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Is a hot dog a sandwich? If you thought this debate was dead, you might not have been paying attention to Pennsylvania politics.

Last month, Gov. Tom Wolf came out swinging for the YES camp.

In an April 27 tweet from his official account, the first-term-looking-for-a-second-term governor writes: “It’s no secret that when it comes to hot dogs – my favorite sandwich – I’m a mustard guy. Thanks to Rootin’ Tootin’ Hot Dogs in Stroudsburg for a delicious lunch earlier today.”

Forget the mustard-only approach — you’re in Stroudsburg, not Chicago, Tom — it’s Wolf’s assertion that a hot dog is a sandwich here that raises some serious questions.

Somewhere Scott Wagner is drafting an attack ad titled “The wurst of Harrisburg.”

But the self-assured look on Wolf’s face in that photo and his deliberate handling of that mustard bottle left us wondering: Is he maybe right? Is a hot dog actually a sandwich, and we just didn’t know? He seems so certain.

A (foot)long debate

This question is not new. Nor is the discussion surrounding it.

“The definition has been unclear since the late 1860s when German baker Charles Feltman began placing sausages from his native country — known as frankfurters — inside the bread he was selling on Coney Island,” the NY Daily News reports.

Since then, the hot-dog-versus-sandwich question has been the subject of a thinkpiece in The Atlantic, which ruled that while hot dogs are not sandwiches, cheeseburgers and Oreos are. (Stay focused.)

The question baffled the Buffalo Bills locker room in 2015.

In support of the hot dog-as-sandwich theory, Merriam Webster writes: “We know: the idea that a hot dog is a sandwich is heresy to some of you. But given that the definition of sandwich is ‘two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between,’ there is no sensible way around it. If you want a meatball sandwich on a split roll to be a kind of sandwich, then you have to accept that a hot dog is also a kind of sandwich.” (We’re not sure we appreciate their tone.)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s guidelines also support this insanity — sorry, theory — suggesting “the hot dog as meat between bread, falls into the sandwich category.”

The Atlantic disagrees, writing, “To qualify as ‘a sandwich,’ a given food product must, structurally, consist of two (2) exterior pieces that are either separate or mostly separate.”

This take has been backed up The British Sandwich Association and the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council — not a made up thing — in the U.S.

And the Louisville Courier-Journal used last year’s “National Hot Dog Day” to issue 10 corrections — including one dating back to 1887 — for each of the times that the newspaper referred to a hot dog as a sandwich.

So who are you gonna believe on this, a 200-year-old dictionary or two groups dedicated to sandwiches and hot dogs exclusively — and the Louisville Courier-Journal?

Of course, the hot dog council has an interest in maintaining the hot dog’s distinct identity. Cue the Dalai Lama comparison.

“Limiting a hot dog’s significance by saying it’s ‘just a sandwich’ is like calling the Dalai Lama ‘just a guy,’” the council’s president, Janet Riley, said in announcing the council’s verdict in 2015.

And public opinion has been behind them ever since — although it’s shifted some.

In a 2017 poll, the political outfit Public Policy Polling, famous for its polling on such crucial issues as “is Die Hard a Christmas movie?”, found that more and more Americans feel a hot dog isn’t a sandwich than the other way around.

“Thirty-four percent of voters think a hot dog is a sandwich to 51 percent who say it is not,” PPP reported. “When we polled on this in 2016 only 29 percent thought a hot dog was a sandwich and 60 percent said it was not.”

It was a similarly lopsided response to Gov. Wolf’s tweet, which prompted a lengthy discussion about the merits of buns, rolls and bread, one profane pun and at least one call for impeachment.


So is a hot dog a sandwich? In the end it may depend on which sources you choose to believe, and with that the greatest inadvertent political metaphor of the 2018 election was born.

Pittsburgh journalist Colin Deppen joined The Incline as a reporter/curator in August 2017. Since then, Colin has covered tumult...