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Is Sandwich Sexism Real?

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Sep 23, 2019

A while back on the show, food critic Mimi Sheraton told a story about a time she had 104 pastrami sandwiches in her car. She was taking them to a scale to weigh them to see which Jewish deli gave you the biggest sandwich for your money.

A Sporkful listener named Bill in San Clemente, California, heard that episode and called in with a pretty provocative question:

Do places make smaller sandwiches for women?

PastramiSandwich_BionicGirl

This week on The Sporkful, we set off on a mission around New York City with our friend Laura "L.V." Anderson. We buy a bunch of sandwiches, weigh them, and crunch the numbers to see if the sandwiches made for L.V. are smaller than the ones made for Dan.

(Actually, our friend Lauren Hale, a researcher at Stony Brook University, crunched our sandwich stats – better to leave the fancy math to the experts!)

torta_m2nemes

Is sandwich sexism real? Listen in to the full episode to hear the results of our investigation. (And be sure to check out Laura's companion piece on Slate!)

This is a rebroadcast of an earlier episode. 

Today's sponsors:

This show features the song "Let's Make A Sandwich" by the amazing Two Man Gentleman Band.

Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:

- "Scrambloid Remix" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt

- "Talk to Me Now Instrumental" by Hayley Briasco and Ken Brahmstedt

- "Can You Dig It" by Cullen Fitzpatrick

- "Midnight Grind" by Cullen Fitzpatrick

- "Private Detective" by Cullen Fitzpatrick

- "Hip Hop Slidester" by Steve Pierson

Photos: FlickrCC/jeffreyww, FlickrCC/donkeyhoteyFlickrCC/bionicgrrrlFlickrCC/Maria-Marta Nemes

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                                    A while back, I interviewed legendary food critic Mimi Sheridan here on the show, and she told me this story about a time she had 104 pastrami sandwiches in her car. She was taking them to a scale to weigh them to see which Jewish deli gave you the biggest sandwich for your money. Well, a Sporkful listener named Bill in San Clemente, California heard that episode and called in with a pretty provocative suggestion.

Bill:                              The first thought I had was that that they make the sandwiches smaller for women, and my wife and I were discussing it and she wasn't so sure that would be true. And I think you guys should do a episode where you guys do some investigative eating and get out there and see if there's a gender disparity in the sandwich-making.

Dan Pashman:               What's your wife's take on this? What does she think about the sandwich weight issue? Why does she think it's possible?

Bill:                              Well, she wasn't sure it was possible. S, we talked about it after... I mentioned the [inaudible 00:01:47], she's the one who actually said, "You should send Dan an e-mail," because she said, "I don't know if that's true or not." She goes, "It wouldn't bother me if it was because I can't eat those giant sandwiches."

Dan Pashman:               But she's being charged the same amount.

Bill:                              Yes. I think that, but she probably wouldn't eat it all anyway.

Dan Pashman:               But what your wife is accepting here in theory is like the opposite of equal pay.

Bill:                              Yes, exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Dan Pashman:               It's not fair to charge the same price for all sandwiches and then give smaller ones to women.

Bill:                              Oh, totally.

Dan Pashman:               Especially when they're not making as much for the same work. Am I right, ladies? Come on. Equal pay for equal pastrami! So, what would we have to do to to satisfy you? Like, I'm thinking we need to set out criteria. Let's make this as scientific as we're able. I think one of the important things when we picked the places, though, is that the people who make the sandwiches have to see the person who ordered it.

Bill:                              Absolutely. Yeah. If they don't see you, it would be invalid.

Dan Pashman:               The person making the sandwich may not know if they're making it for a man or a woman.

Bill:                              No, no. You'd have to order it from the guy that makes the sandwich.

Dan Pashman:               Right, right. All right, Bill. We're going to go out. We're going to eat sandwiches because this is the burden we bear for you, the loyal listener. And we will report back on what we find.

Bill:                              Oh, thank you very much Dan.

Dan Pashman:               This is the Sporkful. It's not for foodies, it's for eaters. I'm Dan Pashman. Each week on our show, we obsess about food, learn more about people.

