October 24, 2016

Photo: Debbi Smirnoff/Getty Images

You know what's criminally underrated? Bologna.

There’s no better day than National Bologna Day to encourage any and all bologna haters to whip up a bologna sandwich for lunch today.

I was one of the kids who, when given the choice, would always choose a bologna sandwich over PB&J, ham and cheese, or tuna. While bologna never quite took the place of pizza and fun dips for me as a child, it was a second favorite. There was just something about removing the outer red ring that brought me so much joy as a child. Because I knew once I ripped that red ring off(which is the plastic casing that gives bologna its shape and holds the meat the sausage gods blend together), it was time to jam it in between two slices of bread and cheese, with some mayo and mustard slathered all over. Ah, things were so simple back then. I’d love to tell you of all the fun uses I found for that plastic ring, but I won’t bore you with details.

As a child, I wasn’t judged harshly when I opened up my lunch pail to reveal what my mom packed for the day, because every other kid in my class had the same bologna sandwich as me. Take it from Milhouse van Houten and Bart Simpson below. See, there's no bologna judgment among true friends.

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But as an adult, however, particular in this health and weight-obsessed era we’re living in, I’ve discovered that bologna is the unsung hero of luncheon meats. People either overlook it or they rag on it because it’s not as fancy as ham or turkey. Yeah, try breaking out a bologna sandwich in the break room among your colleagues, and I can promise you if the stares don’t make you run straight to Subway for a more respectable and healthier sandwich, then the ensuing silence most certainly will. All I’m saying is bologna has never prompted a conversation in any break room I've ever been in of, “Oh, that bologna sandwich looks delicious,” or “Where’d you pick that up?”

I get it. The only things most of us really know about bologna is that it’s a sausage that comes from Bologna, Italy. It’s a little bit beef, it’s a little bit pork, and in some cases, it’s both. Now I personally find that quite delicious, but all those mixed ingredients, high sodium content, and weird animal parts that make up the trimming freaks people out for some reason. Hotdogs get the same raw deal, in that we really don’t know what it’s truly made of beyond the ingredients and “spices” (I use that term loosely) listed on the package details. But frankly, I don’t need to know. Actually, a fair assessment would be that I don’t want to know. I don't want to imagine a world without bologna in it because of a sheisty ingredient list, and yes, something that isn’t exactly nutritional. Well, insert fun fact, most commercial bologna (mainly Oscar Mayer brands) is gluten-free. That has to count for something, right? No?

Okay, as a last ditch effort, allow me to make the budget-friendly argument to plead my case for bologna then. When it comes to brown baggin’ it for lunch, all co-worker bashing aside, making a bologna sandwich is one of the most sound economical decisions I make for the week in regards to food. I can prepare at least three to four sandwiches (only if I’m not making a double decker bologna sandwich) per week using just one pack. Tasty and saves me money? I’m struggling to find a problem here, folks.

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Nonetheless, all of the bologna food shaming over the years hasn’t caused me to give up on it completely, but it has led to me trying to gussy it up. You know, put a little lipstick on the pig, if you will. Sometimes that’s in trying to find new ways to cook it or picking new toppings to add. And after many failed attempts at making bologna this thing it isn’t, I’ve realized part of its charm is that it doesn’t need all the fancy fixings. Some classics just aren’t meant to be messed with.

So no thank you to showy rye bread or complicated sauces. I’ll take my bologna, cold and plain, on cheap white bread with a slice of cheese, please. In fact, the only exception I’m willing to make is frying it, because if I can fry nothing else, I can fry a mean bologna sandwich! I’ll let you in on the secret: It’s all in pan-frying it long enough to get a nice char on both sides and watching the edges. You want to make sure the edges curl up just enough to form a “bowl” to drop the slice of cheese inside. Oh. My. God. Melted cheese and fried bologna? Talk about a match made in sandwich heaven. And these sliders are the perfect introduction to fried bologna if you've never tried it.

But when in doubt, bologna is best enjoyed plain, in all its smoky, salty glory. Hey, at least you know I won't be judging you. Happy National Bologna Day!

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