuity.”

Unknown Speaker  1:49  

[somebody speaking in clip] “And you see, it already smells like mac and cheese. This standard yummy dish has a really old history.”

Stephen Satterfield  1:55  

[Stephen Satterfield speaking in clip] “I’m Stephen Satterfield. And I’m on a journey to uncover the stories of African American food and meet the new generation preserving our history.”

Latasha Morrison  2:06  

I’m so glad to have Stephen Satterfield here with the Be the Bridge community today. And so, we’re gonna just get started. And Stephen, I know you’re not in the States right now, you’re getting some time away. So thank you so much for making time to talk with us. For those of you who don’t know, Stephen actually is responsible for a critically acclaimed Netflix docuseries called High on the Hog. And I just got to tell this story right quick before we even get started. I watched it and was blown away and really inspired. And then later to find out that our team has already worked on getting him for the Be the Bridge podcast. I’m so excited to have Stephen Satterfield here today. Welcome to the Be the Bridge audience and community! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what makes you passionate about redefining food and beverage to organize, activate, and educate. I love that. I love that statement.

Stephen Satterfield  3:13  

Yes, thank you so much for having me and shout out to your team for booking! And so yeah, I think that, you know, I should start off by using a moniker that I use for myself, but also to describe my work, which is an “Origin Forager.” And by that, I mean, we look at origin, and specifically food origin, as a reclamation movement. And this is sort of what you see in high on the hog, when you learn about the contributions of Black folks to not just the cuisine and the culinary arts of our country, and really, throughout the diaspora, and around the world—but the culture of the country itself is foundational. Not to mention the wealth and the politics. And that’s the intriguing thing about food for me is that it allows you to move into the space of all of these different discussions with full authority and presence, because there is no facet of our lives which food is not connected to, even though we don’t often think about food with that context. 

And so part of the work that I try to present in the world is about getting people to think more deeply about their food and specifically from this origin context. Because if you follow the migration of food, you’re really talking about the migration also of people, of plants, of animals, of information. And that information, that technology of the mind is a critical one. Because, you know, part of the historical erasure of Black folks and part of the mis-telling of our contributions in agriculture, for instance, like we see in Episode 2, “The rice kingdom,” it’s not that we were brought into this country as captives because of our physical bodies, it’s actually the intellectual technology of the West African rice farmers that were brought to South Carolina, which ultimately created the foundation of wealth for the colonies, and ultimately the US. So I think it’s really important for people to follow the journey of food, enquire about certain things that are part of our not just food culture, but our culture of gathering with friends and family and ceremony, when food is almost present, the food memory. What are the origins of those traditions and of those dishes? And I think when people engage in that type of work, it is very surprising where we end up. And again, I think “High on the Hog” is just a really great example, when you think you’re getting a straight-ahead food show. And yet, you’re getting this whole journey. So that’s the beautiful part about food.

Latasha Morrison  6:48  

And it was beautiful. When, I mean, just from the beginning to the end, and lacing the story. And I know, a lot of people don’t know the connection of food to story and to culture. And one of the things that you mentioned about the West Africans and the rice farmers, that’s something that I just learned probably about four years ago, really, in doing some research for my book. And when I visited this plantation in Louisiana, and as they were giving the history and talked, and they were actually giving the true history of this plantation—so which was great, but talked about, you know, West Africans that were brought because of their ability, and they knew how to cultivate sugarcane. And, you know, and they also knew how to build homes in that type of climate, you know, so it was because of intellect, and that, and that was restoring for me. Because although you know that, how history is told in school dehumanizes the intellect of Africans. And so that was, you know, restorative for me to hear that. And I love how you intertwine that throughout the docuseries. Now, you are..a sommel…sommeli…I don’t want to mess it up. Let’s say it again. 

Stephen Satterfield  8:24  

You—somewhere in there, you had it. Yeah, sommelier. It’s a French word.

Latasha Morrison  8:29  

Yeah, sommelier. Yeah. Okay, I’m gonna get that. You are a sommelier. And I thought that was incredible. Just knowing that that is a wine expert, you know, and it is a French word and to see you…when I think of a wine expert, I’m just gonna be honest, my own biases get in the way of that. And I, and this was also restorative, when I read this about you—and I’m like, just watching you even through the docuseries. I said, this guy’s amazing! And to be an expert in wine that I would think, if I didn’t see a picture of you, when I see that—a sommelier—the first person I think is a French person, a white person, white male, then maybe secondly, I may think of a white female. But I don’t see a Black man. How did that happen? And just tell me a little bit about that story with you.

Stephen Satterfield  9:28  

Sure. Um, I love that though, you know, because that’s such an honest reaction! And that was my lived experience in the wine industry as well. So you’re not that far off. Basically, I got into wine when I was in high school, a senior in high school. Because I had a friend who was a privileged friend, still is one of my best friends, whose father, who I greatly respected, kept a wine cellar. And I remember I was very into food, I had already developed a relationship with food in high school. I loved watching it on television. And I also loved making and trying to recreate the dishes that I saw on television, which led me to cookbooks. So I was already deep into food at this time. But by the time I became a senior in high school, you know, I was eating a meal at my homeboy’s house, and his father went down to the cellar, and he spent like, 15 minutes down there trying to pick these bottles for dinner. And so I just remember thinking, like, what does he know that I don’t know? I wanted to know. And I started to think of it, especially as a Black person who grew up in Black communities, Black families, but went to, you know, starting in middle school, white schools, you know, like, I was used to kind of moving in white spaces as a Black person even from a very young age. But so I started to recognize that experience as one of language. And language doesn’t just mean language in terms of how we’re communicating now, but there are all kinds of different languages. Every industry has its own language. Every community has its own dialect, you know what I mean? And so, I really looked at wine as a language that I wanted to learn, because I wanted to be able to communicate to people like my homie Birch’s dad, in the world of wine as well, because I was fascinated that he knew that language. 

And so I went to culinary school shortly thereafter, a year later as a 19-year-old, so I had a very non-traditional education. I didn’t go to undergrad and graduate from college. And when I went to culinary school, we started to take wine education as part of the curriculum. This was in Portland, Oregon, which is just north of the Willamette Valley, which is a very, very famous wine growing region, one of the finest wine growing regions in the world. And I was able to immerse myself in the world of wine at a very young age, at age 19. And so by the time I was 22, you know, I had become a sommelier, I had taken several tests, I had been mentored by some amazing people in Portland. And that journey in wine, you know, I wanted to continue to pursue, and yet as I continue to pursue it, going back to your initial reaction, I was so disheartened by how homogenous, the industry was, and the community was. I didn’t really see a future for myself as a sommelier. 

And so as a result of that, I moved back to Atlanta. This was in ’07, and I started a nonprofit called International Society of Africans in Wine. It’s a mouthful, we used to call it ISAW, and basically, we—it was my way of linking up with other Black folks in the world of wine, because this is pre-Facebook, we didn’t have a way, there wasn’t that many of us. And so what I did was, I started working with Black winemakers in South Africa, Black folks working in the wine industry in South Africa, spending a lot of time down there, building connections, you know, improving my skills and craft as a storyteller. Really telling these land-based narratives, agrarian narratives that often are about disenfranchised populations—which was true in South Africa, where the wine industry was founded upon enslaved labor by Dutch colonists. And so this is a story that I knew well in my soul. And I found myself deeply connected to that story of South African wine. So that allowed me to continue to be in the world of wine, show up in a way that made me feel whole. And really, that experience kind of permeated my career in which it gave me the perspective to now look at food and wine as something that was radically transformative, because it allowed us to get to the hard conversations which are not otherwise possible in polite society, you know, which is how racism gets perpetuated, because no one wants to really have a hard talk.

Latasha Morrison  14:47  

Wow, so good. And I think people seeing that, you know, there are Black sommeliers. That’s going to encourage other you know, students, culinary students, or just other people watching it like, “This is something that I could do,” or “This is something I want to learn more about.” So it really expands our vocabulary, you know, and our culture as we tap into that. Now, how did the docuseries come about? Like, you know, did you start out to say, hey, I want to do this? Or is it something that just kind of happened?

Stephen Satterfield  15:22  

Um, well, I can’t take credit for it, and I can’t shout out the names Karis Jagger and Fabienne Toback enough. They are the executive producers of “High on the Hog.” They are the ones who optioned the book, the original text, original source material from Dr. Jessica B. Harris, who is an idol and icon, a legend in our world and really in the world of literature and US history. So really, Karis and Fabi are the ones who got everything going, by optioning, or getting the rights of the book. They were so tenacious and persistent in handling this story with the care that it deserves, not taking no for an answer, linking up with another brilliant director, Roger Ross Williams, and really put the team and the vision in place for this work to happen. And I was connected through some mutual friends to Fabienne and Karis, the EPs. And you know, obviously this work, as I just explained with this whole origin context, I’ve been moving in this world and this work for a really long time. And so, I mean, at first I thought we were talking about, you know, me coming on as like a producer—which I do a lot of—to help, you know, bring this work to life. But as I talked further, with Fabienne, I realized that the vision that they had was really for the viewers to have kind of this embodied experience, you know, through one person’s point of view. And that person was me! And so that’s how I became the host. It is an honor to be a part of the project, I don’t think I will ever fully grasp the magnitude of it, or fully even be able to articulate just how special the experience was and continues to be. I’m just really so honored to be a part of it.

Latasha Morrison  17:44  

Yeah, I think your story took us to the country of Benin and Togo, where so many Africans can trace their DNA history due to the Atlantic slave trade. I know my history and ancestry coming through North Carolina/South Carolina. And of course, we know that this wasn’t the map, you know, wasn’t the country Benin and Togo, or it wasn’t Nigeria at that time. But it was more of kingdoms, and you know, and so we know we’re looking at a different map. What did you discover that you weren’t able to capture on the docuseries going into those spaces? Those sacred spaces, you know?

Stephen Satterfield  18:32  

Yeah, I think the thing that you discover is the—it’s the quiet parts, it’s the intangible stuff. It’s the emotion, you know, the feeling. Because, you know, as someone who loves reading, you know, as an independent scholar, publisher, I’m inundated with research and access to information. We can find stuff out. But you can’t find out a feeling, right? And so I think for me, the thing that was just so impressionable is seeing, imagining what our world would be like, had this colonial contact never happened. Had we, you know, had these kingdoms that continued to roll, obviously not without conflict, right? We’re talking about human beings. But just like, what would that experience have been like? I mean, I wouldn’t be here to see that. You know? But I am fascinated by that. And I’m fascinated by the sort of longing, the gap in between the diaspora, you know, and what that homecoming feels like. Not just for me, but anyone who has had the immigrant experience, the refugee experience, being torn from a place even that precedes you. But the spirit really understands that and that’s part of the emotion that, you know, overcame me in that first episode is like—I didn’t go into that scene, you know, being like, “I’m gonna cry,” you know? But it’s just like, the emotion of the severance, and the convening with, with your ancestors really. 

So what I learned is just the humility around that particular feeling. But I also left feeling really connected as well. I think that that is a source of power that we all have, which is, you know, one’s identity. You know, feeling like you have space in the world is a powerful thing. And I hope that this type of work, in which food is the basis, really allows us the opportunity to ground ourselves, find ourselves, take pride in our ancestry and in our history. This goes for everyone. And in finding that space for ourself in the world, hopefully, develop the empathy and the capacity to make that space for others, you know? In that kind of shared human experience that is rooted in tradition, and legacy, and ancestry that we all are part of. That’s a collective human story.

Latasha Morrison  21:50  

Yeah, I knew—I can’t say that I knew exactly what you were feeling. But having visited Africa myself, more so East Africa, I remember that feeling when I got off the plane and we were met at the airport by the people that were hosting us. And one of the Black men looked at me—I was, I was the only Black person with white people that was on our team. And he looked at me, and he said, “Welcome home, sister.” And I remember just the overwhelming emotion that I had in just that moment, I could have, I could only imagine what you felt like walking down that very row that possibly your ancestors had walked out. Like that was such a powerful moment. And thank you for being vulnerable enough to allow us to see that and not cut that part out of it. Because it was a beautiful moment. And I forget the professor’s name that was with you and kind of guiding you through. She was phenomenal, just in everything. One of the things that you—when we talk about the history, like I really hope that like food and beverage, like this, this history and how it’s told—it’s so intriguing to me. You know, like you were saying, there’s so much you can get up underneath when you’re telling this cultural story. I think it should really be an intricate part of Black history, and I would love to see that happen. And I want to just get your thoughts on just that alone.

Stephen Satterfield  23:44  

100%. I mean, we’re trying to create that right now. We’re trying to give us the language, the pride, the interest—that’s really what it comes down to. Because, again, stories are so ubiquitous that we tend to undervalue their power. And yet they are the basis for our entire belief system. The basis of our entire way of engaging with the world. Like, like, really think about that, you know what I’m saying? So like, imagine the way that we understand the world are through the stories that we are told. We don’t remember what we learned in school. You know what I mean? We do remember the stories that are cultural stories that are passed down from friends or family. And those stories are so pervasive that they become indoctrinated in those communities that we are a part of. 

And part of that indoctrination is racism. Which is an institutional pillar of this country! Institutional. Foundation. Right? Irrevocable. And so as a result of this, everyone—Black folks included—absorb anti-Black stories. Right? And so when I talk about the need for us to have pride in where we come from, it’s really like, it’s an act of love, but it’s also an act of taking back power. 

Latasha Morrison  25:32  

Yeah.

Stephen Satterfield  25:33  

Because the erasure of Black people from our own history has contributed to feelings of anti-Blackness in our own communities. And so, and so when you talk about Black history, it can’t be Black history for white people. MLK quotes that totally obfuscate his actual politic, right? In the name of creating comfort. When I talk about “High on the Hog,” I am explicit and unapologetic in saying this material was made for Black people, by Black people, with love. And yet, the material is for everyone to enjoy, and material everyone will benefit in learning these stories, because these are stories that have been absent that are needed to correct historical error/omissions. So when I talk about reclamation of culture, food is a central part of that. And we are so glad that we can now share that the culinary history of Black people is so much deeper than soul food.

Latasha Morrison  26:58  

Right!

Stephen Satterfield  26:59  

Because that is an easier story for other people, and us, to tell—because of the obfuscation, right. The stories that have been passed down to us, even as Black people. What is our food? “Well, soul food.” But that is such an incomplete history. And so I love that as a black sommelier, I can say, “Yo, we do wine.” 

Latasha Morrison  27:26  

Oysters! 

Stephen Satterfield  27:28  

I was just about to say, you know, Thomas Downing, the oyster King! Like Black cowboys. So we learned in “High on the Hog,” actually there’s nothing that we don’t do. And it’s really important that those stories are centered. Because our role and our presence in those stories to date has been completely erased. And that is its own form of violence, which is perpetuated culturally, right? And perpetuated in real life, like when land is taken. So displacement is really the throughline. And whether it is a narrative displacement or physical displacement, it’s a continuation of the ways in which Black folks have been erased, undervalued, for the entire time that we’ve been on this continent.

Tandria Potts  28:22  

[Host voiceover] This is so good. Aren’t you loving this conversation? We’re gonna take a quick break. Stay with us. We’ll be right back. 

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Tandria Potts  30:12  

[Host voiceover] Thanks for staying with us. Let’s get back to our conversation.

Latasha Morrison  30:15  

This reclamation of history is a reclaiming, owning our story and passing this down. And I think this is something if you have not seen this docuseries, please watch it. Watch it with your children. If you’re listening to the podcast and you haven’t seen it, I will suggest that you go watch it, and then come back to the podcast. Because when you tell the story of Texas and the whole, the introduction of Juneteenth, and when you tell the story of the Black cowboys…Now I have, I have heard stories. But when I’m able to connect that story, and then looking at Bruno, Bruno’s son that was right there, and how you got to experience that and experience what they ate, and that connectedness. I mean, I’m one that when you start talking about bits and pieces of animals being put together, you know, like, a lot of times I’m turning my nose. But even with that, it made it a beautiful thing because of the history that was connected to it. I got context for what some of the stories that I had heard—to actually get this, and contextualize it was, I mean, it was really meaningful. 

