By LUKE ENGBERT
Is a hot dog a sandwich, or does it fall under its own category? This interesting and surprisingly controversial question was recently brought to attention right here on the UMW campus. Believe it or not, this is a historically popular and persistent debate that has sparked countless discussions across the country over the years. In the words of Cameron Hiney, a sophomore historic preservation major, “a hot dog is just special,” meaning there is something setting it apart from a typical sandwich.
The definition of a sandwich, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, is “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between.” By this definition, a hot dog in a bun could be classified as a sandwich. One level of confusion comes in, however, with the classification of a hot dog sans bun.
The issue here is the debate on what exactly defines the hot dog as we know it. To many, the presence of the roll is essential. However, there are also those who would argue that the meat in and of itself is the essence of the hot dog, and all else is based the personal tastes of the consumer. These purists are more or less outnumbered though, as many consider not just the roll to be a necessary component, but such popular condiments as mustard and ketchup also. That is another issue altogether, but logically speaking, if one requires certain condiments to properly classify their food item as a hot dog, one would also need the bun.
Hiney weighed in on the issue. “It’s still a hot dog whether it’s on a bun or not,” he said, “and since the hot dog without the bun is just meat, it cannot be called a sandwich.”
While this is certainly a valid point, not everyone agrees that a hot dog without a bun is strictly a hot dog. Another UMW student, Conrad Donahue, insisted that “a hot dog without a roll or bun is simply called a ‘frank.’” Therefore, the term “hot dog” is still free to be classified as a sandwich without the trouble of sharing a name with the bun-less version.
Hiney continued his argument by disagreeing with the Merriam Webster definition. He claimed, “a true sandwich is made with two individual pieces of bread, and so a split roll or bun does not qualify.” Although there might be some truth to that claim, it really appears to only further blur interpretations of the issue. If that is the case, are we to assume that subs or hoagies are not technically sandwiches either? It seems that Merriam Webster is not an infallible source for everyone; disagreement on this seemingly simple definition is surprisingly widespread.
The defenders of the pro-sandwich argument tend to base their arguments on Merriam Webster’s definition. According to Michael Maimone, a sophomore philosophy major, “the hot dog is a sandwich for the same reasons that a sub is a sandwich. It consists of various savory ingredients sandwiched in bread. The verb ‘sandwiched’ is key. Any time you can use that verb to describe bread and a savory filling, you have a sandwich.” Again, one must accept that a sandwich can consist of one split piece of bread for Maimone’s argument to hold true.
That said, the verb in question, “sandwiched,” is strong evidence that hot dogs are in fact sandwiches. Merriam Webster defines the verb “sandwich” as “to make into or as if into a sandwich; to insert or enclose usually between two things of another quality or character.” Note the portion which reads “two things.” Although this implies that perhaps separation between the slices of bread is a key factor, these words are also preceded by “usually”, which means that this is not always the case. Therefore, two points from Webster’s definition endorse hot dogs as sandwiches. The case would be closed if everyone had the same appreciation for Merriam Webster’s work.
For a seemingly trivial issue, the debate showed that the participants were passionate about their arguments. Numerous other students jumped in with arguments for both sides of the spectrum. It turns out that this debate is not as cut and dry as one would think.
It appeared as if the debate ended two years ago when USA Today published the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council’s official declaration that the hot dog is not a sandwich. The council, which was founded in 1994 by the American Meat Institute with its headquarters in Washington D.C., stated, “Our verdict is…a hot dog is an exclamation of joy, a food, a verb describing one ‘showing off’ and even an emoji. It is truly a category unto its own.”
There are various legends about how the first hot dog was made in America, mostly relating to the theme of using buns to keep customers from burning their hands on the hot sausages. Regardless of how they first came to be, they are universally recognized today as a piece of America and associated with such Americanized things as baseball, carnivals, barbeques, etc. – but are they sandwiches? Some have said that if an official council said so, the hot dog must not be a sandwich, but others continue to disagree. What then are we supposed to believe?
The answer is that we live in America and can believe what we want to about this iconic food item. Of course, the fact that it is so iconic within the American culture suggests that perhaps it deserves to be more than just a mere sandwich, and thus the debate continues. One solution is that since the hot dog is so undeniably a slice of Americana, perhaps we should regard the question of whether it is a sandwich as an open one. This free interpretation is in keeping with our rights as Americans. And at the end of the day, despite any convincing arguments one way or another, we can all agree that hot dogs are delicious and always will be no matter how we classify them.