Racist Sandwich podcast serves provocative food for thought
Back in 2012, before Black Lives Matter and MeToo and other movements involving class and race and gender, there was Courageous Conversations.
Portland Public Schools families might remember hearing about this mandated "equity" training for all school teachers, principals and administrators, which came at a cost of millions to the district.
Skeptics mocked the training, which asked the majority-white participants to address their "white privilege" as a way of unpacking their latent prejudices and world views.
One of those principals at the time, in an interview with this Tribune reporter, spoke about how even the most innocuous parts of the school day, like school lunch offerings, contribute to institutional racism in schools.
The Hispanic principal questioned why peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were the norm for her diverse community of students.
Within days, that comment sparked a national frenzy of attention on white privilege in Portland, from across the political spectrum.
Five years later, a handful of young activists adopted the term "racist sandwich" as their own as the moniker for their podcast, which would feature voices of people of color in the food industry.
In its first season last year, the Racist Sandwich podcast — led by Portland-based producer Juan Diego Ramirez — aired 40-plus episodes that took listeners into the food carts, wineries and restaurants of Portland as well as locales like Los Angeles, Oakland, Ohio and Toronto.
In their first season they've interviewed a range of people, from Bertony Faustin, Oregon's first black winemaker, to Pulitzer prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen. Subject-wise, they've tackled everything from the culture of abuse in restaurants, to why black-owned restaurants are critical, to the politics of the word "curry."
Now, Racist Sandwich is planning a second season, but is relying on a Kickstarter campaign to support it: kck.st/2E1gotN.
Their campaign to raise $10,000 ends Feb. 1; as of Jan. 23 it had raised $7,690.
The plan is to increase their operating budget to do more field interviews in cities across the country, upgrade equipment and hire another producer.
The goal, according to their campaign, is "to make the food world more relevant and accessible to everyone."
We sat down with the podcast's Portland-based producer, Juan Diego Ramirez, 29, who was born in Mexico and raised in south-central Los Angeles. He's been visiting Portland once a year since he was 13 but settled here four years ago. We asked about his work with Racist Sandwich so far, and his hopes for the future related to food, gender, race and class:
Tribune: It seems like more and more people are listening to podcasts now. If we all listen to podcasts that match our world view, isn't that just reinforcing the bubble we all live in?
Ramirez: This is an interesting question. Just like how popular websites and their algorithms can skew people's opinions, a podcast can keep you in your bubble. Unlike algorithms, podcasts are humanly creative and great podcasts are diverse in opinions.
Tribune: It seems like millennials are leading the way in the dialogue about race, class and gender. Is that what you're finding as well, and have you and your team run into resistance from some who are happy with the status quo?
Ramirez: The conversation about race, class, and gender is nothing new. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. What has changed is the popularity and approach of that conversation. Have we run into resistance from some who are happy with the status quo? Yeah — they are dinosaurs and as the collective consciousness grows, they will one day be extinct.
Tribune: Is Portland's precious food culture so different from other cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City, or do we just imagine it to be?
Ramirez: I think all cities have their own flavor. Portland's food culture, in particular, has shown to do very well in the national spotlight but I think local food media can do a better job highlighting and understanding restaurants owned by people of color, otherwise, it will never be an even field.
Tribune: I noticed your website's "PDX POC (people-of-color-owned) food directory," which maps and alphabetically lists dozens of food businesses owned by immigrants and people of diverse backgrounds (see racistsandwich.com/pocdirectory/). Do you have a few unique favorites to recommend?
Ramirez: We get many requests to put up restaurants on the list that it becomes difficult to keep up with. So if anyone has not seen their favorite people of color-owned restaurants up on the list and you've sent us a request, don't worry — we are working on it. As for my favorite places to eat, I would have to take you to the west. Hillsboro's Ameila's Exquisite Mexican Dining serves a brick-sized burrito sabroso. Make sure to try their mole negro. Also, Sabor Salvadoreño in Beaverton has really good pupusas de loroco.
Tribune: What is your long-term goal for the podcast? In reaching more listeners, what can we accomplish as a community?
Ramirez: I see the podcast growing and evolving. We have a couple of ideas of what we want to do in the future but for now, we want to reach our Kickstarter goal so that we can go on with our second season. I am sure my colleagues might have a different answer to the second question, but I am glad that we have contributed to important conversations that surround food. I only hope that after listening to our podcast people continue to have those important conversations. The more we know, the more barriers we can tear down.
For more: www.racistsandwich.com.