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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Putin's vote-winning trick? He makes power personal

Representatives in the Russian parliament, the Duma, have long been unpopular. Yet President Putin is immune to voter's discontent.

A week before Russia’s parliamentary elections, the central square in Ekaterinburg – the fourth-largest city in Russia, a thousand miles east of Moscow – was packed with people, huddling close on a wet September night. They faced a stage decorated with a poster imploring the crowd to vote for “ours”, meaning United Russia, Vladimir Putin’s political party.

Yet it wasn’t politics for which thousands of people had braved the rain – it was music. During the perestroika and glasnost years of post-Soviet openness, Ekaterinburg was the cradle of the Russian rock scene. The home-grown bands Nautilus Pompilius, Chaif and Agata Kristi sang about freedom and change. Thus, this free concert to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the legendary Sverdlovsk Rock Club was bound to draw a crowd, and United Russia latched on to that.

A message from Dmitry Medvedev, the United Russia leader, praising local rock bands for their bravery “in those days when freedom was in deficit”, was read to the assembled fans. If freedom was a powerful word thirty years ago it has little impact on Russians today. Turnout in the election on 18 September was less than 50 per cent (and only 41.5 per cent in the Ekaterinburg region), a sign of the general political apathy. Before they went to the polls, it was hard to find anyone who was enthusiastic about voting.

“Why should I bother with voting? The result is clear: United Russia will, as always, win,” says Vyacheslav Bakhtin, who owns a small construction company in Ekaterinburg. He added: “Elections are the last thing on my mind. My business has been suffering for the last two years. We couldn’t even afford to go on a family vacation this summer.”

The Russian economy is struggling because of low oil prices, trade embargoes and geopolitical concerns. There have been public spending cuts, and the free float of the rouble led to currency devaluation and high inflation (7 per cent in August). Unemployment is rising and the base interest rate is 10.5 per cent.

There are many reasons for Russians to want a change in government, yet it appears that people do not see the link between their daily struggles and Putin’s policies.

Anna Mikhailova has recently returned from a tour of the Golden Ring of Russia (a circuit of medieval cities to the north-east of Moscow), where there is a stark contrast between the restored onion-domed churches and the crumbling villages.

“People live in poverty in crammed kummunalki [Soviet-style communal flats with several families sharing one kitchen and bathroom],” she tells me. “But they still talk about Putin the Saviour, standing up for Mother Russia.”

Apart from United Russia, 13 parties were judged eligible to stand, but the range of choice was an illusion. Olga, who requested anonymity for her own safety, explained. “We have one party – United Russia – a few pseudo-opposition parties, the Communists, the LDPR and Fair Russia who support Putin’s cause, and a bunch of nobodies that people don’t care about.”

Indeed, Gennady Zyuganov, who has led the Communist Party since 1993, campaigned under the slogan “Ten Stalinist punches against capitalism”. But although he criticised Medvedev, he didn’t touch Putin. The populist leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Vladimir Zhirinovsky, another political dinosaur, actively endorses Putin’s foreign policy.

If there is discontent among voters, Putin is immune to it. On the eve of the elections, United Russia’s popularity slid to just 30 per cent of total respondents in one poll, though it scored 50 per cent among those who said they were definitely going to vote. Medvedev’s own approval rating fell to 48 per cent. His message to the elderly that state pensions wouldn’t increase, and his advice to teachers to get jobs in the private sector if they weren’t happy with their state salaries, might have had something to do with it. Yet Putin’s popularity remained consistently high, at 82 per cent, according to independent pollsters the Levada Centre.

Alexey Volkov, a 40-year-old business manager, says he voted for the Communists. “I voted against United Russia, the apparatchiks stifling the president,” he explains. “Putin, on the other hand, is the best ruler since Alexander III [Russia’s emperor at the end of the 19th century].”

Representatives in the Russian parliament, the Duma, have long been unpopular and considered ineffective by the Russian people. Over the past 16 years, presidential power has expanded hugely. Since Russia adopted its new constitution in 1993, successive presidents have introduced legislation to stretch the office’s authority. In his first term as president, Putin acquired 219 new rights and duties, and as his successor Medvedev enjoyed an additional 114 responsibilities. These range from educational appointments to federal government decisions.

As predicted, United Russia topped the ballot with 54 per cent of the vote. Putin’s party claimed 343 of the 450 seats (up from 238 in 2011). The same four parties will form the Duma. The Yabloko and PARNAS parties, seen by voters as a token gesture of protest against the Kremlin, gained negligible support, with 2 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively.

It is ultimately Putin’s victory. In the eyes of the majority, he has restored Russia’s strength abroad, revived the defence industry and army, and reinvigorated the country with patriotism. The latter was accomplished via manipulation of the media, which has reinstated the West as the enemy and focused attention on foreign affairs at the expense of the social and economic agenda at home.

Still, with the low turnout, only 26 per cent of eligible Russians voted for Putin’s party. Though that was enough to tighten the president’s grip on the Duma, nationwide the elections paint a picture of a dejected Russia just beginning to feel discontent with the status quo. It is not yet enough to unseat Putin, but as the old Russian saying goes: a drop of water can cut through stone.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times