San Francisco traffic is thick and immoveable on the morning I am to meet Stephen Satterfield for an interview. He suggested Equator on 2nd Street, and I roll through the doors in a dither. He is characteristically cool, overpoweringly calm. Grab a coffee, he tells me. Relax.
I do just that. Our conversation starts the way any of these discussions do; we speak of mutual acquaintances in the impossibly small yet well- stocked pond of San Francisco’s art and editorial scene. We share our admiration for artist and Creative Director George McCalman, and we even chat about burgeoning food technology before truly digging into the meat of the interview. It’s going swimmingly. Just a moment later, Mr. Satterfield is guiding me through his first real experience in the food justice space. He speaks of the formerly colonized regions of South Africa, where viticulture is the most entrenched agricultural industry. He rattles off statistics with ease and explains how his first business, a non-profit called International Society of Africans in Wine (ISAW Foundation), aimed to overthrow a historically white, exclusionary industry. At this precise moment I am sure – not that I ever really had a doubt – this is no typical interview. Stephen Satterfield knows his stuff. And not only that; he is fully equipped to teach the unlearned, to pry open the unthinking minds, to give voices to those that have been told, for generations, that they are not possessing of a story.
Now the Founder and Editor in Chief of Whetstone, a print magazine focused on local food culture of the world, Stephen Satterfield can see that he lived with the idea for a significant amount of time before he knew exactly what it was or what it could be. Having been trained in the culinary arts from a young age (he attended culinary school at nineteen and became a sommelier by age twenty-one), Satterfield’s food ideology was deeply affected by tenets of sustainable sourcing, farming, and eventually, justice. These ideals only solidified over time through his creation of ISAW and the non-profit’s subsequent three-year run, as well as his pivotal work as manager and content creator at San Francisco’s very own celebrated restaurant, Nopa.
His time spent at Nopa resulted in the creation of Nopalize, a high-level, multimedia project driven by Satterfield, focusing on videos, podcasts, farm tours, and editorial content. This project eventually became his full time position at the restaurant. Without fully realizing what he was establishing, Satterfield was quickly developing skills around storytelling, especially centered on issues of social justice via food.
“The years of 2014 through 2015, I probably had the best job in the country,” Satterfield said. “Running a multimedia platform for a super hot restaurant.” After five years at Nopa, Satterfield took his passions and vision and directed them towards a new project. The end result? Whetstone. A living, breathing, food culture magazine with an indigenous focus. So much of what the publication does is lend a unique and viable narrative to communities that historically have had no platform to do so. With its launch in spring of 2017, Satterfield celebrates the progress but remains tenacious and hungry in regards to the work still to be mastered. Looking back on the years before the pop of his editorial and creative break, he says something that doesn’t just resonate with me; it reverberates. “It’s torturous to have such clarity of vision, and not be able to get there,” he tells me. “That’s the thing I’m always looking at, and that’s why I suffer to whatever degree I suffer.” He goes on. This time, with more realism and conviction. “Now, I’m at a place where I’m finally doing the work that I want to do. The final act is figuring out how to pay for it.”
I ask him a parting question as our time together comes to a close. As journalists today, we are constantly berated for the dissipating state of media. There is too much content. There is no continuity to the content. There is no rhyme or reason, no story to be heard above the din. Satterfield rejects this notion with a levelheaded positivity. “I think it’s a great time to be in media, actually. It’s very difficult, but lots of industries are difficult. Media is just one of them… Twenty years ago, if I wanted to publish my own magazine, that would have been such a different amount of ambition,” he explains. “Every single part of the supply chain can be outsourced. You can actually bootstrap a media operation. I think the technology that exists to amplify our work allows us to reach more people. As a media maker, if you are living in a moment when your work can be amplified and accessed by the ever-growing global community, it’s a good time to be making media. A lot of the things that people lament in terms of what was lost is really more of a commentary on the way things used to be.” Maybe that’s the movement. Not a mourning for an archaic system, but a call to action for readers and writers alike to be better, to reach further. He leaves us with this: “Create something irreplaceable. And make it real.”