The Fourth of July: a day when millions of Americans gather outside homes, public areas, and bridges to witness spectacular fireworks, eat watermelon, and engage in familial debates involving contested topics that define our generation.
Perhaps the underdog of debates that is currently dividing the country is whether or not hot dogs are considered to be sandwiches. While such a debate may seem trivial, its answer can have a lasting impact on the processed food industry as well as the pockets of barbeque enthusiasts around the country (National Hot Dog & Sausage Council).
After doing some research, I can say with certainty that hot dogs are, in fact, sandwiches. The Atlantic developed a test to determine whether or not a given composite food product falls within the sandwich category. The developers aptly named it “The Sandwich Index,” which consists of four points (Garber, 2015):
- To qualify as “a sandwich,” a given food product must, structurally, consist of two (2) exterior pieces that are either separate or mostly separate (Drenkard & Kaeding, 2015).
- Those pieces must be primarily carbohydrate-based.
- The whole assemblage must have a primarily horizontal orientation.
- The whole assemblage must be fundamentally portable (United States Supreme Court).
Under these logical points, a burger is a sandwich. An ice cream sandwich is a sandwich. An Oreo is a sandwich. A hot dog is most certainly a sandwich (Garber, 2015).
Janet Riley, the president of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council and the self-proclaimed “Queen of Wien,” suggests that, due to the “hot dog’s impact on American history as well as the ‘open’ nature of a hot dog in a bun,” the NHDSC has decided that the hot dog is not a sandwich as the hot dog has “transcended the sandwich” (Deutsch, 2015). The NHDSC has asserted that, while hot dogs may have been considered to be sandwiches in their early history, they have “evolved to become an entirely new entity” (Garber, 2015). The Council further elaborated on the decision by stating that “limiting the hot dog’s significance by saying it’s ‘just a sandwich,’ is like calling the Dalai Lama ‘just a guy’” (Deutsch, 2015). Despite this lazy logic, I agree with the Council’s position that hot dogs have evolved to not be seen as sandwiches in the public eye; however, I maintain my belief that hot dogs have not completely deviated from their original ancestor—the sandwich.
Many might think that this debate is unnecessary and has no impact; however, the discussion actually has a societal and economic impact. The debate is much like the 1893 Nix v Hedden Supreme Court case that judged whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables, in which Justice Horace Grey ruled that tomatoes are vegetables (United States Supreme Court). Why did this debate matter, and how is it related to the hot dog debate? The short answer—taxes.
When civil revenue is involved, the debate of whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich becomes astronomically more important. To elaborate on this claim, we must first consult the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance (NYSDTF) for the definition of a sandwich. According to the NYSDTF, sandwiches “include cold and hot sandwiches of every kind that are prepared and ready to be eaten, whether 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” (Department of Taxation and Finance). The official sandwich list offered by the NYSDTF includes “hot dogs and sausages on buns, rolls, etc” (Pomeranz, 2013).
So, why should anyone care? When going to your local grocery store, buying the components of a hot dog are not taxable by the state or federal government; however, once a civilian prepares these items for you and arranges them to your liking, they instantly become taxable since the item is now a prepared food (Bureau of Labor Statistics). The power to tax is widely considered to be a government power that has been associated with raising revenue, deterring consumption, and battling obesity directly (Pomeranz, 2013). Without diving into the probable impact this debate could have on the state and federal government, it is important to discuss the impact it could potentially have on low-income families, concession workers, and stadium owners/officials (Bureau of Labor Statistics; Virginia Association). Limiting this effect to capital businesses that do not include churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions with a physical place of worship is important as well, since such places are nonprofit and may sell tangible items (including food) that are tax-exempt (Florida Department of Revenue).
The prominent reason the “is a hot dog a sandwich” debate affects a disproportionate number of low-income households is due to the fact that lower-income families, on average, consume more breakfast hot dogs across the country compared to families of higher SES (National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, Statista). According to figures for 2012, breakfast sausage sales in the US totaled approximately $1.4 billion in sales (Virginia Association); 81% of this figure was supposedly from lower-class/impoverished citizens (National Hot Dog & Sausage Council).
If the NYSDTF were to remove the hot dog from the “sandwich” category, the “sales tax would no longer be attributed to hot dog manufacturing/preparation” (Bao, Personal Interview, 2018). In other words, sales tax would be eradicated for hot dogs. For example, the average cost of a hot dog at a concession stand during an MLB game in 2016 was $4.52 (Statista). The average sales tax rate in the US in 2016 was 5.79% (Drenkard & Kaeding, 2015). If a hot dog at a concession stand were originally $4.52 with sales tax before the categorical amendment, the average price after the amendment would be $4.27. While this may initially seem like a positive impact on individuals who purchase hot dogs at concession stands, the impact is anything but positive once logistics and potential countermeasures are evaluated.
According to the NHDSC, the total number of prepared hot dogs sold at sporting events in the US in 2016 was 11 billion (NHDSC). This figure does not include hot dogs prepared and sold at street carts in the US. Regardless, the net annual loss due to the categorical amendment across all US concession stands for MLB games alone would be approximately $2,750,000,000 (Florida Department of Revenue). Due to this incredible loss of revenue, concession stand/stadium officials and the meat industry may perform a variety of countermeasures: concession stands may increase the base price of hot dogs to compensate for the loss, the quality of meat used in hot dog wieners could diminish, and other taxes for American citizens could increase (income tax would most likely increase slightly), affecting lower-class households significantly more than households of higher SES (Bao, Personal Interview, 2018).
As always, debate shapes our understanding of the individuals around us. Debating, even for supposedly unimportant topics such as the “hot dog/sandwich argument,” is essential in developing an atmosphere of intelligence, vision, empathy, and resolve. Seemingly trivial arguments litter our everyday lives; however, the knowledge gained from such debates is one’s opportunity to understand perspective and the way the world works. Meaningless debates might have unforeseen outcomes for those around you and may even affect you or your community.
We hope you enjoyed this. Happy April Fools' Day, from all of us at IUJUR!