Food is universal. Everyone eats it, and it connects us with different people and cultures. But how people enjoy, eat and talk about food varies widely, sparking some truly contentious food debates.
For example, purists might think coffee creamer doesn’t belong anywhere near their morning cup of joe, when others can’t live without it. But some food debates go much, much deeper than personal preference. Some shake people to their very core and cause quite a stir on social media. These food debates, in particular, have taken hold of the discourse around food, sparking countless fights and conversations.
One of the biggest internet food questions of the last few years has wondered whether a Pop-Tart can be considered ravioli. While this seems like a joke, it actually brings up a valid question. Is any sort of food item in which an outer shell that fully envelops a filling a ravioli? There are so many encased foods from around the world, from empanadas to dumplings. But what sets each apart is the dough and the cooking method. Ravioli are a type of pasta, often filled with meat or cheese and cooked in boiling water. A Pop-Tart, on the other hand, is a hand pie, a pastry made with biscuit-style dough with either a sweet or savory filling that is baked, fried or deep-fried. So we can conclusively say that the answer to this question is a firm no.
Pizza may just be the most debatable food out there. There are so many incredible pizzas across America, but some stoke controversy just by existing. Yes, we’re talking about deep-dish pizza. Even the best deep-dish in the country is subject to scrutiny: Is a pizza that has a deep, thick crust actually a pizza pie or is it more like a casserole than a flatbread? Former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart went after deep-dish pizza in 2013, calling it “tomato soup in a bread bowl,” causing many Chicagoans to staunchly defend their signature pie.
Chicagoans like a lot of things on their hot dogs. The typical Chicago-style dog comes with yellow mustard, green relish, chopped onion, a dill pickle spear, sport peppers, tomato and celery salt. But ketchup? Forgeddaboutit. In 2017, Heinz tried to market ketchup as “Chicago dog sauce” to Windy City residents, who were not buying it. However, sports stadiums in Chicago still do have the condiment on hand if you’re willing to weather some judgemental side-eye while dressing your dog. You also won’t find ketchup on traditional New York-style dogs, which are usually topped with sauerkraut and mustard, in the German style.
How you top your hot dog isn’t the only debate around that ballpark classic. Many people debate this food’s very identity: Are hot dogs and burgers sandwiches? From a classification standpoint, they are. Merriam Webster defines sandwiches as “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between.” By this definition, hot dogs and burgers should indeed be considered sandwiches.
There are a lot of regional word debates around America, few of which cause the confusion and commotion of what to call a long sandwich. An elongated sandwich with various meats, cheeses and toppings is known by many names. It is predominantly known as a submarine sandwich, or "sub" for short, in most of the country. It’s also called a grinder in New England, a hero in New York and a hoagie in Philadelphia.
Not all chicken wings are created equal, even among the best Buffalo wings in America. Just as some people prefer a cake slice with a lot of frosting and others prefer an interior piece, some people like the drumettes (the mini-drumsticks) on a plate of chicken wings and others prefer the flats. Drum proponents like the easier eating that comes with that shape, while flat proponents like the sauce-to-skin-to-chicken ratio.
A peanut butter and jelly sandwich should be the easiest recipe in the world. You just take two slices of bread and slather them with peanut butter and jelly. But apparently there is more than one way to do everything, including making a basic sandwich. Some people will take one piece of bread, add peanut butter, put jelly on top of the peanut butter and then add the final slice of bread. Others will put peanut butter on one slice of bread, put jelly on the second slice of bread and then bring the two pieces together. How do you make yours?
Twitter users have lots of opinions; there’s even discourse on how best to remove eggs from their container. Do you start on one side and work your way to the other? Do you grab equally from each side to keep the carton in balance or do you just grab whatever egg looks best in the moment? Yes, this is something people actually think about. As for us, as long as we’re cooking up a delicious egg dish, we don’t care where in the carton it comes from.
