The co-founder of Whetstone magazine and host of the food anthropology podcast Point of Origin, food writer Stephen Satterfield spent more than a decade working as a sommelier before venturing into the world of media. A regular contributor to Esquire, Food & Wine, New York magazine, and other publications, Satterfield tells us about his role as a self-described “origin forager,” and why the world of food media is just starting to wake up.
After working in restaurants for several years, what inspired you to start Whetstone and move into the world of food media?
There are some overarching principles—ideologies, you could say—in assessing wine that I found to be transferable to other modes of thinking. More specifically, I’m talking about terroir, and analyzing wines through a prism of time and place, and environment and humanity, and kind of having that be the language.
While working at Nopa in San Francisco, in 2010, I began to befriend many of our purveyors at the restaurant, and through developing that community, became really inspired to chronicle their stories. That started off pretty modestly, as a Tumblr blog, but got progressively more ambitious, culminating in a brand with a voice and an identity that I decided to really pursue—but instead of through a hyper-local Northern California lens, a more global one. Whetstone is a food publication and media company that is dedicated to food culture through this specific framework of origins and anthropology. We don’t really say, explicitly, that our work is political—we believe it’s implied in the message—but how could it not be?
As a society, we’ve become so disconnected to nature and our food systems. How did we get here, and do you feel the ongoing pandemic will have a long-lasting effect on how we consume and rethink our food sources?
Our food system is owned and controlled by corporations, which really defined the entire twentieth-century history of industrialization in this country, and in many other countries. It’s the resulting impact of relinquishing more power to corporations to feed us, decade after decade, and moving further away from the agrarian tradition of the preceding centuries. Fast-forward to today, and you can now press a button on an iPhone to have food show up on your doorstep, which seems like a logical conclusion to all of that. The corporations really deliver on the original promise of the 1950s—with its microwaves, Easy-Bakes, and so forth, [up] through the modern grocery store—that you don’t have to be inconvenienced with canning or pickling things, or making soup stocks, that everything can be acquired, that it will afford you more time to spend with your family, to pursue this life of “American ideals,” whatever that may be.
At the onset of the pandemic, when the grocery stores were wiped clean, it was a frightening and really pivotal moment for a lot of people, and hopefully, a time to really start thinking more critically and asking: What and how do we actually feed ourselves, and where does our food come from? For us, it’s one of the essential questions.
As a co-founder of one the only black-owned food media companies in the country, what do you make of the current reckoning that’s happening in mainstream food media, at publications like Bon Appetit, and the difficult and painful conversations that are taking place?
Well, these aren’t difficult conversations for us because we have always been talking about this from the onset. And largely, the reason for our existence is the kind of racism that we experience—speaking of myself, personally—and basically felt uninspired by. We saw what was happening at these companies as antithetical to what we were trying to make, and in a sense, it gave us the guidance to understand what we didn’t want to do, in the way of appropriation, voice, and our editorial vision.
The reckoning is very necessary, and the erasure of other cultures—through appropriation, through excluding people of color from financial and professional opportunities—is in keeping with a centuries-long tradition of exploiting people of color, and specifically black people, for labor. This reckoning is largely about saying that the time’s up for that. We support it, and we think it’s only going to produce better products from the brands we love. I feel really sorry for the people who were harmed from all of the abuse that was happening within those organizations, but it does feel like there is a new enlightened moment. I’m not sure how long it will last, but it does unequivocally feel like a different moment—and that’s encouraging, to be in an unprecedented moment of racial justice.
One of the things we found particularly offensive is the working assumption, of the former editor [of Bon Appétit, Adam Rapoport], that the audience wasn’t sophisticated enough to absorb global or even diasporic cuisine. And in fact, the ultra-white filter applied to their stories actually wasn’t in keeping with broader food culture in the country, where people have been, in unprecedented ways, going to different kinds of restaurants and embracing all kinds of cuisines more than ever before. There was a real curiosity that they really could have led and brought their readers along upon, instead of undermining their intelligence by using this really, you know, milquetoast filter.
The power of this moment, and of your platform, is that people are hungry to learn more about food at a deeper level, and to recognize its cultural currency across so many spheres.
I’m always impressed with how sophisticated our readers are, and a lot of times they themselves will be independent scholars. I, myself, don’t have formal anthropology training, but I love reading about food origins, and there are so many others like me, who’ve used food as a pathway to deepening relationships to their own cultural, racial, ethnic, and religious identities.
Eating is something we all do and embody, in a way, which we can’t really say about anything else. We believe in the power of food as a way of radicalizing people, nourishing people, educating people, politicizing people—and we don’t really need to change our message to do that. We can tell really honest stories, whether about food culture in a contemporary context, or sometimes in a reported, anthropological story around indigeneity, that helps us understand how we got here. And I think a lot of that is a credit to the language, the vibe, and the products that we put out into the world, based around our working assumption about people’s comprehension, intelligence, and curiosity to keep up with what we’re talking about.
