“Allow me interrupt for a second, Regine, because President Bill Clinton is on the record as saying that he now believes it was a mistake to increase the penetration of American rice into Haiti, which a lot of people believe made it impossible for Haitian farmers to compete at the global level. Where do you see the local effects of that policy, and how has it affected the farmers you work with?”
It was a quintessential Kojo Nnamdi moment: polite, informed and just pointed enough to pique your curiosity. That is, in a nutshell, what Nnamdi and his crack production crew bring to the table each week when discussing food. Their approach is not to treat food as poetry or pornography — that is, something so rarefied or sensual that it’s divorced from gritty reality — but to connect food to politics, culture, economics and so many other forces that drive our daily lives.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but Nnamdi is the perfect person to make those connections — and not just because he’s on public radio. He’s the perfect person because he’s not a chef or a cookbook author. He doesn’t have a reputation to protect in the arena of food, and he doesn’t have a product to promote. Nnamdi, in short, is not a foodie, which means he’s not afraid to ask an obvious (read: simple) question or feel the need to gush like a love-struck teenager over a dish that, in all honesty, might be merely average. In a time of culinary hyperbole, Nnamdi’s dispassion is his selling point.
At 66 years of age, Nnamdi has enjoyed a long career in local media, much of it with Howard University’s radio and television stations before moving to WAMU (88.5 FM) in 1998 to replace Derek McGinty as host of its afternoon talk show. Despite his wealth of experiences, Nnamdi has been covering food regularly only since summer 2009, when he and his WAMU producers felt comfortable enough to devote a portion of each Wednesday’s show to the subject. (It starts at noon.)
Nnamdi’s main love, of course, is politics, and yet he’s not a typical firebrand, even if the Guyana native originally immigrated to the United States in the late 1960s in part to join the civil rights movement. WRC-TV’s Tom Sherwood, the resident analyst for Nnamdi’s weekly Politics Hour, describes his host as an old-fashioned “gentleman” whose soft-spoken approach can lull an unsuspecting guest into a false complacency. Before you know it, Sherwood says, Nnamdi will want to know if the guest really did “take all that money, and it sounds like he’s asking you out for a date.”