Sandwiches: a field guide to identification

By Ashley Wall, Associate Editor

By Donald Halsing, Editorial Staff

It is commonly said, “You are what you eat,” but doing so is impossible if you don’t know what you’re eating.

Among the hotly contested debates of our time is, “What constitutes a sandwich?” 

Even state and federal legislators disagree on what exactly a “sandwich” is. Governments must define the composition of a sandwich for taxation purposes.

For example, the state of California categorizes hot dogs as sandwiches. This is congruent with Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition, which is “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between.”

The dictionary also defines “one slice of bread covered with food” as a sandwich. This definition is more commonly referred to as the “open-faced sandwich.”

An open-faced sandwich is – in our opinion – not a sandwich. A sandwich must be between two similar things.

Our own state of Massachusetts does not define a burrito as a sandwich. This stems from a 2006 case in the Worcester Superior Court, which found sandwiches do not “commonly” include burritos, tacos, and quesadillas.

In contrast, the state of New York recognizes just about everything served on or in a bread-like product as a sandwich. The state issued a tax bulletin saying sandwiches can be 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,” the bulletin reads.

We believe that definition is too broad.

We think open-faced sandwiches should be separately classified from regular sandwiches – a buttered bagel is simply not a sandwich! Such a claim is outrageous!

Just because a foodstuff involves bread does not mean it is a sandwich. Would you consider a salad with croutons a sandwich?

No, of course not!

The USDA says, “A sandwich is a meat or poultry filling between two slices of bread, a bun, or a biscuit.” We agree: meat between two slices of bread is definitely a sandwich.

The USDA also uses the term “sandwich-like product” to distinguish fajitas, hamburgers, and hot dogs from sandwiches. While “sandwich-like” is a step in the right direction, we think certain foods need their own distinct categories.

To form our own definition, we’ve thought long and hard about the current classifications offered by dictionaries and delegations.

A sandwich, as the two of us define it, is meat and/or dairy products, or spreads derived from nuts and/or fruits, between two separate slices of bread or bread-like products, and may also include condiments and vegetables.

An exception to this definition is made for our readers with dietary restrictions: vegan and vegetarian sandwiches may include meat, dairy, or bread substitutes.

A hot dog is not a sandwich because it does not have two seperate pieces of bread. However, a burger is also not a sandwich because it falls under its own category.

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is, of course, a sandwich because it contains spreads derived from both nuts and fruits. A Pop-Tart, however, is not a sandwich because its bread-like product encases the entire pastry.

An Oreo is a not a sandwich, although it is categorizing a “cookie sandwich.” Oreos have two distinct pieces made of cookie, which is made from dough. Bread is leavened, which means it uses yeast as an agent to rise, unlike dough, which does not.

This definition also includes ice cream sandwiches because they contain a dairy product between two bread-like products.

And of course, a grilled cheese is a sandwich for the same reason.

So, the next time all you hot dog lovers go to reach for your beloved buns, remember they are not sandwiches.

[Editor’s Note: Gatepost Guidance is a bi-weekly column. The opinions of the authors do not reflect the opinions of the entire Gatepost staff.]

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