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How the burrito became a sandwich
July 22, 2014 10:19 PM   Subscribe

NPR's Planet Money explains the history of the sales tax in the United States by tracing what kinds of sandwiches get taxed and why: How the Burrito Became a Sandwich. Bonus: In-N-Out Burger history in the podcast.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (154 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
lbr a burrito is a sandwich in every meaningful way -- main components of the meal bound within a wrapper. creating a distinction between two small wrappers or one large one is superfluous and trifling. sorry if you disagree but you're setting camp on some seriously tenuous grounds
posted by p3on at 10:32 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]


Next thing you know, people are going to say a hotdog in a bun or a split biscuit with butter and jam spread in the middle isn't a sandwich. Bread + anything = sandwich.
posted by Brent Parker at 10:39 PM on July 22


I don't know, one might be tempted to define a sandwich as non-bread food between two pieces of bread-food. A burrito would then technically be a half-sandwich.
posted by axiom at 10:46 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


Mmmmm. Now I desperately want a burrito.

One of the weirdest things of having left Oregon (besides pumping your own gas) is having things not cost exactly what the tag says, because of this confounded 'sales tax.' No doubt it all evens out more or less (Oregon has a high income tax), but there is something nice about a thing that costs 4.99 actually costing 4.99.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:51 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


I don't know, one might be tempted to define a sandwich as non-bread food between two pieces of bread-food.

Then is the abomination that is the KFC Double Down a sandwich? I really can't tell.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:00 PM on July 22 [6 favorites]


How about pita? Or a burger with a bit of bread left as a hinge between the buns? What if the "bread" is made from something other than wheat, like rye flour? Or a gluten-free bread made from rice flour? If you count wrapped foods, then what if the wrapper is cooked around the filling, like a spring roll? What if it's served raw, like a rice-paper roll? Or how about sushi wrapped with nori?

Basically, all these distinctions are stupid. If you're going to have consumption taxes you need to apply them across the board, and compensate people on low incomes with direct payments.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:24 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


A burrito seems pretty ... sandwich-y to me. It doesn't seem like much of a stretch to tax it like one.

Maybe they should just call it a "convenience food tax" instead of a "sandwich tax", though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:24 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


lbr a burrito is a sandwich in every meaningful way -- main components of the meal bound within a wrapper. creating a distinction between two small wrappers or one large one is superfluous and trifling.

That definition would make a baozi or a potsticker or ravioli or any other type of stuffed dumpling a sandwich too. axiom's definition would appear to make pizza a half-sandwich.

I was about to scornfully deny that this is a general United States thing as my state doesn't have a sales tax but auggh, they got me. They got me on the burritos.

I wonder if you could invent some complicated high-consumer-waste packaging system that would hold the contents of the sandwich separate from the bread when it's sold so that it doesn't count as prepared food, but then assembles the sandwich in the process of opening the package. The Shooter's Sandwich Sandwich Shooter™.
posted by XMLicious at 11:27 PM on July 22 [4 favorites]


It occurs to me that like hydrae and echinoderms, if you cut a sandwich (like a 12" sub/grinder/hero) in half, the halves are actually two six-inch sandwiches. Hence, unless there is an indivisible quantum sandwich, any one sandwich could theoretically provide an infinite amount of tax revenue for a state.
posted by XMLicious at 11:39 PM on July 22 [59 favorites]


This is like the great Jaffa Cake fiasco of 1991:

In the United Kingdom, value added tax is payable on chocolate-covered biscuits, but not on chocolate-covered cakes.[10] McVities defended its classification of Jaffa Cakes as cakes at a VAT tribunal in 1991, against the ruling that Jaffa Cakes were biscuits due to their size and shape, and the fact that they were often eaten in place of biscuits.[11] McVities insisted that the product was a cake, and according to rumour produced a giant Jaffa Cake in court to illustrate its point.[11] After assessing the product on eleven criteria, including "texture", "attractiveness to children" and "consistency when stale", the court found in favour of McVities, meaning that VAT is not paid on Jaffa Cakes in the United Kingdom. (Wikipedia)
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:42 PM on July 22 [13 favorites]


Hence, unless there is an indivisible quantum sandwich

Surely the smallest possible sandwich is one atom of fillingum bonded to two atoms of breadium.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:45 PM on July 22 [16 favorites]


what if it were an open sandwich would that be radical
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:53 PM on July 22 [9 favorites]


GallonOfAlan: great Jaffa Cake fiasco

Not the last of its long and illustrious line either.

Lord Justice Jacob:
Are Pringles "similar to potato crisps and made from the potato?" That is the question. Upon it hangs the question of whether rather a lot of money, as much as £100m of tax for the past and about £20m a year for the future [...]
Somewhere in this case, I seem to vaguely recall, the honourable Lords declare that the correct way to eat a Pringle is to place it in one's mouth and let it dissolve upon the tongue. It was at that moment I knew, finally and for certain, that we were correct to sever the High Court from the Privy Council in 1975.
posted by curious.jp at 12:05 AM on July 23 [16 favorites]


That wikipedia excerpt sort of misses the punch line on stale jaffa cakes. The reasoning was that biscuits get soft when stale, whereas cakes get hard. Stale jaffa cakes are hard, and therefore are cakes, not biscuits.
posted by ryanrs at 12:12 AM on July 23 [9 favorites]


The landmark 1991 UK Jaffa Cakes ruling seems to less of a fiasco and more like the Judgement of Solomon based on this summary:

The Tribunal listed the factors it considered in coming to a decision as follows.

