Since June 2016, the Racist Sandwich podcast has tackled the subjects of race and gender in the Portland food industry across 32 episodes, and last week, the final member of the original team, co-founder Zahir Janmohamed, left Oregon (co-host Soleil Ho is also not in Oregon; current producer Juan Ramirez plans on staying put). Eater sat down with Janmohamed before he left to discuss how he perceives the effects of the Racist Sandwich podcast, both on the Portland food scene and food media in general.
But first things first: Will Racist Sandwich go on? Janmohamed says yes, the team still plans on keeping the podcast going after he moves to Columbus, Ohio, where his partner, Claire, accepted a professorship. Future episodes will focus on Portland at times, but the move marks a shift toward a broader, more national scope.
Janmohamed recounted a number of challenges while covering race and gender in the Portland food scene. Case in point: He says people of color in the Portland food industry are sometimes hesitant to tell their stories.
“I did this story for Travel Oregon—a simple roundup about places to eat to break your fast during the month of Ramadan,” says Janmohamed, “and a few of the restaurants that I reached out to declined to be part of the article because they didn’t want it advertised that they were Muslim-owned. That’s a story. How sad is that when a Muslim restaurant owner has to say to me, another Muslim, ‘I respect you doing this article, but don’t include us.’ That’s the city we live in. I’m not saying it’s unique to Portland, but that story hasn’t been told.”
Janmohamed says he also experienced the reluctance among women — “both women of color and white women” to discuss, on-air, the times they’ve been sexually harrassed while working in the food industry. “They’ve said no [to coming on the podcast], saying, ‘I support the show, I think it’s great topic, but I just can’t talk about it.’ It reminds me that we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
When asked how individual journalists and media outlets might affect change in these areas, Janmohamed said, “Ask people of color what are the kinds of stories they want to see reflected, or allow people of color to tell stories that may not be centered around a white audience.”
He also offered a few tips for people who are interested in working in food journalism. “I would say: A, really have a voice. In food writing, it’s really important to have a voice. B, for all writers: Have something to say. C, for writers of color: Identify ways you have access to communities that maybe white writers do not have access to. Then, go to editors and say, ‘I have access to this particular space. Let me take you—and let me take your readers—into this space.’ That’s golden. Be able to identify a story that maybe only you can uniquely tell.”
- Racist Sandwich [Official]
This post has been updated for clarity.