                                    So, before I could embark on my mission to test Bill's theory of sandwich sexism, I needed to establish some guidelines.

Lauren Hale:                 Hello?

Dan Pashman:               Hey, Lauren. It's Dan.

Lauren Hale:                 Hi, Dan. How are you?

Dan Pashman:               Good, good. I'm actually in the middle of doing my show right now, and I kind of need your help.

Lauren Hale:                 Okay.

Dan Pashman:               So, this is my friend, Lauren Hale. She's an associate professor at Stony Brook University. She runs a lot of studies and crunches a lot of numbers. I wanted our experiment to be as scientific as possible. So, I brought her up to speed on what we were planning and asked her how to do it right.

Lauren Hale:                 For starters, you're probably going to need to buy a lot of sandwiches. But that might not be a problem for you. I don't know.

Dan Pashman:               Okay. How many would we need for this to make it into the journal of science?

Lauren Hale:                 Right. That is a big conundrum because it could vary a lot depending on the size of the differential.

Dan Pashman:               So, basically what you're saying is that the narrower the difference between male sandwiches and female sandwiches, the more total sandwiches we need to buy in order to prove that there's a meaningful difference.

Lauren Hale:                 That's right. That's right.

Dan Pashman:               Okay, gotcha. Well, due to time and budgetary constraints, I think we're probably just going to get about five sandwiches and see what happens.

Lauren Hale:                 Right. You still might find something, and we can test that. You get me the numbers, I can crunch it for you.

Dan Pashman:               Now, it was time to go out and get those numbers. Of course, to do that, I would need a partner-in-crime. A woman to order sandwiches with me, so we could compare results. And I knew just the person.

                                    My friend Laura Anderson is an editor at Grist who's written a lot about food over the years. For a long time, her Twitter profile said, "my interest in food, food, feminism, and fun. Just kidding. I hate fun." Clearly, Laura was perfect. Before we started, we discussed expectations.

Laura Anderson:           Maybe there are people who will be like, "Hey, I look at a person. I take a bunch of factors into consideration. I think about how hungry they look and I make a sandwich accordingly." Probably not, but maybe.

Dan Pashman:               Right, right. I also think like, if I was a guy behind a sandwich counter and if an attractive woman walked in and if I was looking to win her over in some way, my thought process, the way it works is I would make her like the biggest, most awesome sandwich I'd ever made.

Laura Anderson:           Interesting.

Dan Pashman:               And if that doesn't impress her, then that's not the girl for me.

Laura Anderson:           Do you expect that all of the sandwich makers are going to be men? I expect that most of them will be, but possibly not all.

Dan Pashman:               Do they have female sandwich makers now?

Laura Anderson:           I know.

Dan Pashman:               Now I've heard of it all.

Laura Anderson:           I know, I know. What is the world coming to?

Dan Pashman:               No, you're right. I should say he or she. And so, do you think that it's more likely that a male sandwich-maker would make an extra big sandwich to impress a female customer, or that a female sandwich-maker would make an extra big sandwich to impress a male customer?

Laura Anderson:           I just don't think that sandwich makers are trying to impress people all that often. Like, I don't think that this is a scenario that comes up that frequently.

Dan Pashman:               That's not how everyone thinks?

Laura Anderson:           We will find out.

Dan Pashman:               Right. Let's do it.

Laura Anderson:           Okay.

Dan Pashman:               Coming up, Laura and I set off on a mission around New York City, buy a bunch of sandwiches, and weigh them. Is sandwich sexism real? We'll find out. Stick around.

