Q&A with TK Matunda on our Toronto Series

A few months after we launched our podcast in 2016, we began to track our download numbers. Advertisers require this info and we also wanted to learn more about our listeners. One of the things that surprised us was learning that we had a sizable listener base in Toronto, Canada.

Since then, we made it a goal to do a series on Toronto. We are fans of the city--its culture, its food, its people--but we did not know exactly how to frame this topic.

Enter TK Matunda, a radio and podcast producer based in Toronto, Canada who we have wanted to work for ever since we heard this audio segment she did for Bitch Media in 2015 about growing up as a feminist in an immigrant family. Much to our delight, TK is now producing a multi-part series for us on Toronto.

But we need your support so we can pay TK the competitive fee she deserves. To donate to this series, please click here. You can make a one-time donation via Patreon as well!

We interviewed her via email about the series she is planning and what she hopes our listeners learn about Toronto.


ZAHIR: Tell us a bit about this series. Who are some of the people you plan to interview and what issues do you intend to explore?

TK: Toronto is such a culturally rich city, full of stories about different relationships to food. I want to give listeners a peek into some of the facets of the city’s food culture. I want to find out more about Toronto’s distinct neighbourhoods. I want talk food tourism with Suresh Doss. I want to explore Indigenous food in the city. I want to really get into Vegandale. I want to know what kinds of legacies are being built in Markham, Scarborough, and Brampton. And I also want to find out what matters to Torontonians. I don’t know if I’ll get to all of this, but I’m going to do as much as I can.

ZAHIR: Why do you think food is an interesting vehicle to tackle questions of race, gender, and class in Toronto?

TK: Food is both basic and complex — personal and political. A single dish has historical, cultural and personal stories that are all valid and interesting. And since food is something all humans need to survive, there’s such a visceral quality to it. It’s a relatable entry point to so many issues. Take for instance sukuma wiki, a East African dish made from collard green or kale. It’s literally translation means “push the week” as it is an affordable staple that many families used stretch their resources. In my lifetime, I’ve seen my mother go from grocery to grocery store looking for a place that sells the vegetable, to starting her own garden after kale became the new (a.k.a. expensive) “superfood.” For me, that one food has personal, cultural and economic ties, that reflect the power of marketing, colonisation and immigrant experience, and it’s only a side dish!

ZAHIR: What are some of your favorite spots to eat in Toronto?

TK: There are so many great places to eat. La Cubana, Lasa by Lamesa and Fat Pasha are three of my favourite places.

ZAHIR: What don’t we in the US know about the African diaspora in Canada?

TK: I can’t speak for an entire group, but personally, I think there’s less of an attachment to Canada. I wouldn’t say unpatriotic, more so apatriotic. My family has lived in Canada for almost 30 years, yet “back home” will always be Kenya, partly because most of our relatives are in Kenya and partly because we’re still othered on a regular basis. I was born in Canada, yet I don’t know if I’ve gone more than a month without someone saying “where are you really from?” That question really changes how you see yourself in relation to your surroundings. Still, I really love living here and I’m grateful for the life I have. But there will always be a vivid connection to another world and the traditions that come along with it. Also Kenyan food is delicious.

ZAHIR: Up until now, we have largely only explored US cities. What makes Toronto unique in your mind?

TK: Compared to other cities, Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) are hubs of diversity. There are people from all over the place, living in a number of “ethnic enclaves.” Anyone living here, can be exposed to so many cultures easily. You can ride the TTC a few stops and be in another world. Every neighbourhood is steeped in the geographical history of the city and of the people who live there today. All those different histories intersect and interact with one another on a daily basis. It’s fascinating to witness.


Q&A with our New Producer Stephanie Kuo

Racist Sandwich is thrilled to welcome our newest member, Stephanie Kuo, who will be joining us as a producer. She and Juan Ramirez will co-produce season two of our show, as well as occasionally host episodes. We can’t wait to work with her and to learn from her.

Stephanie is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and Columbia’s School of Journalism. She has won awards from the New York State Associated Press Broadcasters Association, the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Association and the Public Radio News Directors Inc. She has been in public radio for five years and currently works as a reporter, producer and newscaster for KERA in Dallas, Texas. Before going to KERA in 2015, she spent three years in New York, working as an editor and producer at WFUV in the Bronx, and reporting on hunger, homelessness and the impacts of development. Stephanie is originally from Plano, Texas.

In your application, you wrote, “talking about the relationship between race, culture and food is my life's passion. So is eating.” What is it about this topic that interests you?

