It makes perfect sense that Netflix’s new series High on the Pork: How African American Cuisine Transformed America Gabrielle EW Carter would include. Apex’s native and cultural curator has done a bit of everything from working with celebrity chef JJ Johnson to hosting joint dinners inspired by her family’s culinary traditions.
Most recently, as co-founder of Tall Grass Food Box (alongside Gerald C. Harris and Derrick beasley), Carter created a way for Triangle residents to directly support local black farmers during and beyond the pandemic.
Hosted by sommelier and Whetstone magazine founder Stephen Satterfield, High on the pork is a narrative correction, emphasizing the fundamental role that African ingredients, techniques and culinary knowledge played in the formation of the American table. It also illustrates the countless historical and current Black and African American figures who have drawn on this source, including Carter, who is one of the most recognized standard bearers and heirs to this proud tradition in this region and state.
In a recent conversation with the INDY, Carter talks about her preservation work, family land, and reclaiming burning ties.
INDY week: There was a festive wave of admiration for High on the pork, including the part of Episode 2 that highlights your work and family homestead in Apex. What stood out to you in the responses you received directly?
GABRIELLE EW CARTER: I think how necessary it is and how much we have needed something like this for a long time. All types of black people in the diaspora are reaching out – from Brazil, Panama and everywhere, directly and more broadly – who are just thrilled to see themselves in this context and to have something that seems to be for us. It was written with us in mind. The whole process was done in a thoughtful, non-linear fashion which in my opinion is a very beautiful and dark way of storytelling.
What does the series represent for you personally?
I had a few friends to watch the first two episodes and we just cried so many different types of tears. First of all, it was great to see Stephen [Satterfield] tell a story. Seeing his vulnerability, honesty and transparency on screen like that was powerful. And then also seeing them in a place like Benin telling a story of culture, art and food that was not at the center of slavery – talking about life before and how these traditions survive , exist and are transmitted. It was very powerful, and like something I’ve never seen.
In a recent Instagram post, Stephen Satterfield refers to you, writing that “his family becomes a proxy for us.” What does this mean to you?
I like him to say that. I consider my work to be a defender of culture. I hope to create a framework for other artists to intentionally preserve the culture. It’s really about the questions we ask, the time we spend, it’s about seeing these things as important and archiving them in any way we can. I hope that my work will serve as a framework for others to do the work of preserving our culture. It will take all of us to tell our individual stories and unearth some of the older stories that are with some of the griots and custodians of culture in our communities.
There is this sense of discovery that comes from this work that helps me anchor myself in something bigger than me. Seeing other people learn about their family history is rewarding in a way I have no words for.
One thing that has changed since this movie was filmed in 2019 is the pandemic, which led to you co-founding Tall Grass Food Box. For those who do not know, can you present the project?
When there’s a need, people in my neighborhood turn to fundraisers, whether it’s a fried fish or a food drive. It started out, at least for me, as a very casual thing where we would buy the produce directly from the farmers and sell boxes. We started with 30 boxes and now we have about 200+ families that we are feeding.
At the top, we were doing this great program with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association to feed the hospitality workers. When this was operational, we fed 400 families. We reinvented Tall Grass, which initially looked more of a relief, and now it’s more like, Oh we have an agency to understand how we want our local food economy to look, grow and function and empower the people we do. want to empower. .
Being intentional to put that money into black earth and black food does good for us as a team and our clientele.
In High on the pork you talk about how the state of North Carolina is grabbing your family’s land in front of the farm to create a freeway. How do you and your family persevere in the face of this displacement?
We had to sell part of our land and many of my relatives were displaced in this process. All the work that we were doing before it even became a threat is still moving forward, perhaps more fiercely because of this situation. That’s not to say that seed saving and winemaking weren’t important before the highway project, because that’s why I moved home.
The whole process was very harmful. I feel like I feel a lot of things, but I feel especially good about the way I got people to archive how things were before. There is this feeling of obliteration now that the houses are no longer there, and the plants are no longer there, and the trees are no longer there. It was all a very violent process.
Coming out of something like that, the information, the people, the understanding, the seeds themselves — all of those things are still there. I find a lot of power in re-imagining what is most important, because as much as homes and closeness meant to us, it is important to keep in mind the individuals and the stories and the other things too, and all of those things. that we still have access to.
How can people get involved in the work you do?
Revival Taste Collective is something that I am resuscitating. I see this as a platform where I can bring in people like Uncle Andrew and different elders and young people who are doing a really great job of preserving culture.
I started a Patreon specifically for some of the food preservation jobs I do. I am currently in the R&D phase on a fermented food and drink line. This will be a small batch, sort of a carefully curated collection of items co-inspired or co-created by people like Uncle Andrew and the various farmers we work with who have these long traditions and histories. family food. . I focus on us and our stories: black people and the natives of eastern North Carolina.
A big inspiration comes from my grandmother Nancy, who had a whole wall of preserves that she canned or dried herself, from crab apples to pickled squash and okra. I have already started playing with different things that we grow and buy from the farmers in Tall Grass.
Do you have an example?
I play with ideas which represent our history but which are also linked to our nostalgia for the South. I am currently working on hot red recovery [links]. It’s that slightly spicy super red sausage. Every good barbecue had heat on the grill and the good ones were burnt. You just eat it on white bread or a bun with mustard.
I wanted to reimagine hot hots knowing what I now know about the origin of this meat and the number of types of dyes it contains. I’m in the test kitchen trying to recreate this dog with pork from one of the farmers who is currently in High on the pork. I’m going to try to get the same crazy red, but with hibiscus and paprika, and things that I’m not sad to put in my body. I don’t know if you know Andrea [Reusing] de Lantern, but she’s my co-conspirator and we’re trying to figure out. It’s exciting and fun right now.
Can you say more about who inspires your work?
My grandfather, Mayfield, definitely inspires my work, as well as his brothers Herbert and Andrew. My great-uncle Herbert is a chef who worked for 20 years in the Legislature and cooked for Speakers. At the time, he and my grandfather had a little place called The Basement. They were making a little hangout, but there was also a line outside for their wet and fried chicken. It’s one of those recipes that it’s like, Oh, we’ve got to preserve this. Their passion for growing food inspired me and how it gave them access to what looks like wealth and abundance.
And who do you want to inspire?
First, black women. They are my audience and my inspiration too. I always love to see when little girls first experience something like being on earth and some of the practices that I strive to preserve. Watch them light up around this information and recognize that there is a path to something different; it’s exciting and inspiring for me. I strive to make sure that they have access to this information and that they know that it is their culture and their heritage that they can advance however they wish.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Visit patreon.com/gabrielle_ewcarter to learn more about Carter’s work.
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