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                                    What would your ideal morning look like if anything were possible? Thomas' English Muffins wants to know. I'll tell you mine. I take a Thomas' English muffin, fork, split it to preserve the nooks and crannies as we've discussed, toast it up to get those crispy brown edges. And I think I'm going to take some nice roast turkey, like a homemade roast turkey breast. And I'm going to make Dijonnaise. Dijon mustard, some mayonnaise, mix them together. Maybe a little dill, maybe a little lemon juice. Spread that on the Thomas' toasted English muffin and then a nice warm juicy slice of turkey breast on top. And that's just going to be creamy, it's going to be acidic, it's going to be crunchy, it's going to be meaty. It's going to be so, so good. Man, I'm getting hungry. What about you? What would your ideal morning look like if anything were possible? How would you get to work? Where even would you work? Who would your boss be? Most importantly, what would you eat? I'll post a recipe for you to check out in the show notes. Thomas': wake up to what's possible.

Welcome back to the Sporkful. I'm Dan Pashman. You have got to check out last week's episode, you guys, the whole thing is a game. One big game. I interviewed three people who I've never heard, I've never talked to before, and they all claim to be chefs, but one of them is lying. Question is, which one? It's Two Chefs and a Lie. Listen and play along with me, and you'll find out what plot twist caused me to go, "What?!" That show is up now, it's called, "Can You Spot a Fake Chef?" Check it out. Now, back to the issue of sandwich sexism.

 My friend Laura and I had a list of shops. We plan to go into each place, one right after the other, and each order the exact same sandwich without letting on that we were together. Then, after we got our sandwiches, we dropped the charade. Tell them about our experiment and try to interview the sandwich makers.

 Our first stop was a typical New York bodega, like a little market with a deli counter. We got Turkey sandwiches on rolls. The counter guy was too busy to chat, so we moved on to an old-school Italian place called Picos. I recorded my order with my cell phone. Listen to me trying to sound like I was making the sandwich up as I went along, even though I knew I was going to order the exact sandwich Laura got: "Hi, can I please have a fresh mozzarella sandwich? Can I do like, broccoli rabe and you have, like, artichokes? Okay." Yeah, I know. Smooth. I got my sub, it was massive. Laura came back into the store and I pulled out my mic. We talked to a counter guy named Hoover Gutierrez. He insisted he's an equal opportunity sandwich-maker.

Hoover G.:                    I always make sure to keep it the same. I really don't focus on the customer, I focus on the sandwich. It's just so routine. When someone asks or something, I'm already in my own mind zone and I'm just making a sandwich, packing it up and go.

Dan Pashman:               So, Hoover, how do you portion the sandwiches? Like, when you make a sandwich, how do you know how much meat or how much cheese to put on?

Hoover G.:                    I think it's all a matter of practice. After you make five or ten, you just happened to eyeball it, and for some reason, I always hit it right on the dot. It's just, I mean, I've been doing this for over nine years, so.

Dan Pashman:               Do you ever put a little extra into a sandwich? Like, let's say a guy comes in and he seems real friendly and he looks like he's real hungry. Maybe he's a big, burly construction worker. Do you ever throw in an extra slice of meat?

Hoover G.:                    Maybe a slice or two, but definitely just try to keep it the same for everybody.

Dan Pashman:               Does anyone ever request a bigger or smaller sandwich, anyone request smaller?

Hoover G.:                    Surprisingly, people request both.

Dan Pashman:               What customers would you say are more likely to request smaller sandwiches?

Hoover G.:                    Females. Females will always want to take care of their shape and are worried about too many calories or something. Females are most likely to request less meat and healthier bread, like a whole wheat bread.

Dan Pashman:               Do you think it's possible that sandwich-makers in general, not even at this store, but in the world, do you think it's possible that some people might, even without thinking, not on purpose, make smaller sandwiches for women than for men once in awhile?

Hoover G.:                    I think that's definitely a possibility. And if I think someone was going to make a lighter sandwich, it would probably be for a female, just for their safety or for their better interests.

Dan Pashman:               Our next stop was for banh mi sandwiches, but it turned out at this place, the sandwiches were made in the back, so the cook wouldn't know if they were making them for a man or a woman. We nixed the banh mi, but we did refuel with some Vietnamese iced coffee.

