Making 300 sandwiches in exchange for marriage is sinister and degrading, not romantic

Marriage surely cannot be bought for the bargain price of 300 sandwiches, but a New York Post reporter is attempting to do just that. Sarah Ditum shares her recipe for true love (which oddly enough, isn't bread-based).

In this monstrous modern world, so many people have lost their respect for a sacred union. They think that the rites built up over many centuries, bonding disparate elements together in harmony, can be taken in vain. I am talking, of course, about Stephanie Smith, the New York Post reporter behind the blog 300 Sandwiches. What’s the significance of 300 sandwiches? That is the number of bread-with-filling based snacks her boyfriend has claimed as the price of matrimony. Or as Smith tells it in her coming-out article for the Post:

I assembled turkey and Swiss on toasted wheat bread. I spread Dijon mustard generously on both bread slices, and I made sure the lettuce was perfectly in line with the neatly stacked turkey slices… As he finished that last bite, he made an unexpected declaration of how much he loved me and that sandwich: ‘Honey, you’re 300 sandwiches away from an engagement ring!’

Smith tells the story as if it’s a cutesy-ootsy work of romance, but I think we can see it for the sinister act of degradation it is: how depraved, how vicious to reduce the noble sandwich to a bargaining chip for romantic fulfilment. The sandwich is a serious business. Your base must be good and carefully matched to chosen filling, the condiments not overpowering, the contents generous but not so incontinently lavish that they overspill their bready bounds.

Actually, having read Smith’s blog, I wonder if she even knows the meaning of “sandwich”, because a lot of what she’s produced just looks like “dinner on bread”, and that does not count. Look, I was as dazzled as anyone by the Scandinavian glamour of the Open Prawn Sandwich the first time my parents took my to Ikea, but I’ve grown up since then: if you can’t pick it up with both hands and bury your face up to the nose, then that is not a sandwich.

Sandwiches have rules. Compared to sandwiches, relationships are a piece of pastrami. Here is the recipe for true love: find someone you enjoy hanging out with and fancy, who enjoys hanging out with and fancies you; hang out, fancy each other; persist in this for as long as it is amiable or until one of you dies. (Serve with a coleslaw garnish.)

But in the same way a sandwich is not a quiche or a pizza or baked beans on toast, there are some things that marriage is not. It’s not a prize or a trophy. It’s not something you earn by submitting to the demands of your peckish partner, even if you are submitting whimsically through the medium of sandwiches and documenting the progress of your yeasty dowry with a nice DSLR.

A marriage isn’t a tender trap for cunning women to constrain idiot men in, either. “You women read all these magazines to get advice on how to keep a man, and it’s so easy,” Smith’s boyfriend advises. “We’re not complex. Just do something nice for us. Like make a sandwich.” What is he saying about his gender here? He makes men sound about as complex as worms, absorbing carbs and excreting affection. I don’t know, maybe men are like people or something. Maybe women are too! Maybe we’re all people! This is excitingly radical!

And not is marriage a compulsory waypost in the journey of womanhood. The author mentions that she upped her sandwich-making rate when she realised that, on her original schedule, “I wouldn’t be done till I was deep into my 30s. How would I finish 300 sandwiches in time for us to get engaged, married and have babies before I exited my childbearing years?” To which I’d say firstly, marriage isn’t even a compulsory prelude to children, never mind the engagement and the sandwiches. Secondly, your ovaries probably aren’t going stale as quickly as you think. And thirdly, come on, you call sandwiches “sammies”: I don’t think an excess of maturity is your biggest problem. Get married, don’t get married, but for the love of cobs, leave sandwiches out of it.

A Sandwich of Interest. Photo: Getty

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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Conjuring the ghost: the "shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genuis" of David Litvinoff

A new biography tracks down the elusive Kray confidant who became a friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

David Litvinoff is a mythic character to anyone with an interest in London during the Sixties. An intimate of the Krays, he was a tough and violent Jew from the East End. He was also a musical genius with an unrivalled knowledge of jazz, the blues and rock that made him a valued friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It was his ability to move from the East End to Chelsea, from the dives of Soho to Notting Hill, that was the critical factor in the extraordinary vision of London that Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg conjured into the film Performance, for which Litvinoff is credited as dialogue coach. And yet, even though all this is known and recorded, he remains a ghost, a figure who wrote nothing and who systematically destroyed all the records of his life he could lay his hands on. Even his exact role in Performance is shrouded in mystery. He is said to have dictated much of the script to Cammell. This biography claims that Jagger’s mesmerising song on the soundtrack, “Memo from Turner”, was in fact a memo from Litvinoff.

Multiple reports describe him as the most brilliant talker London had known since Coleridge, but although there are rumours of tapes they have always been just rumours. I’d have thought he was a figure who would defeat any biographer – a shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genius lost in a mist of hallucinogens – but Keiron Pim’s account of this extraordinary character is a magisterial work of scholarship. He tracks down all the living witnesses; he has also unearthed letters, and even some of those long-lost tapes.

The story that emerges is even harder to believe than the legend. Litvinoff came out of the Jewish East End but he was from one of its most talented families. His name was not even Litvinoff: his mother’s first husband went by that name but David was the son of her second, Solomon Levy. Long before he met the Krays or the Stones, he was a gossip columnist on the Daily Express, practically inventing the Chelsea set that shocked the prim Fifties. By that time he had met Lucian Freud, who painted him in an astonishing study, the working title of which was Portrait of a Jew. Litvinoff was furious when Freud exhibited it with the new description of The Procurer, and the bad blood between these two men, both of whom inhabited the drinking clubs of Soho and the Krays’ gambling joints, remained for the rest of their lives. In fact, it is Freud who comes over as the villain of the book, fingered by Pim as the man behind the most violent assault on Litvinoff: he was knocked unconscious at the door to his own flat, on the top floor, and awoke to find himself naked and tied to a chair suspended from the balcony, nose broken and head shaved bald.

I learned much from this book: a period working for Peter Rachman before he became involved with the Krays; sojourns in Wales and Australia when he was fleeing threats of violence. The big discovery for me, however, was Litvinoff’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the jazz and blues traditions that gave birth to rock’n’roll. He taught the Stones a lot but he taught Eric Clapton even more – they were both living at the Pheasantry building on the King’s Road, and Litvinoff seems to have had unlimited access to the most recherché back catalogues and the most recent unreleased recordings. The book traces, but does not comment on, a transformation from an amphetamine-fuelled hard man in the Fifties and early Sixties to the oddest of hallucinogen hippies by the Summer of Love in 1967.

But, for all Litvinoff’s knowledge, wit and gift for friendship, his tale is a tragedy. A man who could talk but couldn’t write; an out gay man long before it was acceptable, who seems never to have been at ease with his sexuality; a proud Jew without any tradition of Judaism to which he could affiliate. Above all, this was a man who lived to the full the extraordinary moment when London dreamed, in Harold Wilson’s Sixties, that class was a thing of the past. Back from Australia in the early Seventies, Litvinoff awoke again to find that it had indeed been a dream. His suicide in 1975 was cold and deliberate. He had outlived his time. 

Colin MacCabe edits Critical Quarterly

Jumpin’ Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock’n’Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim is publisyhed by Jonathan Cape (416pp, £16.99)

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser