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Netflix’s ‘High on the Hog’ offers food for thought on race in America

Terroir is a French word that roughly translates to “taste of place.” It gets tossed around in the wine world to describe specific geothermal conditions that account for why certain grapes taste just so. Of course, terroir also works the other way. Environment and behavior have an impact on the foods they produce, and foods have an impact on the environments and behavior of those that enjoy them.

Considering that Netflix’s new series High on the Hog traces the origins of a cuisine, it makes sense for the host to be a sommelier, an expert on terroir. But since the cuisine in this case is American, and its origins involve centuries of exploiting people and culture taken from Africa, it helps that Stephen Satterfield is a sommelier and also much more.

“I’ve always found food and wine to be such an effective way to get people to think more critically about the world around them,” says Satterfield, founder of the food publication Whetstone and a chef in his own right. “We could virtually piece together any component of human history in analyzing our diet or our foodways, and doing so gives us permission to talk about subjects that otherwise feel difficult, cumbersome, challenging, or taboo even.”

High on the Hog, which streams on Netflix starting May 26, traffics in exclusively those kinds of subjects. Viewers will get the difference between sweet potatoes and yams, sure, but they’ll get way more about how the enslavers of Africans took not only people from the land, but indigenous foods, passed-down recipes and cooking ingenuity. The kind of thing most food shows shy away from.

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