'Racist Sandwich' Makes For A Tasty Podcast

Mar 9, 2018

The creators of the podcast "Racist Sandwich" know that its title might take some by surprise.

“You might be curious about our name, 'Racist Sandwich,' and where it came from," says Zahir Janmohamed, one of its co-creators, at the beginning of the first episode. "We actually have an interesting story. We had some alternative names –"

"Yeah,” interrupts co-host Soleil Ho, “there’s my favorite of Zahir’s suggestions, which is 'Easy Exotic.' Super sexy.”

Ultimately, though, Janmohamed and Ho chose "Racist Sandwich" for the name of their podcast “about food, race, gender, and class.” The name is based on a true story that took place in Portland, Oregon, where the duo originally started the podcast.

At an elementary school there, a principal used a metaphor of serving tortas instead of PB&J sandwiches at a primarily Latino school to argue that a school’s curriculum should respond to its demographics. Angry bloggers accused the principal of calling PB&Js “racist,” and the podcast name was born.

"Sometimes, when we talk about race, we get kinda silly and we sort of lose our focus," Janmohamed says. "So 'racist sandwich' is a way of sort of not only capture that moment but also to sort of talk about how we're trying to use food to talk about class and gender and race."

The podcast isn't all sandwiches. Conversation topics range from the erasure of black influence in Southern food to how technology changes the way we eat, to the impact of food photography.

"We're trying to look at the ways in which sometimes food is politicized, what are the stories behind these food stories, and also to really amplify stories of color in the food world," Janmohamed says. "There are lots of terrific shows out there, but generally they are white men speaking."

Though the show started in Portland, Janmohamed has since moved to Columbus. In their first season, they spoke with everyone from university professors to restaurateurs, body image activists to Pulitzer Prize winners. They just launched their second season in February with an interview with Carmen Maria Machado, a National Book Award-nominated author. 

Janmohamed says a big focus of this season is women in the food world. His move, too, has helped shape the stories the podcast is covering. On the drive from Portland to Columbus, he stopped at a gas station and found a Punjabi Indian restaurant in a small city in the middle of Nebraska.

"I thought, 'Wow, we don't hear stories like that. What is it like to be an Indian to be running a restaurant in a tiny city in Nebraska?' As opposed to, 'Wow, look at this new croissant,' or something. Like, okay, we've heard that before,” he says. “I love croissants but like, let's do something different."

"Something different" this season will mean more interviews from the middle of the country.

"I really want to hear from places outside of the usual LA and New York,” he says. “I think generally the food stories are dominated by the coast, but there are thriving communities of color, they are thriving all over the country, and I want to hear some of those stories."

As for food in Columbus, Janmohamed already has two favorite spots: Momo Ghar and Hot Chicken Takeover.