The product’s name was a minor consideration.
Ingredients:Cake can be made of widely differing ingredients, but Jaffa cakes were made of an egg, flour, and sugar mixture which was aerated on cooking and was the same as a traditional sponge cake. It was a thin batter rather than the thicker dough expected for a biscuit texture.
Cake would be expected to be soft and friable; biscuit would be expected to be crisp and able to be snapped. Jaffa cakes had the texture of sponge cake.
Size: Jaffa cakes were in size more like biscuits than cakes.
Packaging: Jaffa cakes were sold in packages more similar to biscuits than cakes.
Marketing: Jaffa cakes were generally displayed for sale with biscuits rather than cakes.
On going stale, a Jaffa cake goes hard like a cake rather than soft like a biscuit.
Jaffa cakes are presented as a snack, eaten with the fingers, whereas a cake may be more often expected to be eaten with a fork. They also appeal to children, who could eat one in a few mouthfuls rather like a sweet.
The sponge part of a Jaffa cake is a substantial part of the product in terms of bulk and texture when eaten.

Taking all these factors into account, Jaffa cakes had characteristics of both cakes and biscuits, but the tribunal thought they had enough characteristics of cakes to be accepted as such, and they were therefore zero-rated.

posted by Bwithh at 12:28 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


I heard it was the "On going stale, a Jaffa cake goes hard like a cake rather than soft like a biscuit." that was the clincher that lost HM government who knows how many millions in VAT.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:36 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


I've just learned of Turkish kumpir potato, which, while less sandwichoid than many starch-enrobed foodstuffs, sounds positively amazing.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:37 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]


I work in sales and use tax, and get these news updates all the time. Some picks for mefites who like nits.

It is absolutely not a 'sandwich' tax, but a tax on all tangible personal property with exemptions for what the state determines is necessary. Prepared food is not included in the exemption for New York, specifically calling out, food eaten on the premises, food served heated, and sandwiches.

They also don't exempt candy, liquor, pet food, juice that is less than 70 percent juice.

Some states don't provide any exemption for food. (Which would have been a better test than that awful In and Out what-if)

Other states have even weirder lines they draw determining taxability of food. Until recently, Texas would tax donuts in quantities under 6. Six and over was assumed to be more likely to make it home and 'necessary'. Liquid Smoke is going through a lot of courts to determine if it's part of the manufacturing process, or an ingredient in the dish itself.

Most of the interesting sales/use tax questions are about the transition between labor and product. Most states are set up where they tax all product unless specifically exempted, but all services are non-taxable unless specifically stated. As our economy shifts towards services and away from consumption, states are hurting. At about 10% sales tax, you start seeing serious tax avoidance. So raising rates isn't particularly viable. And adding taxable services is very difficult. Instead we see the "true object" test. You aren't hiring a photographer. You're paying someone to give you great pictures. You aren't getting your pants tailored, you're adding value to your clothes. You aren't hiring a developer, you're buying custom software.

Mostly, I find it hilarious that NPR is convinced there's a ton of Sales Tax Lobbying, because y'know, banks do it for Banking Laws. Sales Tax is decentralized. Not only is it thousands of jurisdictions to lobby, the person paying the tax is not the person administering the tax and dealing with compliance. It's hard to make a business case to lobby any given jurisdiction on any given issue. And most change happens in the Courts or new regulations written by appointed bureaucrats, not legislators who rely on lobbyists for funding and advice. You have Wal-Mart and Amazon both lobbying Congress to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act, which has been bandied about for years with no success because people love tax avoidance.
posted by politikitty at 1:28 AM on July 23 [27 favorites]


Overthinking a sandwich-like of beans.
posted by davemee at 2:00 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Taking all these factors into account, Jaffa cakes had characteristics of both cakes and biscuits,

This touches on an element of quantum snack theory, often referred to as "cake-biscuit duality". In certain circumstances, a Jaffa Cake exhibits the properties of either cakes or biscuits. This duality addresses the inability of the classical concepts "cake" or "bicsuit" to fully describe the behaviour of quantum-scale snacks.
As Einstein described: "It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of Jaffa Cakes, but together they do"
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:38 AM on July 23 [8 favorites]


At about 10% sales tax, you start seeing serious tax avoidance.

So that's why California's sales tax is 9.5%.
posted by telstar at 3:50 AM on July 23


Hence, unless there is an indivisible quantum sandwich, any one sandwich could theoretically provide an infinite amount of tax revenue for a state.

Unfortunately for the state, eventually any sandwich-dividing scheme will run up against the Planck length.

Not before creating billions of taxable sandwiches, though!
posted by murphy slaw at 4:04 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


Also all of this talk of one-sided sandwiches leads me to imagine a Moebius burrito made from an elegantly twisted tortilla, where all the filling is simultaneously on the inside and the outside of the burrito.
posted by murphy slaw at 4:10 AM on July 23 [12 favorites]


But all soft cookies go hard when they go stale. So does bread. Do they have Fig Newtons in the UK?
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:00 AM on July 23


Möbius bagel.

I tried to make a Klein Sandwich but the filling dropped out.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:06 AM on July 23 [9 favorites]


Hmmmm. A classification discussion. Let's begin by asking what are the critical elements of a sandwich? I'll suggest:

1. Food made of several parts
2. including some kind of outer "wrapper" and a filling
3. intended to be eaten without cutlery
4. and not generally requiring washing one's self afterwards

#1 prevents doughnuts, dumplings, and other "single piece foods" from being "sandwiches." #2 would allow hand pies, pasties, and bao to be "sandwiches," along with burritos, wraps, spring rolls, etc. #3 rules out "open face sandwiches" and threatens those ridiculous 16 ounce burgers that really must be cut into pieces to fit in one's mouth, but may allow pizza, although pizza tends to be disqualified by #4. #3 rules out things like gyoza, tofu skins, shu mai, and sushi (although you can eat sushi with your fingers, that falls afoul of #4).

The only things that seem slightly weird on this list is pizza and maybe the hand pies, although all serve the general purpose of the sandwich (as conceived by John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich according to at least legend), so I am cautiously willing to include them in the family.

