Is a hot dog a sandwich? An extended meditation on the nature of America
America’s Fourth of July celebrations always provide fodder for uncomfortable conversations. Sure, there’s that sophomore back from Amazon Uk Prada Bags college running a Baby’s First Howard Zinn rap to remind you that America owes its entire existence to the French military, a gay Prussian inspector general of the Continental Army, two giant oceans and a genocide. But those aren’t big-picture issues. I’m talking Are All Prada Handbags Leather about whether a hot dog is a sandwich.
It’s a question widely posed – and how we approach it speaks to who we are, as individuals and as a nation.
Consider: neither the hot dog nor the sandwich were invented by America, yet we feel a passionate possessiveness over both. (You can turn on the Food Network, the Discovery Channel, CNN or – by now – the History Channel and see a show ranking the world’s best sandwiches, all without leaving the continental United States, followed by a nauseating closeup of Guy Fieri’s Baconated Hamapeño Chipotle-Chicken Despair Ziggurat.) We define ourselves and our sandwiches as much by what they are as by what they are not, finding an identity in both recognition and rejection.
Others have engaged the Hot Dog-Sandwich debate in the past, but they have not gone far enough in exploring the scope of sandwich ontology. For instance, my colleague at Sports on Earth, Patrick Hruby, addressed this a couple years ago by citing the dictionary:
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a sandwich is “two or more slices of bread with a filling such as meat or cheese placed between them, or a partly split long or round roll containing a filling.” Thus, bun-plus-Dodger Dog equals … Voila!
But appeals to etymological authority get us nowhere. I’ve seen definitions that omit the mention of non-meats (essentially defining the grilled cheese sandwich out of existence) or the presence of a partly split long or round roll (rendering the existence of such manifestly sandwiched meals as the hoagie or sub impossible).
Though appeals to history often create stifling parameters, the alleged story of the sandwich’s invention – the Earl of Sandwich needed a way to enjoy a portable meal without utensils or much mess – should inform our approach to understanding the sandwich’s apotheosis as, ultimately, an American form pairing necessity with an elegance of individual expression. That the mass adoption of the sandwich during the industrial revolution followed his lead (and provides ample evidence as to the utility and common appearance of the sandwich as a meal) likewise should inform our conceptions of a normative sandwich state.
Thus the Great Hot Dog-Sandwich Debate should be over as soon as it begins: if a sandwich is a portable, relatively tidy meal of meat inside a bread conveyance, the fact that the bun is sliced lengthwise but not all the way through affects nothing in this discussion. The bread is in essence no different when fully sliced and presenting a more familiar sandwich form. To quibble further, one might say, is to simply argue about hinges.
Stopping here, though, is actually the action of a fool – because this conclusion naturally opens up further counterarguments to sandwich ontology that sandwich reactionaries invariably make in bad faith. For instance, the various Charles Krauthammers of the sandwich punditocracy employ the “slippery slope” argument to deny the hot dog’s sandwich-status by going into hysterics (like those parodied by my colleague The Hot Take Man) about a taco being a sandwich – which, of course, it manifestly is.
Sandwich segregationists generally prefer to designate tacos and the like with the separate-but-equal designation of “wraps” – which is a distinction without a difference. Arguing against the wrap’s inclusion in the sandwich category merely returns us to the hinge contention militating against the hot dog. Its functionality, however, easily demonstrates a means of conveying meat or other fillers with portability and a lack of utensils. Thus, not only is a taco a sandwich, but so is a burrito (and its Levantine antecedent, the gyro) – the only difference being that one is more neatly packaged than the other, analogous to the difference between a sloppy-pressed reuben and the near-hermetic sandwich tubes of Jimmy Johns. (Meanwhile, the taquito is a finger sandwich.)
But! you might protest, what of the nature of the wrap itself? Well, what of it? If you wish to argue that the substance encasing the meat in a wrap cannot qualify as bread because it is too flat, then the rabbi Hillel the Elder’s willingness to dine on unleavened sandwiches over 2,000 years ago dispatches that argument. A flour tortilla is just a flat loaf of bread without yeast in it and, as for a corn tortilla, that is processed just like wheat flour.
