I've been planning to share the Other People's Food series of episodes from The Sporkful since they came out a number of weeks ago but hadn't gotten to it yet. This week a couple things happen that brought it up again for me. First was overhearing a conversation in a local deli counter and second finally listening to the Racist Sandwich podcast, made right here in Portland. The first 3 episodes are powerful setup to what I know will be a wildly successful show.
So the Other People's Food series...I'm a fan of The Sporkful. I really enjoy the unique and fun ways they create story around food, but it always feels light hearted and not particularly important. After the first episode, I was completely blow away. They got into it and it was messy, enlighting and really wonderful. Being a brown person myself, I'm fairly aware and sensitive to issues of culture and race but for some reason, I'd never given much thought to how food plays a role and is a living embodiment of the conflict playing out between people and within ourselves. I encourage you to go listen. I know it will crack open a new way of seeing the world of food and the world of people who have lived a different experience than you.
Food is a big deal in Portland. Eating well is almost a religion here, but damn if there isn't a lot to unpack when it comes to how we relate to it, and create it, especially when it comes to the food of other cultures.
Overheard in a fancy Portland, Oregon deli...
Woman at counter:
What's ...I don't know how to say it..a banh mi?
Like what form does it come in?
Man making sandwiches:
I've never had a real one but ours.....(tells about the sandwich)
Woman at counter:
Can I get that on sourdough?
Man making sandwiches:
Some people will read this and get all heated. You might read this not even see the many problems hidden in this little interaction. This dichotomy is a perfect example of the complexity and difficulty of expressing, talking about and understanding issues of race.
How can one person get upset, do a forehead slap, sigh or get bummed when they read this. While another person doesn't see anything wrong. Conversations about racially charged interactions or expressions often leave us divided and misunderstood, we can't seem to find the right in, that produces a conversation everyone can hear.
This example is a wonderful in, into what I think is currently the best context to discuss race, and that's food. The way we talk about, experience, purchase, imitate, enjoy and make food tells a story about what we believe about people, culture and yes, race. It seems so benign, the food choices we make. It's just personal preference, right? But our deepest held prejudices can be found in our interaction with food, and people are having some great conversations about it.
Racist Sandwich is the perfect embodiment of this. Yes, it's about food but listening to the first 3 episodes you begin to understand that this topic is more than it seems. The host and guests are able to express so clearly what it is like to be "other"* and honestly explain how this has impacted their lives and themselves. It's like you're hearing a conversation about food but what you're really hearing is the most direct to the soul conversations about race you've ever heard. I'm excited for people to listen. White folks, I think you will gain a deep new understanding of our experience and for all you "others"* you will feel understood and maybe find some words to go with feelings we are all too familiar with.
* I'm not a fan of using the word "other" to describe, people not part of the dominant culture (For us here in the US this often means non-white but also a ton of other markers of identity). I struggled to come up with a better word for this context and ended up keeping it. I do want to acknowledge that I have railed against the concept in another post because it is often used when someone decides through their limited view of the world, that someone else is "other", resulting in the exclusion of this person from the position of being seen as a peer.