Now, withing the general class, it's reasonable to divide them into monowraps (e.g. burritos, tacos, and spring rolls), biwraps (e.g. a PB&J), and polywraps (e.g. anything Dagwood would eat). The monowraps could be divided into open (things that can be unwrapped) and closed (where the wrapper is sealed, as in a hand pie). Usually the outer layer is made up of some grain-based (usually wheat) substance, but I am not sure that things wrapped in edible leaves should be excluded. Something wrapped in meat, like the Double Down, fail point #4, above, as well as violating the laws of every merciful god.

Is there any significant characteristic left out?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:11 AM on July 23 [10 favorites]


But all soft cookies go hard when they go stale. So does bread. Do they have Fig Newtons in the UK?

But it's not a cookie... it's fruit and cake!
posted by Jahaza at 5:14 AM on July 23 [5 favorites]


FIE ON THIS PERFIDY
posted by louche mustachio at 5:15 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


axiom's definition would appear to make pizza a half-sandwich.
Not if you eat it New York style.

I heard this on NPR the other day and it struck me that they didn't really address how the current low-carb driven practice of making every sandwich available as a wrap in many places must have thrown the whole system into chaos.
posted by TedW at 5:19 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


I spent an unfortunate amount of time a few weeks ago looking for a Taxonomy of Sandwiches. (There are a few out there on the internet - none I agree with. I'm sorry, but pizza is just NOT a sandwich.) I am delighted to know I am not alone in spending too much time thinking about such things.
posted by Stacey at 5:21 AM on July 23


what if it were an open sandwich would that be radical

An open-faced burrito would be much sadder than an open-faced sandwich.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:24 AM on July 23


1. Food made of several parts
2. including some kind of outer "wrapper" and a filling
3. intended to be eaten without cutlery
4. and not generally requiring washing one's self afterwards


5. Sandwiches that from a long way off look like flies.
posted by Wolof at 5:27 AM on July 23 [9 favorites]


Is there any significant characteristic left out?

There needs to be some sort of method of disqualifying dessert/snack constructions -- in essence, a pasty/fruit-pie divide.
posted by Etrigan at 5:40 AM on July 23


The meaning of a sandwich is its use.
posted by carter at 5:42 AM on July 23 [5 favorites]


Two of my favorite AskMes:

Is cereal soup?
Is quiche pie?

And tangentially related:

How much is a deviled egg?
posted by Rock Steady at 5:42 AM on July 23 [6 favorites]


Isn't an open-faced burrito a tostada? Or is that an open-faced chimichanga?
posted by murphy slaw at 5:47 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


There needs to be some sort of method of disqualifying dessert/snack constructions -- in essence, a pasty/fruit-pie divide.

Good point. How about:

1. Food made of several parts
2. including some kind of outer "wrapper" and a filling
3. with a predominantly savory taste profile
4. intended to be eaten without cutlery
5. and not generally requiring washing one's self afterwards

My only concern with this #3 is that it might rule out the PB&J, although you have to be awfully skimpy with the peanut butter (or using one of those nasty high sugar peanut butters) to fail.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:48 AM on July 23


A baked potato is a sandwich.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:48 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


3. with a predominantly savory taste profile

Nah - jams, chocolate spread, honey; I don't think sweet/savoury comes into it.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:50 AM on July 23


GenjiandProust:
1. Food made of several parts
2. including some kind of outer "wrapper" and a filling
3. intended to be eaten without cutlery
4. and not generally requiring washing one's self afterwards


I would add

2a. that are not cooked once assembled

This rules out pizza and pies and empanada-type things, which I am happy with, but rules out the croquet-monsieur, which I think is a sandwich, but would be ruled out by 3. anyway. Besides it is such an edge case I am willing to lose it in service to the larger definition.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:01 AM on July 23


That eliminates all paninis.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:02 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


Also eliminates toasted sandwiches.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:07 AM on July 23


I think the rule needs to be "can be eaten raw or cooked and then eaten" - that eliminates pizzas (have to be cooked first) while preserving toasted sandwiches/paninis (can be eaten raw or cooked).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:08 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


Back to the sandwich board.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:09 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


This rules out pizza and pies and empanada-type things, which I am happy with, but rules out the croquet-monsieur, which I think is a sandwich, but would be ruled out by 3. anyway. Besides it is such an edge case I am willing to lose it in service to the larger definition.

But it also rules out the classic grilled cheese sandwich as well as "hot sandwiches" that get run under the grill before servce (although they are all imperiled by #4).

And paninis, as shakespeherian notes (which are less messy as a rule). Anything where melted cheese is a goal goes out the window, and that seems... overzealous.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:09 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


But all soft cookies go hard when they go stale. So does bread. Do they have Fig Newtons in the UK?

Clearly a burrito.
posted by tavegyl at 6:10 AM on July 23 [6 favorites]


4. and not generally requiring washing one's self afterwards

Specifically, this eliminates the cheese steak and the Reuben and this aggression will not stand.
posted by murphy slaw at 6:11 AM on July 23 [9 favorites]


As the best maker of grilled cheese sandwiches of my generation, I am embarrassed I neglected to consider them.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:12 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


I hope I can pour some oil on troubled fires here. Let us ask a simple question: what do we know of the origins of the sandwich? Surely it was a dish of roast meat between two slices of bread, served to Lord Sandwich of England, so that he might eat while gambling. This is the essence of the sandwich. It is a dish consisting of two slices of bread, containing some other food which would not otherwise be conveniently grasped. And it is English. This last fact above all defines the sandwich. If it is foreign, it is not a sandwich.

But what, you ask, of toasted cheese sandwiches?
– Welsh.
Open-faced sandwiches?
– Scandinavian.
Burritos?
– Mexican.
Pizzas?
– Italian.

See? all difficulties fall away once you recognise that foreign is not sandwich.

Thank you.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:21 AM on July 23 [5 favorites]


While the Earl Of Sandwich may have lent his name to the concept, I seriously doubt he was the first person to eat something sloppy pinched between two dry pieces of bread.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:25 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Ice cream sandwiches are a sandwich. Oreo cookies are not.

Explain.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:26 AM on July 23 [5 favorites]


But this view eliminates the Mexican torta and the Italian panini from consideration, and thereby descends into a hyper-nationalist reductio ad absurdum.

(Also I refuse to take council on any matter of cuisine from someone from the nation that invented the pie floater.)
posted by murphy slaw at 6:27 AM on July 23


Dude, it was only c. 1762 when the Earl of Sandwich started getting with sandwiches. It isn't like anything can spread through Western culture in just 250 years.
posted by mr. digits at 6:33 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


(Also I refuse to take council on any matter of cuisine from someone from the nation that invented the pie floater.)

Forgive him, Harry, he knows not whereof he speaks.

Anyway, the distinction is that a sandwich has a pre-cooked exterior.
Bread, tortillas, wraps, etc - all precooked. You can toast it after assembly, but that's optional.
Pizza dough, pie crusts, and bao dough all require cooking after assembly, thus they are not sandwiches.
posted by zamboni at 6:37 AM on July 23 [10 favorites]


Ice cream sandwiches are a sandwich. Oreo cookies are not.

If Oreos were bigger, even the size of a slider, they too would be sandwiches.

They are too small to be sandwiches. See also: those weird dayglo orange crackers, which have sandwich in the name, but only as a modifier.
posted by winna at 6:43 AM on July 23


Ice cream sandwiches are a sandwich. Oreo cookies are not.

Well Oreos and Oreo-like cookies are sometimes called "sandwich cookies." However, I think ice cream sandwiches are not really sandwiches, merely sandwich-like confections, the way that Frito pie is not a pie but a kind of low-rent party in a bag.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:44 AM on July 23 [5 favorites]


If one were to disagree with your point that dough requiring cooking after assembly disqualifies a dish as a sandwich, would one have to assert that Beef Wellington is a sandwich?
That'd be a hard point to argue.
posted by mr. digits at 6:45 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


The thing I find most disturbing here is that both ROU_Xenophobe and EndsOfInvention have chosen to comment on aspects of quantum comestible theory. Have the Culture Minds taken an interest? Are our sandwich taxonomies being subtly manipulated by Contact? Are we about to learn that Jaffa Cakes are neither cakes nor biscuits, but in fact cunningly-camouflaged Special Circumstances drones?
posted by McCoy Pauley at 6:48 AM on July 23 [10 favorites]


So, zamboni, a Double Down is a sandwich by your definition. We might need to refine further.
posted by stevis23 at 6:48 AM on July 23


I don't know... all he specifies is "pre-cooked exteriors", and sometimes things are funny. Loons have solid bones and they're still birds, no?
posted by mr. digits at 6:52 AM on July 23


It isn't like anything can spread through Western culture in just 250 years.

We managed it with syphilis, though in fairness a sandwich is less fun to catch.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:55 AM on July 23 [8 favorites]


Could've countered with "democracy" and you went with venereal disease?

I approve.
posted by mr. digits at 6:57 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]


Bread + anything = sandwich

Fondue is not a sandwich.
posted by plinth at 6:57 AM on July 23 [6 favorites]


A baked potato is a sandwich.




You hooligans are all hopped up on goofballs.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:57 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]


mr. digits: I don't know... all he specifies is "pre-cooked exteriors", and sometimes things are funny. Loons have solid bones and they're still birds, no?

There are going to be edge cases. Maybe you could add a "larger than bite-size" requirement to eliminate sandwich cookies and crackers. I really don't like having ice cream sandwiches in there, but I guess just as there are "dessert soups" within the category of soup, we have to allow for the possibility of dessert sandwiches.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:01 AM on July 23


Perhaps a minimum mass of sandwich -- four ounces?
posted by mr. digits at 7:08 AM on July 23


Maybe you could add a "larger than bite-size" requirement to eliminate sandwich cookies and crackers.

I don't think the size is a primary concern. After all, tea sandwiches are clearly still sandwiches, although they can be cut very small indeed (not as small as the smallest crackers, obviously, but this road will take us to ROU_Xenophobe's three-atom sandwich, so sanity bids us to stop).

The difference may reside in the concept that a sandwich is most often the center of an (often informal) meal, while ice cream sandwiches and sandwich crackers are more usually snacks or desserts.

Although I will argue that having the word "sandwich" in a name does not make a thing a sandwich necessarily. Layer cake stratigraphy, sadly, has little to do with actual cake.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:10 AM on July 23


GenjiandProust
1. Food made of several parts
2. including some kind of outer "wrapper" and a filling
3. intended to be eaten without cutlery
4. and not generally requiring washing one's self afterwards


I feel like you may be interested in contributing to my Sandwich Working Group's rigorous scholarship [pdf]. I feel like this thread will provide a lot of important work that will lead to an expanded 4th draft.

Of course, our definition excludes burritos (requires two non-identical elements of the Bread set to draw a geodesic through), but it has the upside of still working in non-euclidean geometries.
posted by grandsham at 7:14 AM on July 23 [6 favorites]


I'm not convinced that having a more inclusive definition of "sandwich" is entirely warranted. We, as eaters, bear no obligation to accept the ontology of taxation. While we recognize the fundamental similarity of all these foods, I think we have to maintain the topological quality of the sandwich. The verb "to sandwich" is not merely "to squash" but "to squash between two objects."
(And I say this despite my aversion to the word "wrap" -- even though I recognize its usefulness as a category.)
posted by Jode at 7:22 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


Yes I believe the fundamental point that needs to be maintained is that a burrito is not a sandwich, because it is a burrito.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:23 AM on July 23 [5 favorites]


like
what if sandwiches are a subset of burrito
maaaaan
posted by murphy slaw at 7:24 AM on July 23 [7 favorites]


I feel like you may be interested in contributing to my Sandwich Working Group's rigorous scholarship [pdf].

Topology isn't my strong suit, but does your definition exclude club sandwiches? I suspect it does because in a club sandwich, a member of the Bread set is part of the filling.
posted by murphy slaw at 7:30 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


I'm not convinced that having a more inclusive definition of "sandwich" is entirely warranted. We, as eaters, bear no obligation to accept the ontology of taxation. While we recognize the fundamental similarity of all these foods, I think we have to maintain the topological quality of the sandwich. The verb "to sandwich" is not merely "to squash" but "to squash between two objects."

But the general meaning and the culinary meaning of words have subtle differences. For example, kneading in bread making almost always involves a folding process, while kneading muscles during a massage optimally does not. We've already discussed the "two pieces of bread" problem upthread with things like sandwiches on buns that are not cut completely -- surely, a hot dog is a kind of sandwich, but it doesn't have two slices of bread....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:34 AM on July 23


yes, but can the club sandwich not be seen as two sandwiches, where the top of one is the bottom of the other?
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:34 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Topology isn't my strong suit, but does your definition exclude club sandwiches?

Additionally, the topological possibilities of sandwiches built on bagels are only just beginning to be explored!
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:35 AM on July 23


Previously on All Things Considered. I subscribe to Burrito Justice's torta defense. Arguing from as far back as 2009 Mr. Justice notes that if you call a burrito a sandwich, then what specific difference is there between a burrito and a torta? A torta has the same fillings as a burrito between two slices of European bread, a torta is clearly a sandwich. So a burrito therefore should be something else.

I have briefly wavered on whether the pupusa has sandwich nature. But the two corn sides are joined on the edges around the filling, making a single ball rather than two slices. So not quite a sandwich. Unless you take two pupusas and sandwich some delicious chicharrones between them of course.

See also San Francisco's food sales tax flowchart, as discussed in our local sellout formerly commie rag. In which we learn that hot soups are taxed, cold ones are not.
posted by Nelson at 7:38 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


That's can't be two sandwiches, ArgentCorvid, because of the shared nature. I mean, if one man has two wives (in a consenting polygamist sense, not a secret bigamist sense), he does not have two marriages, does he?
posted by stevis23 at 7:38 AM on July 23


A sandwich is like pornography.
posted by Naberius at 7:38 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


And once bagels are thoroughly understood, that sarnological knowledge can then be applied to the various variants of "Pretzel, cut in half, then smeared with stuff and put back together", which tend to then be torn apart for easier eating, thus differing from the consumption strategies applied to the straightforward sandwich, but which also apply a twist to the basic bagel form.
posted by frimble at 7:43 AM on July 23


A sandwich is like pornography.

Always better with hot mustard.
posted by ozomatli at 7:44 AM on July 23 [8 favorites]


A sandwich is like pornography.

You'll probably need at least one free hand.
posted by argonauta at 7:48 AM on July 23 [6 favorites]


That's can't be two sandwiches, ArgentCorvid, because of the shared nature.

So... you are a Sandwich Monophysite?
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:55 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]


So I introduced this subject over breakfast this morning to my engineering colleagues. There is currently sandwich diagramming going on over at the whiteboard and someone just shouted something about structural weakness and tensile strength of outer components and that X is being too elastic in regards to computational latitude. I think a fist fight might break out.
posted by barchan at 7:59 AM on July 23 [21 favorites]


This is starting to sound like the plane/treadmill argument of food.
posted by frimble at 8:01 AM on July 23


I comment not on the divine nature of the sandwich, but merely how many there can be. Although once we accept the divisible nature of sandwiches above, I suppose a club could be two sandwiches, if the central bread was sliced in two. But then it would turn into two regular sandwiches. /head asplode
posted by stevis23 at 8:01 AM on July 23


How do we account for biscuits with stuff in the middle? They are sort of like sandwiches, but usually they are simply referred to as [type of filling] biscuit?
posted by winna at 8:03 AM on July 23


I'll know a sandwich when I see one!
posted by Joe Chip at 8:03 AM on July 23


4. and not generally requiring washing one's self afterwards

This rules out just about every sandwich I've ever made.
posted by JamesD at 8:10 AM on July 23 [5 favorites]


In which we learn that hot soups are taxed, cold ones are not.

OH MY GOD I bet they read the is cereal a soup askme, aka the most terrible askme of all time

OF ALL TIME
posted by elizardbits at 8:11 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Does a Manwich count as a sandwich?
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:17 AM on July 23


So that's why California's sales tax is 9.5%.

Maybe it's nitpicking, but California's state sales tax rate is 7.5%. Anything above that is local tax. I live in Southern California and my local sales tax rate is 8%.
posted by primethyme at 8:19 AM on July 23


This thread is as fucked up as a soup sandwich.
posted by TedW at 8:20 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Does a Manwich count as a sandwich?
Nope, a Manwich is a fucking meal.
posted by ozomatli at 8:20 AM on July 23 [8 favorites]


Btw a filled bagel is not a sandwich, on account of the hole.
posted by Joe Chip at 8:23 AM on July 23


So I went to manwich.com to see if they called it a sandwich (they do) and came across this recipe for Manwich No Alarm Chili and I am now filled with an existential angst and why did I go to manwich.com and now I kind of feel like flaming out on MetaTalk and staying off the internet for a few years goodbye
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:31 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


stevis23: "That's can't be two sandwiches, ArgentCorvid, because of the shared nature. I mean, if one man has two wives (in a consenting polygamist sense, not a secret bigamist sense), he does not have two marriages, does he"

I would say he may, depending on the particulars.

That aside, it was merely a hypothetical question, and I certainly do not go around asking for "club sandwiches" when I desire one unit.

I also remember a previous post (askme?) where someone claimed that a hamburger was not a sandwich, which is just downright preposterous.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:37 AM on July 23


Btw a filled bagel is not a sandwich, on account of the hole.

No, it's an inifinitely long sandwich.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:38 AM on July 23 [5 favorites]


Hmm ... How about:

To be a sandwich, it must be something which can be explained using the word "sandwich" without additional specification or clarification. I.e., you would not actually say, "I made you a sandwich" and then hand someone an ice cream sandwich. You would say, "I made you an ice cream sandwich." Therefore an ice cream sandwich is in fact a separate, although related, category of foodstuff rather than a subcategory of sandwich; "sandwich", by itself, cannot be used to identify it. (A burrito is therefore not a sandwich, since the proper response to being told "I made you a sandwich" and being handed a burrito is to say, "This is not a sandwich, it is a burrito.")

So beginning from definition:

Let bread be defined as a foodstuff made primarily of flour or meal, moistened until it is dough, and then usually combined with a leavening agent, kneaded, shaped into loaves, and baked.

Let filling be defined as any foodstuff which is not bread.

We perhaps may arrive at:

A sandwich shall then be defined as a foodstuff which --

1) Contains both bread and filling
2) Consists of bread on the majority of the exterior surface of two parallel sides
3) Is not entirely enclosed by bread
posted by kyrademon at 9:19 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


Good people! Too long have we labored under the delusions foisted on us by our forefathers! WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY and CEREAL IS SOUP! Just like a burrito is a sandwich! the truth will set you free!
posted by Carillon at 9:21 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


3) Is not entirely enclosed by bread

By this definition, a shooter sandwich is not a sandwich.
posted by murphy slaw at 9:23 AM on July 23


OH MY GOD I bet they read the is cereal a soup askme, aka the most terrible askme of all time

OF ALL TIME


Yo, elizardbits, I'm really happy for you, I'ma let you finish, but that was one of the best ask mes of all time! One of the best askmes of all time!
posted by Carillon at 9:23 AM on July 23


By this definition, a shooter sandwich is not a sandwich.

Also, to cut off a possible objection, if the shooter sandwich is a sandwich by virtue of having at least one cut surface, then as soon as you cut a burrito in half, it becomes a sandwich.
posted by murphy slaw at 9:39 AM on July 23


Er... you Americans know that lahmacun can be eaten either as "Turkish pizza" or rolled up like a dürüm kebap?

(This is Europe, where there is a kebab place in every corner but burritos are exotic food)
posted by sukeban at 9:42 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


murphy slaw: By this definition, a shooter sandwich is not a sandwich.

a shooter sandwich, while delicious, is not actually quite a canonical sandwich to my mind -- it's much closer to a squished down burrito than a sandwich, despite the name. To borrow from Cabin in the Woods "it's like the difference between an elephant and an elephant seal"

and I think kyrademon covers this by saying that "a sandwich can be explained by using the word 'sandwich'", which is obviously not super rigorous, but a shooter sandwich would probably not pass this requirement.
posted by grandsham at 9:43 AM on July 23


(They've just opened a Taco Bell a few weeks ago in a local mall. I tried the grilled chicken burritos but it just tasted like orange powder. Not impressed.)
posted by sukeban at 9:43 AM on July 23


Unfortunately for the state, eventually any sandwich-dividing scheme will run up against the Planck length.

Ah, but we both neglect to consider that the topological extent of sandwiches may reach an infinite number of dimensions. Were we to be looking at unbounded or even bounded combinatorial sandwich manifolds in ℤ, neither Planck length nor sandwich quanta would furnish any obstacle to infinite meals tax revenue.
posted by XMLicious at 9:43 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


I think the point at which people will still be prepared to pay for an infinitely halving sandwhich will come a lot sooner than the point where we are struggling to perform the halving. As such, no sale=no tax. Infinite or near infinite tax revenues are not a practical reality. Back into your think tank people!
posted by trif at 9:51 AM on July 23


Is a hot dog a sandwich? An extended meditation on the nature of America.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 9:52 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


I propose we ponder on the corn dog....
posted by ozomatli at 9:54 AM on July 23


Is a hot dog a sandwich?

Frankfurter Sandwiches
posted by murphy slaw at 9:58 AM on July 23


So this thread finally explains why Jaffa Cakes are left on the shelf at the end of this sketch.
posted by XMLicious at 9:58 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


sukeban: "Er... you Americans know that lahmacun can be eaten either as "Turkish pizza" or rolled up like a dürüm kebap?"

I'm not quite sure what you're getting at. Americans are acutely aware of the topological possibilities of pizza.
posted by zamboni at 9:59 AM on July 23


Now, withing the general class, it's reasonable to divide them into monowraps (e.g. burritos, tacos, and spring rolls), biwraps (e.g. a PB&J), and polywraps (e.g. anything Dagwood would eat). The monowraps could be divided into open (things that can be unwrapped) and closed (where the wrapper is sealed, as in a hand pie). Usually the outer layer is made up of some grain-based (usually wheat) substance, but I am not sure that things wrapped in edible leaves should be excluded. Something wrapped in meat, like the Double Down, fail point #4, above, as well as violating the laws of every merciful god.

Problem with this is that as soon as you start talking about abstract concepts such as topology, the eyes of the average person (such as a popularly-elected politician who might draft and debate tax laws) glaze over, and the prevailing perception is not that you have clarified what constitutes a sandwich in an elegant, minimal and extensible fashion, but that you're a weird nerd, and not one of the normal people, and what you have to say has no bearing on regular-folks reality. And so they go back to things phraseable in concrete terms, despite the fact that any outcome is going to be vastly more dysfunctional and, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid.

It's like being a Haskell programmer in a room full of people who consider themselves coders on the strength of having read PHP For Dummies; you open your mouth and talking about the algebra of data types and, for a moment, they stare at you like you just sprouted a third eye, before ignoring you and going on discussing what to name the global variables in their web guestbook submission form.
posted by acb at 10:03 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


To be a sandwich, it must be something which can be explained using the word "sandwich" without additional specification or clarification. I.e., you would not actually say, "I made you a sandwich" and then hand someone an ice cream sandwich. You would say, "I made you an ice cream sandwich." Therefore an ice cream sandwich is in fact a separate, although related, category of foodstuff rather than a subcategory of sandwich; "sandwich", by itself, cannot be used to identify it. (A burrito is therefore not a sandwich, since the proper response to being told "I made you a sandwich" and being handed a burrito is to say, "This is not a sandwich, it is a burrito.")

This is beautiful and neatly resolves the hot dog/burrito question, but I am still uncertain of the epistemological status of biscuit sandwiches, since if you handed someone a biscuit sandwich they might say 'this is a biscuit' but then again they might acknowledge it as a 'breakfast sandwich'.

That isn't even getting into the question of English muffin sandwiches because they are really very gross and barely food at all.
posted by winna at 10:04 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


The Stone-Tukey theorem should play a part in a sufficiently rigorous sandwich definition.
posted by zamboni at 10:07 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


So many of our problems--is a burrito a sandwich, is cereal a soup--could be solved with a little application of prototype theory.

But I guess that doesn't help with sales tax.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:14 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


There is something magnificent about the Ham Sandwich Theorem entry having a picture of a ham sandwich, though I am disappointed in the aesthetic qualities of said sandwich.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:17 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


I'm not quite sure what you're getting at. Americans are acutely aware of the topological possibilities of pizza.

This is a burrito-like food that can be eaten as a flat pizza... so, is it a sandwich or not?
posted by sukeban at 10:19 AM on July 23


It's actually classified as a napkin.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:24 AM on July 23


sukeban: "This is a burrito-like food that can be eaten as a flat pizza..."

If you're just rolling up a pizza, then it's still a pizza. If you're adding a filling, I'd argue it's a member of the wrap/burrito/kati roll group.

so, is it a sandwich or not?

The Mefi consensus seems to be that burritos are not sandwiches, so... no?
posted by zamboni at 10:38 AM on July 23


ArgentCorvid: "I also remember a previous post (askme?) where someone claimed that a hamburger was not a sandwich, which is just downright preposterous."

Found it. Prototype theory also makes an appearance in that thread.

holy crap that thread is 5 years old
posted by ArgentCorvid at 10:46 AM on July 23


Problem with this is that as soon as you start talking about abstract concepts such as topology, the eyes of the average person (such as a popularly-elected politician who might draft and debate tax laws) glaze over,

Clearly, some people are still worried about taxes, while the rest of us are seeking truth! Anyway, the infinitely-divided sandwich has solved all our tax worries.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:52 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


I think the point at which people will still be prepared to pay for an infinitely halving sandwhich will come a lot sooner than the point where we are struggling to perform the halving. As such, no sale=no tax. Infinite or near infinite tax revenues are not a practical reality.

You're not thinking like a marketing guy. It's just a matter of targeting the right niche, which is homeopaths of Scandanavian descent. The product will be called Zeno's Gravlax.
posted by XMLicious at 10:59 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


The product will be called Zeno's Gravlax.

They tried this with brined salmon, and the results of each cut were called Zeno's Pair o' Lox.

True story.

Well, it asymptotically approaches truth as gullibility increases toward 1.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:12 AM on July 23 [5 favorites]


Bread, tortillas, wraps, etc - all precooked. You can toast it after assembly, but that's optional.

If you do not grill the tortilla appropriately you have a filthy filthy object that all Proper People call a ... ack ... "wrap".

You do not have a burrito.

A burrito has a properly heated tortilla, which is then grilled after assembly, such that it is browned in places and slightly ever so slightly crispy in the perfect way, where the inside is still tender but the outside is crispy'ish with maybe a couple of flakes that can escape when you grip it.

You can nom a burrito as though you were a giant gerbil or something.

"Wraps" ... spit ... hack ... on the other hand are filthy creations fit only for trade shows, airports, and similar venues of desperation. They cannot be nommed, they can only be tolerated, usually by dint of practice and suffering.
posted by aramaic at 11:21 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]


aramaic: Now tell us how you really feel.

(I do not disagree, mind.)
posted by seyirci at 11:25 AM on July 23


Note: there is a special Wrap exception if the wrapping consists of lavash or pita, it is filled with delicious greasy meats and creamy sauces, and you are a little drunk. It's fair play to ask the merchant "why don't you just call it a schwarma / döner / gyro?".
posted by Nelson at 11:33 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


Consider the clam roll - you have a pile of fried clams that has a flashing red light mandated by the FAA at the top to warn off low flying aircraft, and somewhere underneath it is a toasted hot-dog roll smeared with tartar sauce. Sandwich or a food homage to the Terry Funk/Cactus Jack match at the WCW '94 "Hardcore Heaven" wrestling event?
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:40 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


holy crap that thread is 5 years old

oh god 2009 was 5 years ago

posted by elizardbits at 11:41 AM on July 23


oh god guys i think a pita might be a sandwich if it's split and filled but not if it's folded around the filling
help
what is sandwich

posted by murphy slaw at 11:43 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


Consider the clam roll Or the po'boy. You could call a po'boy a sandwich, or you could call it the most glorious heavenly tune of food angels come to light upon you.

Also would someone please opine on the corndog issue. Because I've always thought corndogs were essentially a sandwich on a stick but some of this is making me open minded about it. I feel uncomfortable being open minded about corndogs.
posted by barchan at 11:49 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


I get mad at cake pops because people have used them to mislead me, as in "hey want some cake" as though I am being offered a slice of cake, and then I am given some dry cake ball with hard frosting and expected to be pleased about this vile betrayal of all things good and true and right in the world.

However if someone says "do you want a cake pop" the answer is "of course" because there are no other expectations made re: slices and palatable frosting.

In conclusion I am wary of food on sticks even though I do enjoy consuming much of it.
posted by elizardbits at 11:53 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]


i want a corndog
posted by elizardbits at 11:53 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


A burrito has a properly heated tortilla, which is then grilled after assembly,

I guess if you're buying it at a train station, sure.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:59 AM on July 23


hey tim remember that time everyone got mad at you because you accurately said "it is a little strange that entire chickens are now an impulse buy at the cash register"

good times
posted by elizardbits at 12:04 PM on July 23


> "By this definition, a shooter sandwich is not a sandwich."
> "... if you handed someone a biscuit sandwich they might say 'this is a biscuit' but then again they might acknowledge it as a 'breakfast sandwich'"

Well ... this is because what we are actually discussing is a problem called "degree of category membership".

You can define a single object simply as that particular object -- "The Seattle Space Needle" refers to one thing and is therefore pretty clear. But once you have a word that encompasses multiple related objects, a certain degree of fuzziness becomes inevitable.

Categorical definitions like "sandwich" (or "chair" or "cat") actually include HUNDREDS of factors that our brains have learned to process on a preconscious level. When asked to define a cat, you might think of things like four legs, tail, characteristic ear shape, etc. But then, when presented with a three-legged, tailless cat with ragged ears, you still instantly recognize it as a cat. How can this be?

It's because your mind is factoring in years and years of experience distinguishing "cat" from "not-cat" with clues you don't really acknowledge (movement, silhouette, paw shape ...) This has to be learned over time, which is why small children sometimes, for example, refer to all animals as "kitty" or "doggie" -- they have learned that cat=animal, but they don't yet have enough experience and information to make distinctions beyond that. But with experience, humans are able to recognize cats that are pretty uncatlike in a lot of obvious respects.

But when you're dealing with hundreds of factors, that inevitably means that there are edge cases where the definition gets fuzzy. What percentage of those factors does it have to include to be a cat (or sandwich or chair)? At what point does it stop being one?

People make fun of the "I know it when I see it" definition, and it is useless for legal purposes, because the fuzzy boundary can waver and vary from person to person. But in fact, it's just about the only way to get the actual definition of what we mean when we say sandwich, because a true dictionary definition that included all the factors would be hundreds of pages long, and COULD NOT be completely accurate because of the individual variance problem. That's why the only real way to determine "What is a sandwich?" is to look at a supposed sandwich and see if you agree.

That is not to say that sandwich is a meaningless term, mind -- just the opposite. We couldn't learn what a sandwich was unless there was an agreed upon meaning, which is to say, a pretty high percentage of all the "sandwich" factors. I listed some of them, but there are many others. And you can have something which is a sandwich that doesn't include them all, like a three-legged cat.

But people tend to be pretty all or nothing about definitions, and want one that lets them say, "X fits this definition and is a sandwich, Y does not fit this definition and does not." But you can't really have that in the real world. You can only use your learning from common experience to judge, "That is a sandwich, even though it's in a bagel. This, however, is clearly a burrito, and not a sandwich at all."

But as I said before, "legal" definitions cannot have such a fuzzy boundary, because their intent is to enable someone to say, without fear of contradiction, "X fits this definition and is a sandwich, Y does not fit this definition and does not." That's why legal definitions can be a bit insane, and you end up getting burritos called sandwiches under the law even though everyone knows that they aren't. It's basically one of the meanings of the term "legal fiction".

So, what's a sandwich?

You know.
posted by kyrademon at 12:06 PM on July 23 [4 favorites]


So, what's a sandwich?

You know.


After reading this thread I know that everything is a sandwich. You are a sandwich. I am a sandwich. I may have just attained satori.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:14 PM on July 23 [4 favorites]


Without tortillas, there would be no burritos.

Without the corn ones,

There'd be no Fritos.

I love to hold them,

Tenderly and fold them,

Oh how I dread to eat with bread

posted by yohko at 12:15 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]


hey tim remember that time everyone got mad at you because you accurately said "it is a little strange that entire chickens are now an impulse buy at the cash register"

every night while i'm drifting off to sleep i am jerked awake by the memory of people unable to parse a fucking sentence
posted by shakespeherian at 12:17 PM on July 23


that is like easily 100 memories this year alone though
posted by elizardbits at 12:20 PM on July 23


not ALL memories
posted by shakespeherian at 12:22 PM on July 23


Next week on Metafilter: What is a light truck?
posted by Naberius at 12:40 PM on July 23 [3 favorites]


I can come up with all sorts of battles Naberius, is ice cream a pudding? Is seaweed seafood? Are biscuits crackers? Just try me!

(This is fun)
posted by Carillon at 12:47 PM on July 23


Pudding by the american definition or the british one?

same goes for biscuits vs crackers
posted by elizardbits at 12:49 PM on July 23


The seaweed one made me immediately angry so well done indeed.
posted by elizardbits at 12:50 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Apparently I have a gift.
posted by Carillon at 12:52 PM on July 23


So did I miss the point in the podcast where they explained why a taco was not a sandwich, but a burrito is for taxing purposes?
posted by garlic at 12:58 PM on July 23


kyrademon: When asked to define a cat, you might think of things like four legs, tail, characteristic ear shape, etc. But then, when presented with a three-legged, tailless cat with ragged ears, you still instantly recognize it as a cat. How can this be?

Cat Snake?
posted by Rock Steady at 1:25 PM on July 23 [2 favorites]


...But I know it when I see it.
posted by solotoro at 3:10 PM on July 23


Btw a filled bagel is not a sandwich, on account of the hole.

If you'd listened to the podcast, you would know that a buttered bagel is a sandwich for tax purposes.
posted by jeather at 4:39 PM on July 23


But only in New York! If you drive down to MA, the definition of a sandwich changes radically and explicitly excludes a burrito.
posted by politikitty at 4:59 PM on July 23


A light truck between two slices of bread is a sandwich.

If you put chickens in the back of the truck first you'll have a chicken sandwich.
posted by yohko at 5:39 PM on July 23 [4 favorites]


I think you mean a chicken vandwich.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:29 AM on July 24 [3 favorites]


"So, what's a sandwich?"

"You have bread? And a toaster of some kind?"
posted by wensink at 1:21 PM on July 24


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