NPR’s “All Things Considered” has tackled a conundrum that has apparently stymied courts and regulators alike: is a burrito considered a sandwich? According to NPR’s Elise Hu, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently distinguishes a sandwich—“meat or poultry filling between two slices of bread, a bun or a biscuit”—from burritos, wraps and hot dogs, but state agencies have also drawn their own conclusions for inspection and tax purposes.
“My new home state of New York has a special tax category for sandwiches. And because they have that, it means they then have to go and define what they think a sandwich is,” explains Noah Veltman, a self-identified aficionado of obscure government memoranda. “So they publish this memo that explains that a sandwich includes club sandwiches and BLTs, but they also include hot dogs and they include burritos and they include gyros. And then you have to sort of say, are burritos really a sandwich?”
Noting that “New York says yes, USDA says no,” Hu points out that the answer has ramifications for food inspection procedures that may apply to meatfilled burritos but not bread-based sandwiches. The question also sparked a contract dispute between Qdoba Mexican Grill and a shopping center that went all the way to the Massachusetts Superior Court, which reportedly ruled that burritos are not sandwiches.
“Whether it’s sandwiches or smartphones, government tries to classify these things to protect the public. But innovation moves faster than the standards can change,” concludes Hu, adding that one San Francisco blogger has already created a “torta defense” positing that if a burrito were indeed a sandwich, it would be a torta. “For the taste of the speed of innovation and the confusion it can cause, look no further than sliced bread.” See All Things Considered, July 9, 2014.
In a related development, a Scottish tax tribunal’s decision to classify coconutcovered marshmallows as cakes has apparently raised the ire of food writer Emma Sturgess, who recently penned an article for The Guardian’s “Word of Mouth” blog criticizing the “sugar-addled” judge for failing to understand “the true nature of a cake.” According to Sturgess, these confections should not benefit from a value-added tax (VAT) exemption—a rebate estimated at £2.8 million—because “however big you make a snowball, it will never have sponge in it.”
“Cakes, like caravans, bingo and cremation, are exempt from VAT,” opines Sturgess. “Different rulings have given snowballs exempt status, then shifted them to standard-rated. Last week’s successful appeal, made by two Scottish snowball manufacturers to the first-tier tax tribunal in Edinburgh, took them back to cakehood and thus exemption… But the fact remains that a snowball— soft, fluffy marshmallow with a thin chocolate carapace sprinkled with coconut—ain’t no cake.” See The Guardian’s Word of Mouth Blog, June 30, 2014.