And that stew, the cowboy stew, oh my goodness! Like, and they’re still doing this, to this day, like, people are holding these stories and it is our job to go find them and tell them and write about them. And, you know, so I love what you’re doing through your media company and this docuseries. Now, I wanted to talk a little bit about Hercules. And, and James Hemings. When that story was told, I had to kind of like grit my teeth a little bit. Like, you know, because I know like a lot of those recipes, people think Martha Washington did a lot of those, you know? And so I love how you brought out that…what was the research process and discovery? I know this is based off of “High on the Hog” the book. But just tell me a little bit about the research process. Because a lot of times we say these things and people try to push back and it’s like, no, this is like, documented. This is like it’s not—it’s hidden, you have to go find it. But a lot of this is well known history in some circles. And so tell me a little bit about that creative process of bringing these stories to life.

Stephen Satterfield  32:48  

Yeah, I think one of the best things about “High on the Hog” is that Dr. Jessica B. Harris, who is in that first episode, and who, as I say, created that source material. She is and has long been, not even one of, I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: our nation’s foremost scholar in African diasporic foodways. Going back to the early 1970s and 1972, when she took her first trip to Benin, as she likes to say, before “Roots” came out, right? And so this is someone who is writing about food and travel for Essence magazine in the early 70s from a Black perspective. I believe—I really hope I don’t get this wrong—I need to figure it out. I think it’s 13 books, maybe working on her 14th book now? I don’t want to shortchange her. So what I’m trying to say is that part of what makes this so special is that we as a not just nation, but as the world, coming to know the work of Dr. Jessica B. Harris who has been at this for so long without the recognition that she deserves. And in fact, if you read her memoir, which I can’t recommend enough, “My Soul Looks Back,” what you will learn is that actually, this food thing is just like a small part of her world. She could take you to school on language, which we see a little bit of, in the docuseries. She can take you to school on theater, on jazz, and the kind of company that she was keeping while she had that job at Essence, were people like James Baldwin, people like Maya Angelou, who wrote the foreword to “High on the Hog.” People like Toni Morrison, who was editing Dr. J’s work. So when we talk about her, we ought to be speaking about her in this Pantheon context of icons, who were her actual peers, which we learn in her memoir.

And so to go back to your point around the history, especially with Black women, who are the keepers of our culture—they been keeping this history! They been documenting this history! This book came out in 2011. But it took two other Black women to see that, to read that and to say, no, this material needs to be brought to new generations and needs to be brought to the world so that this scholarship, which has actually been out here all along for people to read, can now get mainstream. And so stories that, you know, people like me and Omar and others who are featured that we well know, people like James Hemings, Hercules, you know, like these people have already permeated our work and life. But this is a pretty esoteric thing for Black folks. Right? And so what this does is allows us to kind of mainstream what has been true in our world. Which is Dr. J has been a legend! We’ve been kind of gathering around her scholarship for so long. And now collectively, we get to put some respect on her name. But it’s special, having a historian and the work of a historian be the basis for “High on the Hog,” because the history is really imbued in the whole experience.

Latasha Morrison  36:53  

Yeah. And thank you for saying her name and lifting her work up, and bringing to life the essence of her work. And like you said, she is someone, an icon that is living among us, you know, that has touched so many people. Works that we have touched. And I think it’s important for us to see how a lot of these stories are hidden, you know, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. And it does take, you know, sometimes someone else, a Black woman and a Black man coming alongside and highlighting that work and not looking past that work and honoring that work. And you do that so well in the docuseries and honoring her. And one of the other things that you know, as we talked about Hercules, who was the—he was enslaved by George Washington. And then that whole story of how he had to train someone else so that—No, actually, that was James Hemings, that had to train someone else. He was Thomas Jefferson, he was enslaved by Thomas Jefferson. In order for him to gain his freedom, he had to train his brother in order for that. But Hercules actually, when he wanted to gain his freedom, he was sent back to the plantation. And then later, it’s believed that he escaped. 