 From there, it was onto a Mexican place called Choza, for tortas. There are a lot of regional variations on the torta. These had cheese, black bean paste, chili cream, salsa, guacamole, and a choice of meat. Laura is a vegetarian, so I had to coach her up a bit in the order. All right. You go head-

Laura Anderson:           Wait, but tell me what kind of [inaudible 00:14:25].

Dan Pashman:               Carnitas that's all you got to say. Carnitas torta.

Laura Anderson:           Just say carnitas with everything.

Dan Pashman:               Just say one carnitas torta.

Laura Anderson:           Okay. Thank you for the script. One carnitas torta, I think I can remember it.

Dan Pashman:               I really want to see you go up there and be like, "Line!"

 After we got our tortas, we talked to the woman who made them. Her name is [Jailavi 00:00:14:43].

Jailavi:                          I'm very consistent, and I really argue with my boss, I argue with him and with my other coworkers.

Dan Pashman:               What's the argument?

Jailavi:                          Consistency.

Dan Pashman:               So, you say you want it to be consistent?

Jailavi:                          Yes, because people expect to come back and taste and try the same thing.

Dan Pashman:               One of the things that we're exploring here is whether or not, sometimes even by accident, without thinking, a person making a sandwich might make a sandwich smaller for women than they make it for men. Do you think that's possible?

Jailavi:                          When I worked nights, I think it was on a Saturday, I think, one of my delivery guys.

Dan Pashman:               And what did he do?

Jailavi:                          He made the burrito for the men bigger.

Dan Pashman:               And did you say anything to him?

Jailavi:                          Of course!

Dan Pashman:               Well, what did you say?

Jailavi:                          That there's equally amount of each item. I go over that a lot with them.

Dan Pashman:               Did you accuse him of doing it because she was a woman?

Jailavi:                          I didn't tell him that, but I knew it. You know, I knew it.

Dan Pashman:               Are there any other examples you can think of of a time that you noticed someone made a smaller sandwich for a woman?

Jailavi:                          I've seen it. I've seen it when I used to work at McDonald's with the fries and everything. I've seen it with the ice cream. Then, I used to work in Starbucks. I saw it also with the males. They used to even ask the girls, "Well, you like non-fat and not the men's?"

Dan Pashman:               Interesting. And you said, in the McDonald's, they would portion the fries differently for men or women?

Jailavi:                          Yes, they will. Yep.

Dan Pashman:               So you think, so this is a real thing? This happens all over the place?

Jailavi:                          Yes! And in my house, when I grow up, they gave more food to my boys, so the boys in my family than the girls. I've seen it all through my life.

Dan Pashman:               All right. Thank you very much. This is great.

Jailavi:                          Thank you. Thank you for choosing my restaurant.

Dan Pashman:               Laura, thoughts?

Laura Anderson:           I did not expect to have someone so openly acknowledge this pervasive, unequal treatment. So, that was really fascinating.

Dan Pashman:               Yeah.

Laura Anderson:           Of course they don't have a policy of discrimination, but what she said sounded very plausible.

Dan Pashman:               We should say it could be a result of unconscious bias.

Laura Anderson:           Of course, yeah.

Dan Pashman:               It's not necessarily that a person is saying, "I'm going to shortchange this woman."

Laura Anderson:           Right, but it seems like... this is perhaps an overgeneralization based on that one conversation, but it seems like maybe women are more conscious of this possibility than men are, and so women working in the food industry are perhaps less likely to unconsciously give more to men than to women, or maybe not. I'm glad we got to meet a female sandwich-maker, though. One with so much experience.

Dan Pashman:               Yeah. They do exist.

Laura Anderson:           They do exist. It's true.

Dan Pashman:               Of course, we couldn't do this test without hitting up a type of restaurant known for its portion sizes: the Jewish deli. We went to 2nd Ave Deli for pastrami on rye, and I talked to the owner, Jeremy Lebewohl. I asked him whether sandwich sexism could be real.

Jeremy Lebewohl:        Anything is possible, but when you're dealing with a ingredient like pastrami or brisket or corned beef that is so expensive and your food costs are so crucial to making sure that your business is profitable and can stay profitable, I don't see it happening now.

