By Carl Hanson

Would you bring leftovers to a potluck? Do you peel bananas from the nub instead of the stem? Do you consider the hotdog a sandwich? These are all actual food disputes that have found resolution in the fake courtroom of Judge John Hodgman. Indeed, as America's preeminent fake jurist, Judge John Hodgman has settled much culinary law on his podcast, Judge John Hodgman.

What, you ask, makes Judge John Hodgman uniquely qualified to dispense food-related justice on the world wide web? For one, Hodgman has written about food and booze for Men's Journal magazine. For another, he was briefly a cheesemonger. Now he mongs for justice. At any rate, here are some of our favorite food-related rulings from the podcast.

Is a Hotdog a Sandwich?

The hotdog is not a sandwich. Numerous rulings cover this topic, including a clarifying coda in the episode Pedantry of My Own. The law is settled, folks. For starters, the hotdog bun is one solitary hinged piece of bread. Certainly there is no sandwiching of the frankfurter between two distinct pieces of bread. But ultimately for Judge John Hodgman the subtle but critical difference between a sandwich and a hotdog comes down to this: "One thing you would do with all sandwiches -- at least some of the time -- that you would never do with a hotdog is cut it in half. Cut it in half to share it, cut it in half to serve it." Sharing is caring. And the hotdog just don't play that way.

The Chicago-Style Hot Dog is not a sandwich | Photo by Nobody'sGirl

Is Chocolate Candy?

"Chocolate is not candy," Judge John Hodgman confirms in the episode Planted Evidence. "Chocolate is its own thing. I do not have a sweet tooth -- I have an alcohol molar -- but I do enjoy chocolate because it is not just sweet, crystalized sugar, which is what candy is; chocolate is richer, savory-er, has more layers of flavor, and many many different varieties." And in a related judgment: If you give up chocolate for lent, must you deny yourself moles? "Yes, even moles."

Authentic mole shows off chocolate's savory side | Photo by Meredith

Is a Grilled Cheese Still a Grilled Cheese if it Has Meat in It?

In a Swift Justice segment delivered Live from SF Sketchfest 2016, Judge John Hodgman rules that, "Yes, grilled cheese can have meat in it (let's say bacon) and still be a grilled cheese. It doesn't become a different sandwich unless it's a tuna melt." Presumably, it would still be a grilled cheese sandwich even with disks of sliced hotdog thrown into the mix.

Tomato Bacon Grilled Cheese Sandwich | Photo by footballgrl16

Can a Pizza Still Be a Pizza without Tomato Sauce?

Of course. In the episode The Cradle of Pizza Civilization, Judge John Hodgman rules: "There are many, many different kinds of white pizzas that don't have any tomato sauce on them at all, and there's no question that they are pizzas. They come from the same Italian-American pizza-parlour tradition." Regional differences often account for what we consider authentic, which allows for a Deep-Dish Pizza in Chicago, a Tomato Pie in Philly with the sauce above the cheese, or the signature white clam pizza of a pizzeria in Connecticut. Case closed.

Brick-Oven Pizza (Brooklyn Style) | Photo by CDM68

Is There a Significant Material Difference between a Taco and Tostada?

More to the point, if someone invites you to a so-called "taco dinner" but serves you tostadas instead, is this grounds for objection? Or are tacos and tostadas essentially interchangeable vehicles for delivering delicious Mexican food to the mouth? Judge John Hodgman rules in the episode Too Many Cooks Spoil the Borth: "A tostada exists to make use of tortillas that are no longer fresh -- you fry it into a stiff platter. Tostadas are harder to eat. A taco, you just pick it up and shove it in your maw. A tostada, if you're gonna eat it with your hands, it's like eating a 45 record. It's gonna be messy. It's unwise to serve one to a guest." The differences, then, are real and significant. Certainly don't serve it to guests without also providing an enormous plastic bib.

Tostadas | Photo by Meredith

Is Compulsive Brisketing a Crime?

The court of Judge John Hodgman finds that compulsive brisketing, in so far as it is "an act of obsession," provides standing for a long-suffering wife to sue her smoked meats-obsessed husband. In the case of The Smoking Pun, Judge John Hodgman rules that brisket parties shall be limited to one (1) per season for a total of four (4) brisket parties per year, at which guests should have the rightful expectation of ambrosia salad on the side. Furthermore, four additional "side-hussle briskets" were awarded to the husband for the purposes of experimentation in order to "feed [the husband's] curiosity and interest" in smoking meats and to provide practice, with the expectation that, once the process of brisketizing is perfected, the defendant will, presumably, choose of his own accord to brisket less. Subsequently, bailiff Jesse Thorn summarized the ruling as granting the defendant "four public briskets and four private briskets," allowing for a total of 8 legally smoked briskets during the course of any single calendar year.

Yeah, I-Lived-in-Texas, Smoked Brisket | Photo by thedailygourmet

Is Cooking an Art Form?

Judge John Hodgman tackles this question in the episode Woodsy Bob Newhart. "I must stand up for cooking as an art form," says Judge Hodgman. "The fact that it is nourishing -- physically and culturally and mentally -- makes it one of the most beautiful art forms I think the culture has devised. It is a way that we share experience with each other and show generosity to each other." After a brief breakdown of courtroom decorum, order is restored, and the judge continues: "I'm just warning anyone who comes on my podcast and says that cooking is not an art form: Chef's have knives and they are unbalanced....so I'm just saying, somebody better be careful."


For more rulings, read Judge John Hodgman's column. John Hodgman's most recent book is Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches. His next book, Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms will be in book stores on October 15, 2019.


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