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Few bite-size foods are as fancy as caviar, with its bursts of salty brine that tickle the tongue. But changing attitudeEp. 53 of our Time Sensitive podcast.) Fortunately for those who still crave the eggs, an ethical alternative—one that’s being increasingly adopted by high-tonburi, the edible, quinoa-like seeds of the summer cypress plant that are sometimes referred to as “land caviar.”
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The award-winning African-American Jewish author and culinary historian Michael W. Twitty got his start in food writing Afroculinaria, as an outlet to document and celebrate the rich cultural histories of African-American fare and the vital role they haThe Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South—not to mention his open letter to Paula Deen, in 2013, that went viral, even as it was left unanswered by the disgraced Food Network host. Reflecting upon his own bsaid in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It’s also simply survival—through the mental fortitude of humor, the mental fortitude of memory, and the mental forti@thecookinggene) to keep abreast of what he’s cooking up next: a new non-profit called the Muloma Heritage Center, located on South Carolina’s historic St. Helena Island. Dedicated to educating visitors on African Atlantic culture, c
The human gut microbiome contains up to one thousand species of bacteria that, among many functions, produce neurotransm
In like a lion—and maybe out like a lion, too—summer has passed; it’s suddenly fall. And as our minds wander off to the génépi floral herb, a close relative to the more hardy wormwood, grows in rock crevices and among glacial debris at an altitudForthave Spirits have just produced a version called Yellow, which, like its other offerings (including Red, a botanical aperitif, and Blue, an American dry gin), is simply named Genepy Herbetet, made by Italy’s family-run Distilleria Alpe, is another excellent pick, infused with additional aromatics including or
Ghetto Gastro, the Bronx-based culinary collective working at the intersection of design, art, and social justice, has cooked up a taCRUXGG, includes a range of everyday appliances—a blender, a coffee maker, a toaster oven, an air fryer, and more—with matte-bEp. 2 of our Time Sensitive podcast), have released a rotating double waffle maker, which promises to yield perfectly browned, crisped edges, nooks, and crannies. True to Ghetto Gastro’s mission to igniKnow Your Rights Camp, a campaign founded by athlete-activist Colin Kaepernick. Consider the cookware, designed to be left out on the kitchen
Aishwarya Iyer never thought she would found an olive oil company. At least her background in start-ups and venture capi So Iyer decided to make her own, and launched Brightland in 2018. Using olives from a family-run farm on California’s central coast, the Los Angeles–based company makes extra-v
Sichuan cuisine, named for the subtropical province of China where it originates from, is characterized by a diversity omálà (a portmanteau meaning “numbing and spicy”), is marked by deep and pungent, peppery notes that you not only taste but fethe U.S. considered Sichuan peppercorns to be contraband; nowadays, you can find the little pink orbs in trendy cocktails that play on its citrus and camphor-like aromas. As thThe Mala Market, an online purveyor that stocks top-grade ingredients directly from Sichuan province. Here, in one fell swoop, you can blog of recipes to kick-start your culinary adventures.
Chefs and restaurant owners everywhere have had to rethink their business models this year, as social distancing and new
Several months into the pandemic, the restaurant industry remains among the hardest hit in the U.S., with scant evidenceparticularly those run by BIPOC entrepreneurs, who have been disproportionately affected by coronavirus-related losses—their fates lie directly in continuing sales. Eat Okra app, founded by New York couple Anthony and Janique Edwards in 2016, which gives a boost of visibility to Black-owned b
The 20th-century futurist, theorist, inventor, and architect R. Buckminster Fuller was a tireless visionary and radical thinker who wrote dozens of books and proposed theoretical designs advocating for Synergetic Stew: Explorations in Dymaxion Dining, a collection of recipes and anecdotes originally compiled by Fuller’s friends as a surprise gift for his 86th birthday
Tamy Rofe, a sommelier who owns Brooklyn’s farm-to-table-y Latin American restaurant Colonia Verde with her husband, Felipe Donnelly, operates by a matra borrowed from her mother: “La comida compartida sabe mejor.” In English, it means, “Food tastes better when shared.” From the eatery’s lived-in aesthetic to its signature Sunday general store,” selling and even delivering nearly every ingredient on its menu alongside prepared meals and grill boxes—a way for Co
Lexie Smith is an artist and baker, though it’s only relatively recently, after years of working in restaurant kitchens and balanciBread on Earth. Her work often takes on various forms, from performance and installation to photography, writing, and publishing, all
After years in various kitchens, working his way up from dishwasher to cook, and ultimately chef de partie at Eleven Madison Park, Matt Jozwiak left the fine-dining world behind in 2017 to start Rethink Food NYC, a nonprofit organization that partners with restaurants and grocery stores to reduce excess food and make nutritious, Ghetto Gastro and Jozwiak’s former boss, chef Daniel Humm—as collaborators in its mission to fight food insecurity and foster a more
Extolled by New York City’s finest restaurants, from Daniel to Eleven Madison Park and abcV, as well as a growing coteriDavocadoguy, is seemingly everyone’s go-to guy for the best avocados. He keeps his supply consistently stocked and perfectly ripene