Snacks are quite an interesting part of our eating culture. We (at least in America) have a very defined eating infrastructure that separates our foods and consumption into four distinct meal categories: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. The snack, as defined by Wikipedia, is “a portion of food oftentimes smaller than that of a regular meal, that is generally eaten between meals.” Though snacks are not inherently junk food, they very often are and thus have a reputation for being unhealthy due to their nutritional value (or lack thereof). In addition, the quality of the snack has a lot to do with convenience. Snacks come into play when a person is in between meals and suddenly finds that they are hungry. If you consider the times of day that this happens, its usually not a time that allows you to prepare either a full-blown meal or even a healthy snack. Often, it is much easier to grab a bag of chips and go on with your day.
On the other hand, there is another eating infrastructure that utilizes a six meal plan which incorporates the inevitable snack. This system encourages you to snack, but at the cost of that big fat steak and potatoes dinner you so cherish, as well as the bag of chips that gets you through your 2 o’clock meeting. Instead, it asks you to opt for healthier choices all around, such as snacking on a handful of almonds and following it up with a dinner of chicken and asparagus.
But, you’re probably asking, what does this all have to do with sandwiches??? Interestingly enough, Wikipedia includes sandwiches among its list of snacks (which, by the way, includes both nutritional and junky snacks). But when is a sandwich a meal, and when is it a snack? I’ll use this tuna melt as an example to illustrate the three important things to consider in this meal vs sandwich categorization: the timing, the ingredients, and the mentality.
A sandwich can be a meal if you choose to eat it at a mealtime, or, if you choose (as I did with this tuna melt) to eat it at a “snack time” it can be considered a snack. This tuna melt was made after I got home from a night with friends to sit down on the couch and decompress with some good tv before bed…a classic midnight snack. Had this sandwich been consumed around noon, or even 6pm, I would consider it a meal. However, there is no meal associated with midnight, unless of course you count the Taco Bell Fourth Meal.
This is another facet to the meal vs snack debate: what’s in your sandwich. One of the great things about sandwiches is that they can be made with leftovers. Thanksgiving sandwiches anyone?! Unless the timing is at mealtime, I would say that a sandwich made from leftovers could be considered more of a snack, mostly because if it was a meal, it wouldn’t be in the sandwich form. This tuna melt was made with the leftovers of a tuna salad my dad had made earlier in the day. More importantly, though, is the size of the sandwich. If your sandwich has eight billion ingredients, but the size of these ingredients create a bite-sized sandwich, I’ dont think it’d be hard to argue that it’s a snack. But it’s not always this simple, and I think that more generally, sandwiches with fewer ingredients have a higher probability of being categorized as a snack then those with more layers.
The most important factor in the decision, however, simply comes from how you view the sandwich. When I say mentality, I mean that every part of who you are and how you’re thinking at that moment really determines whether your sandwich is a snack or meal more than anything else. Does your five-layer club sandwich feel more like a snack to you? Then it is. Can your PB & J constitute your lunch meal? Sure. So really then, if it all comes down to how you feel, then what is the point of this debate (Chris kept asking me this as we talked about this post)? The point is that you CAN debate this. The fact is, food is enough a part of our culture (and not just our survival) that I can actually argue with you over the role that a sandwich plays in your day’s eating. Though there are other foods that straddle the line between meal and snack, I think that the sandwich is among the most versatile of foods when it comes to defining its place in the meal system. Some foods are considered breakfast foods, some are considered dinner foods, and some are considered to be just snacks, but there is no way that you can categorize a sandwich that easily. Yet another reason why sandwiches are a great way to examine the way we eat and our relationship with food.