Hear Me Out: Sandwich theory and politics

Debate over what constitutes a sandwich mirrors intensity of politics

Hot dogs are sandwiches.

You must accept this before we move any further. Maybe you think it isn’t one because it is on a single connected piece of bread, but you forget that many subs are served on one connected piece of bread.

Sandwich theory – the idea of what is or could be considered a sandwich – can be a hotly debated topic. If your blood is already boiling about my bold hot dog stance, stop reading now.

According to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, burritos, hamburgers, open-faced sandwiches and wraps fall under the beautiful, all-encompassing umbrella of the term “sandwich.”

“Tax Bulletin ST-835” defines a sandwich as “made on bread, on bagels, on rolls, in pitas, in wraps, or otherwise, and regardless of the filling or number of layers. A sandwich can be as simple as a buttered bagel or roll, or as elaborate as a six-foot, toasted submarine sandwich.”

If a sandwich is simply some sort of material with a separate ingredient on it – the most liberal definition possible – then what’s to stop us from declaring a Pop-Tart a sandwich?

Well, a lot. That might be too bold an argument.

But let’s take the burrito for example. Many wouldn’t consider it a sandwich and perhaps with good reason.

From most of the sandwich debates I’ve gotten into this year – somewhere around 15 – the most common definition is two pieces of the same ingredient with other ingredients in between. This definition would include traditional sandwiches, ice cream sandwiches, hamburgers, etc. and clearly would exclude dishes such as burritos.

The humble burrito is often put in the wrap category, a grouping I and the State of New York consider to be a subsection of sandwiches. The anti-burrito crowd is often also anti-open-faced sandwiches; it is worth noting how bold a stance it is to exclude a dish with the word “sandwich” in it from the category of sandwiches.

The argument often strictly adheres to the “two outside pieces, ingredients in the middle” formula, appealing to the traditional values of “my father’s sandwich and my father’s father’s sandwich.” The counterargument usually lambasts the narrow-minded view of such old-fashioned opinions. Simply put, there is no general consensus.

But who has the authority to define what a sandwich is?

According to many Reddit AMAs, celebrities can be that authority; at least in a hot dog capacity.

In an AMA in August 2016, Meryl Streep said “Is a hot dog a sandwich? Well with a bun, yes. Without a bun, no.” In another in September 2016, Anthony Bourdain said “it is not a classic sandwich, in my view. …I don’t think a hamburger is a sandwich either.” Matt Damon said in an AMA in July 2016 “I guess you can classify it as a sandwich. Then what would you call it, a hot dog sandwich? That’s like a hat on a hat so let’s just keep it as a hot dog.”

So, no consensus there either.

That makes sense though. In the politically divisive time we live in, we often don’t get clear consensuses.

Down political lines, right-leaning friends would often side with strict definitions of sandwiches while left-leaning friends invited all sorts of foods to the sandwich party.

Jacob Neiheisel, an assistant professor of political science at UB, said this is to be expected.

“In light of a lot of research out there on personality in politics, I think it makes sense that people would sort of think that way,” Neiheisel said. “Cognitive linguistics would say it’s all in the metaphors that we use. Conservatives gravitate towards a strong father figure whereas liberals gravitate towards a more permissive father figure. Conservatives like order and definitions and keeping things in those definitions. Liberals tend to be more comfortable with uncertainty.”

It makes sense then why the eternal sandwich question may never be truly answered. Just as politics can never be “solved,” opinions on sandwiches will never converge to a common answer.

But when politics are too overwhelming to process, why not dive into borderline absurdist debates over food?

Is a hot dog a sandwich?

Who knows. But it’s more fun than discussing complex geopolitical issues, you know?

Dan McKeon is the copy chief and can be reached at dan.mckeon@ubspectrum.com