Bologna the Beautiful

Bologna is coming back. Not even ironically. I know this because when I say "bologna sandwich" within earshot of my colleagues*, a lot of feelings come out. And nothing goes better with feelings than garlicky, pink meat circles.

A recent bologna poll I conducted** yielded nearly unanimous "yays and a bunch of exclamation points." One colleague said "aw," as if spying an infant hamster sleeping in a sugar bowl. But just because bologna gives us a distant expression and makes us talk in past tense doesn't mean it's stuck back there.

It's heading directly into the sandwich of the present. Soon, super-thin slices will climb back inside your rye, a mild disk will reappear between your slices of squishy white bread and a sizzling, pink, char-lined slab will sit fatly melting the American cheese in your roll. Whether in your banh mi, within or instead of your tortilla hammocking your taco things or lying like a log on your smoker rack, it will be there, and you'll still recognize it. Beguilingly tender, amusingly eraser-like, pleasantly wiggly, adorably free of features, the bologna of today is still the same enormous smooth hot dog made from emulsified pork (or beef) plus fat that's been seasoned with garlic, pink salt and spices and slowly cooked. It hasn't changed much. But we have.

We have become used to foods with a story, sliced paper thin and made by people in butcher shops named after Labrador retrievers. But I predict that, continuing the pursuit of origin foods and embracing specifically American foods, bologna will soon burgeon and more chefs*** will be using it. Inevitably we will too. You can leave mortadella, with its girthy mosaic of fat and pistachios, to Italian charcutiers. Bologna's simplicity is its strength. Bologna's constancy is part of its allure. Even the USDA defines bologna as homogenous, and bologna seems totally fine with that. We won't see an influx of ranch- or Sriracha-flavored bologna, but we will find (or even make) some really, really good bolognas. Which I define as bologna that makes us feel happy.

* Mostly food people I work with at Food Network, where we have many, many feelings, thoughts and theories about foods, and share them and seem never to even get bored of it.

** In a non-random sample group of the first 24 people whose email addresses I could easily recall.

*** Such as David Chang, from March.