Everyone has their favorite pizza toppings. Some folks won’t eat a slice without pepperoni, while others think that simple sauce and quality cheese is the way to go. But no pizza topping divides a group as much as pineapple. Some people like the sweet and salty contrast when it’s paired with ham, while others think pineapple on pizza ruins this beloved dish.
Speaking of things that do or do not belong on pizza: Is ranch a suitable dipping sauce or drizzle on a pie? New Yorkers generally rage against ranch on pizza, with New York food writer Ed Levine calling it “a crime against nature.” However, most national pizza chains let you order your pizza with a side of ranch.
You might be surprised to learn that there’s more than one way to eat pizza. Some people insist on folding their slices, while others just dive right in. More unorthodox pizza eaters will go for a sideways slice, head in crust-first or choose to eat their ‘za with a fork and knife. According to body language experts, how you eat your pizza actually says something about your personality, and publications have style guides so those who seek out the best pizza in America can get the most from their slice.
You’re not going to try to eat a creamy bowl of ice cream with a knife, and attempting to eat a steak with a spoon would be an exercise in futility. But some foods come with a less obvious cutlery choice, like macaroni and cheese. A 2018 survey conducted by mac and cheese brand Annie’s found that 71% of adults eat their macaroni with a fork, while 28% work with a spoon.
What do you call the end piece of a loaf of bread? You know, the one with a full side of crust? These two slices are the cause of much discussion, as they go by many names. According to a Twitter debate, this piece of bread is alternately referred to as the butt, knob, heel, outside, crust, ender and other weird names. But, according to the Atlantic, heel is the most commonly used term.
“Cahr-uh-MEL” or “CAR-mul?” This sweet, sticky treat should be easy enough to pronounce (unless you have a mouthful of it), but there’s plenty of regional debate across America. The Western half of the country pronounces caramel with two syllables, completely ignoring that second “a.” Meanwhile, Southerners and East Coasters embrace that second vowel and spread this candy out to three syllables.
Regional food debates aren’t just limited to what to call something or how to pronounce it. It’s also about cheeseburgers. While many locals are loyal to their regional chains, the two biggest regional titans are In-N-Out and Shake Shack. While both have expanded, In-N-Out spread from the West Coast over to Texas, and Shake Shack began on the East Coast. Both spots offer budget-friendly fast food-style burgers with special sauces, fries and milkshakes, and both have cult followings. Why can’t these burger chains get along? And more importantly, why can’t In-N-Out go national?
At its core, a cheeseburger is just a patty, cheese and a bun. It should be simple, but of course, there’s room for debate. Namely, where does the cheese go on said burger? Google sparked this particular food debate in 2017 when it launched its burger emoji with the cheese on the bottom. In the tiny illustration, the burger had the toppings and patty sitting atop the cheese, while competitor Apple’s emoji had the cheese on the top of the stack. Though some people defended this ordering, Google caved to the pressure and changed the design to have the cheese on top a month later.
You might think there is a universal consensus on how to prepare a bagel. You take the bagel, slice it in half, maybe toast it then add your desired toppings and eat. Enter the city of St. Louis, where, for years, people have been slicing their bagels like a normal loaf of bread. This results in biscotti-shaped slices of bagel that truly confound people outside of Missouri. Proponents of the “bread-sliced” bagel claim that it allows for maximum amounts of cream cheese or other toppings per bagel piece.
Many Millennials are major foodies and also enjoy debating silly questions about food on social media. But this generation also often gets accused of “ruining” food. Sales of American cheese are dropping. Casual chain restaurants are struggling. Mayonnaise is no longer a staple of backyard barbecues. And if news reports are to be believed, people born between 1981 and 1996 are destroying all of these things. Did Millenials really kill popular food items and institutions or is everyone just realizing actual cheddar is better than something from a can? Regardless, there’s one good thing to come out of all this: better happy hour deals at chain restaurants.
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