And, you know, and so I mean it really…and this is the thing. You know, this is what we talk about when we talk about Black history and how it’s hidden within American history. And we don’t tell these full stories, and we talk about, you know, some of these founding fathers like they’re all heroes. But the thing is, there’s, we can’t just tell one narrative, you know, we have to tell the full and complete story. And I just learned so much. And because when we don’t tell the full story, what happens is the stories of African Americans—the story of struggle, the story of dehumanization—all of that gets left out and it’s erased. And so you don’t get this story of Hercules or you don’t get this story of James Hemings, because we’ve created one narrative of a story around George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. And you know, so I think it’s important not only for us to do this work, but also for us to be truth tellers as a country and tell the full truth of our history, because we can’t change what we conceal, you know? And we can’t heal what we conceal. So I think that’s important.

Now, I wanted to talk…you went to, this story also takes us into Apex, North Carolina. And that really hit me too because most of my family’s roots are in North Carolina. And my grandfather, my great grandfather who could not read or write, but at the end of his life learned to write his name. And you see that in documents, this man that was illiterate managed to buy acres of land that we still have in our family today and that had false deeds twice. He had to fight with lawyers to keep that land. So I understand how we are connected to land, and there’s so much land that has been lost and stolen from the Black diaspora. I wanted to talk a little bit about the eminent domain that was happening with her family. And how often are you seeing that? And is this something that’s happening to white landowners like it is happening in a lot of our communities?

Stephen Satterfield  40:53  

Wow. You just said a lot. Well, I’m just so proud and grateful first for your, for your great great grandfather, your elders who have fought to protect that land. The issue of land cannot be overstated. And in fact, a lot of my own personal radicalization around the need for Black liberation and collective liberation really came as I moreso started to understand land-based politics and history, especially working in South Africa. You know, really understanding the horror of apartheid, really understanding the horror of these families who each generation are raised on these farms, paid in alcohol, systemically with no promise of getting out of these conditions. When we talk about the…I mean, the reason I talk about what’s foundational, this goes back to the origin framework. Like how did we get here? This whole country, this whole experiment, this experience called the United States—like, what is the origin story? The origin story is violence and genocide. Like it is so grim. And as a nation, I mean, we are so young, comparatively, to the rest of the world, especially the continents of Africa and Asia. 

And so what I’ve—we’re young enough where we can actually go back and see what has transpired because we have appropriate documentation from the onset of this country. And so what we learn and what we know to be true is that the foundation was based on a genocidal theft, and what was stolen was land. And not only is that true of the colonization of the United States, of North America, but it became a source of pride, of entitlement. Going back to this idea of story: Manifest Destiny, this westward expansion, it became an inherent part of the right of being born in this country, obviously for some not all. When you look at our story as Black people with the land, we were taken off of our own land, brought here under conditions that are so unspeakable that we can only attempt to try to convey the horrors of the actual vessels and the conditions of the vessels in the transatlantic slave trade. Not to mention what happens upon arrival and in captivity, right? What are they here for? They’re here to work the land! To work the land. This goes back to the rice conversation. This is the whole thing about food. Why are we here? Because of food sources! How did we stay alive to make it here? Well, rice and corn, fava beans and corn, the bare minimum corn from the Americas—part of this trade, part of this migration of people, of plants, of information. 

And so our relationship to food, our relationship to this country, the relationship between Black people and white people foundationally is a relationship of exploitation of subjugation and racism. That’s a lot to overcome. We’ve been trying to for centuries now, right? But that is our foundational relationship to white people, right? And so the way that we see that persist in 2021, I don’t know the data around whether or not eminent domain is affecting white people in the same way. So I don’t want to speak on that. But Gabrielle’s story is a continuation of the story of Black people, which is displacement, as I said. So it could be eminent domain, it could be gentrification, it could be the false deeds, it could be the appraisals where if you’re Black your appraisal is going to be $100,000 less for the same property. It could be redlining, in which Black people are not allowed legally to buy into certain neighborhoods that they could otherwise afford. It is about the system that is in coordination with the banks. And those HOAs, right? Like, we have to understand how this all works together. And what is the end result? The end result is a wealth gap and a wealth disparity that is land based, that is now bigger than it was even during the period of reconstruction. So we’ve gone backwards. We’ve gone backwards. And that wealth that was generated with things like the GI Bill, that allowed white veterans to come back and have access to home loans that we didn’t have access to, even though we fought alongside these same individuals. Well, now those people have grandkids who are going to inherit those homes for seven digits. Yeah. That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about generational wealth, and the stories that will be told about Black people are “just couldn’t get it together.” We have to be honest about this land thing. So conversations around reparations, I know that people have different ideas about what it should be. To me, the theft was land based, the wealth was land based, the reparations has to be land based. Period. Yeah, that is the wealth of the country. That’s what was stolen.