Dan Pashman:               Now, this episode was made back when we were doing the Sporkful at New York Public Radio. So, Laura and I took the sandwiches there and headed down to the mail room where they have a scale. We met up with [Alefia 00:18:19] John, who basically runs the show down there.

Alefia John:                  I think that they're really cheap with us women cause they think that we're underneath the men, sometimes, and then we can't eat as much as they can. But if I was making my own sandwich, it would be really double time, extra meat, extra cheese, extra mayo, lettuce and tomato. You know what I'm saying?

Dan Pashman:               Yes.

Alefia John:                  Okay.

Dan Pashman:               Now, we need your help to both operate the mail room scale and help us eat sandwiches. Are you qualified to do both of those things?

Alefia John:                  I am qualified to do more than that, and yes.

Dan Pashman:               All right.

Alefia John:                  Eat it all.

Dan Pashman:               All right. Okay. We're putting the first sandwich onto the scale. Here we go.

10.6 ounces for the male turkey sandwich. All right, 10.6. Now the female turkey sandwich. 10.9 for the female!

Alefia John:                  That's what I'm talking about! Okay.

Dan Pashman:               Okay.

Alefia John:                  All right. That's not a discrimination. All right. [crosstalk 00:19:21].

Dan Pashman:               Now comes the big mozzarella sandwiches that we got at the Italian deli.

Alefia John:                  1 pound 6.2 ounces.

Dan Pashman:               Okay. 1 pound 6.2 ounces. for the male giant mozzarella. You got that, Anne? Alefia, what do we have?

Alefia John:                  1 pound 9.1!

Dan Pashman:               Wow! So, once again, bigger.

Laura Anderson:           That is crazy. So far, I'm shocked.

Dan Pashman:               Two out of two-

Laura Anderson:           I'm eating this one. This one is mine, right?

Dan Pashman:               What do you think about this so far, Laura?

Laura Anderson:           I'm surprised. I think, so far, this goes against the hypothesis that inspired the episode.

Dan Pashman:               All right, let's move on to our tortas.

Alefia John:                  Right? Is that the male?

Dan Pashman:               Which one's this?

Laura Anderson:           Male, male torta.

Dan Pashman:               The male torta is-

Alefia John:                  12 ounces.

Dan Pashman:               12 ounces on the dot.

Alefia John:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dan Pashman:               All right. Time for the female torta.

Alefia John:                  10.8, that's discrimination.

Laura Anderson:           So this is particularly shocking because the woman who made our tortas told us... First of all, she was a woman. Secondly, she told us that she's very, very careful about consistency and things, that discrimination is a bad thing. So the fact that my torta was smaller than Dan's torta demonstrates that perhaps there is some kind of unconscious bias going on here, or she's just not quite as precise as she thinks she is.

Dan Pashman:               All right. The final one here is the Jewish deli sandwich, Hot pastramis.

Laura Anderson:           The expensive pastrami sandwich.

Dan Pashman:               The $20 pastrami sandwiches.

Laura Anderson:           Okay. We got our male pastrami here.

Alefia John:                  11.7 ounces.

Dan Pashman:               11.7 for the male pastrami. Last one. This is the female Jewish deli sandwich.

Alefia John:                  13.7 ounces.

Dan Pashman:               Am I correct in that three of our four sandwiches were larger for the female?

Laura Anderson:           Yeah.

Dan Pashman:               Well, you know what this means, Laura.

Laura Anderson:           This is a shocking twist.

Dan Pashman:               Yes.

Laura Anderson:           That's how I describe it. What does this mean?

Dan Pashman:               Well, I was going to say it means that I've got to take you with me whenever I buy sandwiches.

Laura Anderson:           I guess so.