My parents are Chinese-Taiwanese immigrants, who came to a part of Texas that didn’t necessarily have the most vibrant Asian-American community in the 90s. I went to school with few others who looked like me and was definitely teased for bringing tea-soaked eggs for lunch -- among other things. On top of that, my dad, who worked in petroleum engineering, really made it a point to assimilate and “Americanize” for the sake of professional and financial mobility. Being Chinese and being “American” was a delicate balance for my family, and that ultimately compelled me to shun and bury a lot of myself and my culture. It’s not a unique experience, but it’s resulted in 20 or so years worth of healing and reconciling I still have to do. That process started for me when I moved out of Texas to New York and was finally on my own. I no longer had parents to be my cultural shepherds, so I actively sought food as a way “back in,” so to speak. It was easier than relearning Mandarin, cheaper than traveling Asia and the closest thing I had to being at home with my parents. I had to learn a lot about the food I ate every day growing up: where to find it, what it’s called, how to cook it. I realized I knew so little, and I missed out on so much my culture has to offer because I was afraid of being taunted and othered. It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I really began to wear my culture with pride, that saying “I’m Chinese” to new people didn’t make me sweat. And I owe a lot of that to food and how it helped pave my path back to ethnic, racial and cultural acceptance. Food is so much more than sustenance. It’s political, it’s cultural, it’s personal, and I want to learn about how others experience the things they eat.

What is one topic you are looking forward to exploring this season on Racist Sandwich?

This list is rather long because I have so many questions about how race, culture and food intermingle -- so much so that I’m not even able to adequately articulate some of these questions. They’re all just idea bubbles floating in space. But something I’m interested in exploring is when descendants of immigrants are expected to be authorities on their own culture -- when sometimes, they’re not. For example, I don’t know everything about being Chinese and I feel a lot of shame when non-Chinese people ask me something that stumps me. “Aren’t you Chinese? Don’t you know this?” is a response I’ve gotten on several occasions, and it doesn’t occur to many that not being an expert can be the painful product of cultural and racial struggle in this country.

Gentrification is also important to me -- especially how it affects longtime cultural roots in a community. How has economic development and demographic shifts affected enclaves like San Francisco’s Chinatown, the International District in Seattle or the Latino communities in West Dallas? But also...can gentrification work in reverse? Can we explore the implications of gentrifying when the gentrifiers aren’t white? Is that still gentrification?

Finally, I want to elevate lesser-known people, places, things and ideas. For example, the Barrio Chino in Mexico City and La Chinesca in Mexicali are not only fascinating lessons in the Chinese diaspora, but they’re also the consequence of Chinese exclusion and racism in the U.S.

What are some of your favorite food spots in Dallas?

If you want good Asian food, you’ll have to leave Dallas proper and head to the suburbs! That’s why you’ll find me in Plano a lot. It’s not only where I grew up, but it’s also going through a huge boom because of an influx of corporate headquarters and immigrants from China. I wrote a story for the Dallas Observer about how all of that has created these visible Asian food communities all across town, where people can eat and shop all in one place. The old Chinatown in Richardson, Texas, is where I go to get soup dumplings and really dumplings of any kind.

When I’m not eating Asian food (which I admit is rare), I’m at Spiral Diner in Oak Cliff, which serves up gloriously decadent vegan diner food, or I’m exploring East Dallas and Lower Greenville. There’s everything from pork belly poutine, giant popsicles and macarons to tsukemen ramen and New York-style pizza there. Dallas has a fast-growing restaurant scene, and it can be hard to keep up.

What is one thing about you that people are surprised to learn?

I don’t like dessert! I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I’d much rather snack on chips than cookies. And for once, I’d like it if our office celebrated birthdays with pizza instead of cake. People are also really surprised to learn that I was born in Singapore, spent several years in Jakarta, Indonesia, and could speak Indonesian fluently. No, I can’t anymore.


Job Opening: Producer, Racist Sandwich

Racist Sandwich, a podcast on food, race, gender, and class, is preparing for our second season and we are looking for a second producer!

Since launching in May 2016, we have recorded over 40 episodes, our listenership has grown immensely, and we have been featured in publications like GannetNBC Asian AmericaPortland MonthlyGOODBITCH MagEater, New York Times, and even Breitbart (lol). We have also been nominated for awards from the IACPSAVEUR, and the Taste Talks Awards.

For our second season, we want to improve our audio quality and to go weekly. To achieve this, we need a second producer. This is a paid, part time position.

We want to experiment with form in our second season. We have largely been an interview show during our first season and we want to try narrative storytelling, as well do more thematic episodes (such as our episode on the politics of the word “curry”).

If you have previous podcast/ radio experience and are committed to highlighting voices of color from the food world, this position might be for you. Women of color are highly encouraged to apply.

1)    Book guests, prep questions, publicize episodes by writing web copy, edit raw audio and turn them into final episodes
2)    Come up with show ideas, including conducting interviews with guests from time to time
3)    Help us grow financially, including talking to sponsors, advertisers, podcast networks, etc
4)    Grow our listenership, including more cross-episodes with other shows, etc.
5)    Be able to complete projects in a timely manner and to communicate using tools like Slack

•    1-2 years of work experience producing a podcast and/or radio, with some experience creating narrative/thematic episodes
•    Have an understanding of food media
•    Patience with non-audio savvy hosts =)
•    An interest in experimentation with the podcast form
•    Excellent written/verbal communication skills
•    Must have attention to detail, ability to work independently and as part of a larger team, and possess excellent organizational skills

We are flexible about payment and open to negotiating depending upon your experience.

To Apply
Please send a resume, three audio clips you have produced, as well as two references, to racistsandwichpodcast@gmail.com

Applications close on February 15, 2018.