Latasha Morrison  47:22  

And I think that’s, that’s just like, such a conversation that we need to have, you know? To educate ourselves and to, you know, and also starting with Indigenous land, you know? And so I think that’s important and that’s valuable, and we have to have the kinds of conversations, we can’t pretend like these tensions don’t exist. And that’s what we like to do, you know, in our country is pretend that these tensions don’t exist. You mentioned a lot about the Black wine workers in South Africa. And about some socioeconomic development. And I know for generations, land also in South Africa was taken from South Africans, you know, from Black South Africans, and some of them where they still had the deed, but through apartheid, their land was taken and taken over. And some of them like after apartheid, had the deeds to their land, and they’re reclaiming their land, but sometimes in the news it’s making it look like they’re oppressing white people, but only thing that they’re doing is reclaiming what has been stolen from them. And, you know, and so like, what are some of your thoughts around that? You know, let’s…I want to hear it, you know? Especially when it comes to, you’re talking about the wine workers. And so a lot of times we are, a lot of this stuff is indigenous to us, but we don’t do this anymore. It hasn’t been passed down. You know, and in massive ways, because land—we were displaced. And so therefore, we were the farmers, you know, we were the ones that were building canals and, you know, finding ways for rice farms to work and sugarcane and all this excavation of land—that was, that was a part of enslavement. And so when you look at that in South Africa, just give us a little glimpse of some of that to understand some of that here in the American context. Sometimes that helps with people understanding what’s happening in other countries to give us a little glimpse of what’s happening here.

Stephen Satterfield  49:43  

Yeah, I think that the similarities are eery, but also they’re easy to identify. And so it’s quite simple to me to understand what’s happening. There is a racialized ruling class, in South Africa’s case, a racial minority, right? Which is going to be the case here in 2050 in which white people will be the racial minority, and I promise you will persist as the ruling class. So we can look at South Africa to understand how that cooptation will happen. And of course, it persists through 20 different generations of families with Dutch names and English names, who continue to live and prosper in particular, in the Western Cape of South Africa, which is a multibillion dollar industry of wine, tourism, and viticulture, of which Black people make up over 90% of the workforce and own less than a fraction of a percent of the land. It is diabolical, and the only opportunities for Black people to own land, are we see, “You need to be well heeled, well connected, you need to be able to jump through these hoops.” And so the people who are—the communities, the families who are in greatest need of being able to have governance and sovereignty over this resource, which is land, which is the land, they don’t have the ability to do that.

And so I think like, and then of course, we see the stories that are told as a result of some of these schemes, which were not full heartedly implemented. Right? Not implemented with care. Right? And you have a population after centuries of disenfranchisement, not decades, you know? Centuries! And then you wave the stick, you say, “Okay, no other support, no resources, no context, fine. Take this little un-arable share of land, and go make it work.” In the ways in which racism is systemic, repair needs to be systemic. And so without the systemic support for even the minuscule land based projects that happen, then you don’t see the results that you would hope to see. And when you don’t see the results, the narrator who is the one who controls the situation, the one who holds power is the narrator of the story. Right? So when that story is disseminated, distributed across CNN so that now you know about this, so you can ask me about it. But when we see the anchors, when we see the farmers who they’re interviewing, the context that is presented—who are we not hearing from? You know what I mean? Who were we not hearing from? Just the same thing here in the US. And so I think when you look at like these conversations around land, land is a form of dominance. Stories are a form of dominance and of suppression. It is a threat! In Georgia, when Georgia goes blue, “Hold on now. Hold on. We gotta change everything. We gotta make it impossible. Oh, Black folks, y’all can’t go to church and organize and go vote after church. That’s dangerous.” So no matter what amount of progress that we have, you can always anticipate those in power to push back on it. And unfortunately, that remains true in South Africa, has remained true there for centuries. It is true here, has remained true for centuries.

Latasha Morrison  53:55  

Yeah, yeah. What do you hope people will take away from your work with the docuseries “High on the Hog”?

Stephen Satterfield  54:04  

Um, I think kind of what I was just alluding to, you know, looking for who’s missing? Who’s missing? And so you can go into your own industry and community and start to interrogate the stories that you’ve been taught and told. Who told you those stories? Right? Who’s corroborating those stories? And if there are characters in the story who you don’t hear from, but you hear about? Let me say it again. 

Latasha Morrison  54:39  

Say it again! I was about to tell you, say it again!

Stephen Satterfield  54:42  

You don’t hear from them, you hear about them. Those are the stories that need to be interrogated. And that is what I hope people take from this work, you know, and we’re just using food as an opening to be able to take people there.

Latasha Morrison  54:57  

Yeah, I love it. What other, what are some other projects that you’re working on, and will there be a second season?

Stephen Satterfield  55:06  

I don’t know about the second season, that’s way outside of my jurisdiction, but the support has been real and loud. And I can only imagine that people at Netflix making those decisions see that. So we’re optimistic. We’re hopeful. I think we would all love to make another one. As far as for me, you know, as I mentioned I have a company Whetstone. We’re a food media company. So we publish magazines, we make podcasts, and make videos. So we’re just gonna keep doing what we do, and amplifying these kind of food origin stories from around the world.

Latasha Morrison  55:45  

I love it. What is bringing you hope in your work? What is bringing you hope in your work that you’re doing right now?

Stephen Satterfield  55:52  

Oh, easily the response to “High on the Hog!” Of course, this is my whole life’s thesis, you know, this radicalizing, transformative power of food and identity and culture. And people really get it, you know? It’s like, it doesn’t even need to be explained the way that they are responding to the show lets me know, like, yeah, not only is this thesis correct, but we need to really double down on it. And I don’t think we have really seen it proven out at scale in this way. So I’m really optimistic about what kind of media we now have the capacity for.

Latasha Morrison  56:34  

Yeah. How do you keep your joy? And how are you practicing self care in this, I would say, tumultuous world that we live in, you know?

Stephen Satterfield  56:47  

Um, yeah, you know, I’m very good at leisure, you know? I believe in Black leisure. In fact, leisure is what got me into this world and got me drinking wine and eating nice food. Because that’s how I like to enjoy. So that’s what I do! It’s for work, but I’m really good at also having it be the thing that keeps me happy as well. Right now I’m in northern New Mexico and it’s beautiful here. It’s quiet here. And so I like to work in nature, close to nature. So that when I close my computer, if I want to take a walk, or watch the sunset, or take a break midday, and be close to nature, I can do that. So those are all the ways in which I take care of myself.

Latasha Morrison  57:45  

I love it. I love it. Stephen, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. We will definitely post all the information about Whetstone, and all the work that you’re doing. And we’re just grateful for you, your voice, your work. And we’re grateful for the executive producers and Dr. Jessica B. Harris, the scholar who has documented this when it wasn’t popular, you know? It has been unseen for so long. But now she is seen and she is known. And so we’re so grateful that you’re continuing to bring this story to life. Thank you so much for educating our Be the Bridge community and helping us to understand how we can activate and how we can educate and how we can organize around redefining food and beverage. Okay? Thank you so much.

Stephen Satterfield  58:41  

Thank you Latasha.

Tandria Potts  58:45  

[Host voiceover] Go to the Donor’s Table if you’d like to hear the unedited version of this podcast.

Narrator  58:52  

Thanks for listening to the Be the Bridge podcast. To find out more about the Be the Bridge organization and/or to become a bridge builder in your community, go to bethebridge.com. Again, that’s bethebridge.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, remember to rate and review it on this platform and share it with as many people as you possibly can. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Today’s show was edited, recorded, and produced by Travon Potts at Integrated Entertainment Studios in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. The host and executive producer is Latasha Morrison. Lauren C. Brown is the senior producer. And transcribed by Brittany Prescott. Please join us next time! This has been a Be the Bridge production.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai