How Netflix’s High on the Hog Validates the Magnitude of African American Cuisine

A Vital Lesson on How African-American Cuisine Influenced American Food Culture

Robin A Henderson

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Image by Netflix

If you’re not familiar with Dr. Jessica B. Harris or her groundbreaking book, then you are missing a critical piece of American history.

Dr. Jessica B. Harris, a James Beard lifetime achievement award winner, wrote the quintessential book on America’s food history. High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America reexamines what we consider American cuisine through both the African and African-American lenses.

The same name is the basis for the Netflix docuseries High on the Hog.

In four groundbreaking episodes, the docuseries fills an important gap in America’s cultural history. Both the series and the book illuminate the ingenuity and resilience of African-American chefs who have shaped American cuisine since the first slave ships.

High on the hog is a term I often heard as a child.

“Oh, you’re eating high on the hog,” is how my mom referred to what she considered a fancy meal. “They’re living high on the hog” is how my older relatives would describe African-Americans with some level of status and wealth.

The printed origin of the phrase “high on the hog” traces back to 1920.

The term was first used in print by The New York Times. They used the phrase to describe people who were eating better cuts of meat — like pork chops — despite rising inflation. The publication blamed the country’s economic troubles on wealthy people eating luxurious meals.

The series, like the book, reexamines African-American culture through the lens of food.

The phrase high on the hog originated long before it appeared in mainstream media.

The enslaved first used this term.

It referred to when their masters provided them with a whole pig — a rare opportunity to enjoy and feast on the better cuts of meat. They recognized it as a chance to eat closer to the way of their masters, hence eating high on the hog.

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Robin A Henderson

I write about inclusive storytelling in Hollywood and diverse representation in wellness.