(If you, however, wish to argue that it is not the processing but the corn itself that cannot become bread, then you have just radically postulated Ap Lei Chau Prada Factory Outlet the nonexistence of cornbread, whose breadedness has heretofore never been in dispute.)
Still, there are some limits to what makes a sandwich. The presence of some form of bread alone is not criterion enough. As soon as “bread” transitions from noun to verb form it transgresses the space between sandwich and non-sandwich. Breading food does not make a sandwich, tempura offers no challenge to our understanding, and fried chicken is merely seasoned chicken. Likewise, while the flaky pastry of a Croissan’wich makes for a kind of sandwich, the same pastry baked around a steak filet does not make beef wellington a sandwich.
And, despite its possible shape, I cannot agree with my friend that the universe is a sandwich.
Here, then, we can best understand the boundaries of sandwich taxonomy via intentionalism. While breads might abound in the world’s cuisine, whether they are employed as a means of making a reasonably tidy portable meal limns the sandwich classification. Breaking off bits of flatbread to dip into hummus does not create hummus sandwiches. (You know damn well that you are snacking.) On the other hand, a calzone is a sandwich, while a pizza is not. That a diner may adapt the shape of a sliced subsection of the latter to create a portable meal does not reflect the intent of its crafting; that is a secondary, user-generated adaptation. The former, however occasionally ill-crafted, possesses an inherent form that is both portable and independent of utensil intervention. (To argue that the presence of sloppy, boiling-hot calzones belies their sandwich nature is a debate on elaboration, not intention, like saying that a leaky building proves that buildings are not a form of shelter.)
This brings us naturally to the biggest red herring of the sandwich debate – the open-faced sandwich, which, via an intentionalist approach, is not a sandwich at all. The open-faced sandwich is a plate-bound horror, largely dependent on utensils and usually drenched in a humiliating amount or variety of sauces, that, if eaten by hand, make your face look like the aftermath of a hollandaise bombing in a farmer’s market. That an open-face Authentic Prada Bags Uk sandwich is named sandwich makes it a sandwich as much as calling the team the “New York Giants” makes the New Jersey-based games played in New York. If we’re going to give open-faced sandwiches whatever vaguely inappropriate appellation we want – and not something more physically descriptive of their splayed form, like “glutenated lunch vaginas” – we might as well come closer to the truth. As my friend Chareth Cutestory (a pseudonym) once said before security dragged him kicking and screaming away from a city council meeting, “AN OPEN-FACED SANDWICH IS A PIZZA!”.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I argue for these boundaries not because I fear some slippery slope of sandwich identity, but because I want to better appreciate the new sandwiches I encounter and not be led astray by mislabeled foodstuffs that alter our perception of the sandwich universe. I am, at heart, a sandwich expansionist and will always argue for inclusionary sandwichism. But I understand how frightening those ideas are to others whose worldviews have been warped and terrified by Guy Fieri’s “Mondo Pita-Partied Hemorhhagic Meated Wads with Volcano Adobo Mayo and You-Don’t-Know-Chedder-Jack™ Agglutinate”.
America is a country founded by people from someplace else on ideas borrowed from someplace else, ultimately to try to distinguish itself from every place else. It is a fraught balance of identity – to take and be of an other, yet define yourself by contrast to that other. This is the strange impulse of our “exceptionalism”, to always borrow something and modify it slightly, then declare the end result definitively, uniquely American.
You can see this at play with the hot dog: the sandwich and sausage were both invented elsewhere, so to celebrate them separately as uniquely American on America’s day of independence Authentic Prada Nylon Messenger Bag would present an empty gesture, immediately undermined by the tools used to make it. Combining the two, however, to create a distinct third entity creates something singularly American in our minds. The hot dog qua hot dog thus becomes a patriotic novelty – and slamming the door on any debate over its place in a pre-existing internationalist universe of sandwiches allows us to avoid confronting other issues, like the changing nature of what it is to be American.
But if we accept that a neat meal package of either hinged or wrapping breads or the classic two-slice model are the ontological bases for a sandwich, suddenly we must introduce new food to that classification Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada – arepas, banh mi, a disruptive new egg roll out of Shanghai the size of a football or an infant. The sandwich evolves and broadens as we do, without abandoning the intent that informs it and animates it. A hot dog is a sandwich. A taco is a sandwich. God bless them, God bless America, God bless sandwiches.