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Want fries with that economic report?
February 28, 2004
By Rich Lewis

It causes me great sorrow to see a treasured cultural institution being degraded by people promoting their own perverted agenda.

Nah, I'm not talking about the sanctity of marriage. I'm talking about the sanctity of the sandwich.

I've put up with this problem for years, but I'm just not going to take it anymore.

I've bought sandwiches at five or six local places recently, and in every case the ingredients wound up in my lap, on my desk, on the floor, wherever. Sandwich-makers cram so much stuff in the bread that you can't possibly take a bite without messy globs of food squirting out.

They think they're doing you a favor when all they're doing is turning lunch into a game of catch-the-tomato.

The Earl of Sandwich invented his namesake edible in 1762 so he could have a neat and clean meal to consume while playing cards.

Ha. You bring a store-bought sandwich to the card table these days and you'll soon find your poker chips buried under a drizzle of cheese, lettuce and special sauce.

A sandwich is not supposed to just look good - it's supposed to eat good. This requires an artful arrangement of bread and filling - a thoughtful consideration of height and order. Instead, it's often a pile-it-on frenzy of disorder, which is then chopped in half - ensuring the ingredients have four open ends to fall out of.

The maker then hastily wraps the chaos in a sheet of paper, giving it an appearance of tidiness - which lasts until you pull off the little piece of tape and the whole thing explodes back into its constituent fragments.


So, come on, you sandwich shops - sit down with those rolls and slabs of meat and design something that honors the Earl's memory.

And not just because you've shirked your artistic and architectural responsibilities.

The fact is, you may soon become a key player in President Bush's economic recovery plan - and you owe your country a better product.

The "Economic Report of the President" set off an angry buzz last week for suggesting that it's a good thing for our economy that American jobs are being lost overseas.

Now, American sandwich-making is not about to be outsourced to India or Peru. No one wants to order lunch and then wait six days while it ships in from Bangalore.

But people are especially fretful over the loss of manufacturing jobs. The word "manufacturing" has a certain resonance with the American public - evoking as it does images of brawny and brainy American workers industriously filling the world's marketplaces with quality cars, clothes, computers and so on.

Those jobs are indeed disappearing overseas - about 2.7 million of them have departed our shores since Bush moved to Pennsylvania Avenue. That doesn't look so good on the president's resume, especially heading into an election.

But the president may have come up with a way to turn that all around.

No, unfortunately, he hasn't devised a plan to open new factories or reopen the old ones.

But his economic gurus are wondering - just musing, mind you - whether we don't actually have a few million manufacturing jobs that we just didn't notice before.

A section of their report asks the question: "What is manufacturing?"

And by golly, they just don't see why making a sandwich isn't every bit as much a "manufacturing" enterprise as making a truck or a lamp.

In their words: "When a fast-food restaurant sells a hamburger, for example, is it providing a 'service' or is it combining inputs to 'manufacture' a product?"

And if a mere hamburger is a "manufactured" product, well then, a complicated "Free-Range Chicken Montezuma Club Sandwich with Spicy Oreo Sauce" would be right up there with a TV or vacuum cleaner.

In fact, they note, the Census Bureau defines "manufacturing" as work where employees are "engaged in the mechanical, physical, or chemical transformation of materials, substances, or components into new products."

Sounds like a sandwich to me.

And you know, pregnancy fits in there pretty well also. So if we call every expectant mother a manufacturing worker - bingo! Our economy is back, baby - as it were.

This section of the economic report is what is called a "trial balloon." You send up a thought and see who tries to shoot it down.

Congressman John Dingell of Michigan had his gun out real quick. He fired off a letter to the chairman of the group that wrote the economic report, noting that the 163,000 workers in Michigan who lost their manufacturing jobs, "will find it heartening to know that a world of opportunity awaits them in high-growth manufacturing careers like spatula operator, napkin restocking and lunch-tray removal."

He also recommended a public official who would be "perfect for the job" of assistant secretary for manufacturing: "The Hon. Mayor McCheese."

So sandwich-makers better be ready in case their country finally recognizes that making a baloney hero with provolone is no different than making a refrigerator with automatic ice-maker.

Well, that's not quite right. Most refrigerators are different from sandwiches in one way: the food doesn't usually fall on the floor when you go to use them.

This article first appeared in The Sentinel, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and has been reprinted with permission.

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