On that Loco'l Review and the Perils and Possibility of Food Writing

Last week, the New York Times published a review of Loco'l, the self-described "revolutionary fast food" restaurant with locations in Los Angeles, CA and Oakland, CA. The review, by the Times' restaurant critic, Pete Wells, panned the restaurant, provoking a wealth of responses, both thoughtful and visceral. After bringing the review to our attention, NYC-based food writer and A Hungry Society founder Korsha Wilson engaged Soleil in a discussion about it on Twitter. Of course, there was a lot more to say, so Soleil called her up and kept talking.

Highlights From Our Interview with Kusuma Rao of Ruchikala

Kusuma Rao is the proprietor and chef of Ruchikala, where she specializes in Indian-Mexican fusion. She was a delight to talk to — we chatted about pop-ups, being "miscellaneous brown," inclusivity in the food scene, and much more.

Here are just a few highlights from our interview. For the full conversation, listen to Episode Three.


Growing up "miscellaneous brown" in Tucson, Arizona

Tucson's a very interesting place. It's so diverse, but there are a lot of pockets around the city. The neighborhood I grew up in was definitely lower-middle class, kind of the cusp of meth trailers. And there was a lot of white supremacist activity.

It was sometimes difficult for people to put their finger on what I was, so I felt like I was just given whatever ignorance of the day that that person had. And yeah, after 9/11, I was just Muslim, or just some hodgepodge monster or whatever.


The seeds of Indian-Mexican fusion

I definitely ate a lot of Mexican food growing up, even in the neighborhood that I was in. It's the best food that exists in Tucson.  

It was the only food my parents really enjoyed, because there's just so many similarities in the spices, and heat, and acidity, and appreciation for bitterness.

American food was really hard for my parents to eat; there was just nothing in it for them. But Mexican food is so exciting — there's all these chiles, and cumin...and especially in Tucson, there's a lot of really bright acidity. And my parents are South Indian, and huli is a vital component in finishing a lot of South Indian dishes. Huli is sour.

It was really difficult for my family to be accepted. They spoke wonderful English, and my mother actually worked in customer service at a credit card company for a long time. And my mom minimized a lot of the racism she experienced in her day-to-day life and at work. But I definitely heard some of the things she had to go through, with people being angry about the way she spoke. That was always really hard. 

I remember when we would go to Mexican restaurants, and the conversations that were had when people would talk to my mom about where she was from were always really positive. It felt like this beautiful cultural sharing. I remember my mom having these conversations — "you have tortillas, and we have chapatis! And this is how we do things!" 

It was just beautiful to see my parents get excited about these crossovers, and actually have these more intimate conversations with people outside of their Indian community.


On white chefs opening "ethnic" restaurants

I cook a lot of food that doesn't come from "my people." And if my options were just limited to whatever a person's definition of traditional South Indian food would be, I don't think I would be very inspired to create menus every day. 

But one of the things I feel that people don't think about very often is how personal it is for me. I grew up having to be ashamed of the food that I ate. This happens to a lot of Indian kids, where friends won't come over because your house smells funny. 

A lot of non-American kids grow up with that experience of having to apologize for the food your parents eat. And growing up with that experience, where it wasn't okay for me to have the name that I have, it wasn't okay for me to have the name that I have, it wasn't okay for me to be brown...

Then, to all of a sudden jump into a world where there are white hipsters making food that your parents ate, that would have gotten them beaten up if they had eaten it as a kid? Their lives would have been so different had they actually grown up with that cultural experience. 

It feels frustrating that that conversation can't be had. Because when I make food, it's impossible to separate the food from all these memories, and this experience, and even a lot of guilt on my end because I struggle with even calling myself Indian because I didn't grow up in India. I haven't been to India very many times. I always feel like I need to make it very clear that I'm not trying to pose as this authentic Indian experience because I don't really connect with that identity fully.

So when I see other people that don't have that moral conflict of selling something they didn't have a lot of personal experience with, or marketing for food businesses that use a lot of religious imagery of brown people to sell businesses...it makes me wonder what it would have been like for them to have had the experience of being the "other," and how that would changed how they market what they do.


On the food scene

I feel like Portland and the food scene is on a lot of steroids, and there are these concept factories that are throwing out, like, "pick one obscure alcohol and pick one obscure ingredient."

I'm a little scared for the future of food. I'm really grateful for social media in so many ways, especially for pop-ups. But I also think it's doing food a huge disservice.

I think food media is a little crazy right now. And food celebrity, I think, removes people from this connection with food that we got really excited about ten years ago.

In Poor Taste: Food, Poetry, and Nostalgia for a Whiter World

It’s been two weeks since The New Yorker published the now infamous Calvin Trillin’s poem, “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?” While some have tried to defend the poem as light verse, intended as a satirical jab directed at hipster foodies who pretend familiarity with the cuisine but whose grasp of the food supposedly pales in comparison with serious food critics like Trillin—the poem instead comes across as the type of painfully awkward and unfiltered conversation you might overhear between two white men who think there’s no one else in the room.  It comes across that way because that is pretty much how Trillin sees the world, even if we buy his defense that it was meant as satire.