Dan Pashman:               Whether or not sandwich sexism is real, one thing's for sure: no one's as consistent as they think they are. Sandwich making is as much art as science. Like, you know when you go to a bar and order a cocktail and the bartenders starts measuring out all the ingredients? Doesn't that feel a little lame? I mean, I'm sure just pouring the drink results in inconsistency, and some drinks end up better than others. But I kind of like feeling like my drink or my sandwich is its own special snowflake. It was made just for me. So I guess what I'm saying is I'm okay with some inconsistency, but don't be shortchanging the ladies. I did check back with my friend Lauren, the professor I talked to earlier in the show. She confirmed that our findings were not statistically significant with such a small sample size, no big shock there. But she did have an idea for how to fix that.

Lauren Hale:                 I mean one thing you might consider doing is upping the sample size by encouraging your listeners to buy two sandwiches and weigh them. One purchase by a male, one purchase by a female. It has to be the same sandwich, at the same place, at the same time of day.

Dan Pashman:               Made by the same person.

Lauren Hale:                 Made by the same person, and then submitting the numbers. I'd be happy to rerun some numbers if we had like 30 or 40 pairs.

Dan Pashman:               After this episode first aired and Lauren put that call out, we did get more data. In fact, I got an e-mail from the investigative TV show Inside Edition. Yeah, that's right. They went out and got sandwiches from 17 different places, but the segment never aired because they too found no evidence of sandwich or Chipotle burrito sexism.

Some of you wrote in to say that you think other biases may be at play in these situations. A listener named Melissa said, "As a 29-year-old African American woman, I feel at times I don't get as big or as good a portion as a Caucasian customer would receive. I also feel that while a Caucasian customer could ask for a little more of X on their burrito and not be thought of negatively, I would be perceived as a 'greedy black person' for making the exact same request."

 Another listener named Laura wrote, "I've noticed inconsistencies in serving sizes due to the person making your food. Thinner staff give less food in general. Larger workers give out a bit more, and I appreciate it. Check it out when you order a small fries from any fast food restaurant."

 Does any of this sound familiar to you? Do you have more research to add to our esteemed body of work? If so, drop me a line at hello@sporkful.com.

Ad Speaker 2:               (singing)

Dan Pashman:               This is the two-man gentleman band, friends of the show. Love these guys. I do want to add that we reached out to McDonald's, Starbucks, Picos, and Choza, and they all either declined to comment for this show or didn't get back to us.

Next week on the show, scientists in Washington State have spent 20 years developing a new type of apple, and growers there are betting big on it. So, what makes it special? We'll talk with one of the breeders and one of the people who helped name it.

 In the meantime, listen to last week's show. The whole thing is a game, and you can play along. It's called, "Can You Spot a Fake Chef?"

My thanks to Laura Anderson, my partner in crime on this week's show. She's the news editor at Grist, which is a very good site, where they say they are working toward a planet that doesn't burn and a future that doesn't suck.

 Finally, this week on the Sporkful, we bid farewell to senior producer Anne Saini. Anne joined the show five years ago, she has worked extremely hard over those five years to grow the show, to bring new ideas. You've seen this show change and evolve in so many different exciting ways, and Anne has been a huge part of that growth, so thank you Anne for all your incredible work. Anne and her family are moving up to Boston, she'll be making podcasts for Harvard Business Review. Good luck, Anne.

 This show is produced by me, along with senior producer-

Anne Saini:                   Anne Saini.

Dan Pashman:               And associate producer-

Ngofeen M.:                 Ngofeen Mputubwele.

Dan Pashman:               Our engineer is-

Jared O'Connell:           Jared O'Connell.

Dan Pashman:               Music help from Black Label Music. Our editor is Peter Clowney. The Sporkful is a production of Stitcher. Our executive producers are Daisy Rosario and Chris Bannon. Until next time, I'm Dan Pashman-

Cathy:                          and I'm Cathy from Stockton, California. Reminding you to eat more, eat better, and eat more better.

Dan Pashman:               Oh man. That Thomas' English muffin with the Dijonnaise with the turkey breast. That was so good. I was eating it just now, while we were doing the second half of the show. I don't know, did you guys eat anything while you were listening? You're probably hungry right now.

 What would your ideal morning look like if anything were possible? Go get yourself a Thomas' English muffin. Thomas': wake up to what's possible.

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