The classic Sloppy Joe.
The classic Sloppy Joe.

I realized this week that literal decades have passed since I last ate a Sloppy Joe sandwich, a childhood favorite that has, from all indications, faded in popularity. While plenty of other supposedly kid-centric meals have been reinvented for more discerning, more mature—dare I say more upscale?—palettes, the poor Sloppy Joe has not, as of yet, gotten the same treatment as macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly. What’s more, I’m not even sure children are eating them these days.

There are numerous possible explanations for this decline in prominence, and it’s also completely possible that I’m totally off-base. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong. Maybe kids from Kalamazoo to San Berdoo are still chowing on the tantalizingly spiced, definitively messy, tomato-based hodgepodge of ground beef, onions and, let’s be honest, whatever the hell else Mom could find in the bottom drawer of the fridge. For what it’s worth, a Twitter follower hipped me to existence of a gourmet Sloppy Joe truck based right here in D.C. Perhaps the reports of Joe’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Nonetheless, I took to Google Chat yesterday afternoon to collect some completely unscientific evidence that might help explain  or disprove the Sloppy Joe’s dwindling prominence. What follows are selected transcripts from those conversations. Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Ryan M. is an epidemiologist and researcher who lives in Baltimore. Critically for the purposes of this conversation, he’s also a vegetarian.

Jack: When was the last time you ate a Sloppy Joe?
Ryan: hahaha! oddly enough, last week. prior to that, when I still ate meat. so early 90s?
Jack: You’re kidding me.
Ryan: I kid you not. I made it with morningstar farms crumbles
Jack: Are they popular among vegetarians?
Ryan: no, I was feeling like comfort food and the can was on sale at safeway. I always forget I can eat just about anything as long as I use the substitute
Jack: Did you enjoy it? Something you’d do again?
Ryan: Yes they were VERY good. I ate 4. I probably won’t do it again as it was insanely high in sodium. however I just had my checkup for my blood pressure and I’m perfect so maybe I will

Mike P. is a native Midwesterner who has lived in Texas for the past seven years. I’ve known him for roughly 25 years.

Jack: When was the last time you ate a Sloppy Joe?
Mike: I cant even remember. I feel like randomly drunk at a lake house or something. I remember it being shockingly good too
Jack: It’s strange. It seems like they were very popular when we were kids and now not at all. I wonder if it’s a health thing. Parents not wanting to serve them.
Mike: I guess, it might just be that we aren’t around kids very often.
Jack: Maybe, but adults our age still eat peanut butter and jelly and grilled cheese.
Mike: I see your point. Or a hot dog for that matter. I bet the name itself subconsciously turns people off. “Sloppy” is considered a negative adjective
Jack: Maybe. I tend not to like food that is too messy.
Mike: What if we start calling them Neat Jacks?
Jack: Would you be interested in eating one right now? Does it sound appetizing?
Mike: It was really good last time I had one. super easy and cheap to make, grab the stuff on your way home from work.
Jack: So generally it still sounds like a good meal to you?
Mike: More of a snack. Little buns
Jack: Sloppy sliders! That sounds like it has potential.

Aaron W. is a gourmand of some esteem, and is the creator of the food blog Kicking Cooking. He lives in the District of Columbia.

Jack: When was the last time you ate a Sloppy Joe?
Aaron: Jesus…..years. college maybe. I’ve been meaning to make them
Jack: It’s also been a long time for me. Why are they so out of favor?
Aaron: Because we’re not 11. I don’t think they were ever in favor so much as served at specific times to specific people, i.e. children, at lunch
Jack: Big deal, we still eat peanut butter and jelly and grilled cheese, right?
Aaron: yeah but those things transcended being considered children’s food. I mean they still make nuggets shaped like dinosaurs and tropical fruit gushers but I don’t see them everyday like I did in middle school. I would say that it’s unfair treatment though, because they are delicious.

Kevin Z. works in PR and lives in Cleveland, Ohio. He was the only one of the people I spoke with to make the connection between Sloppy Joes and the similar, regionally popular Maid-Rite Loose Meat sandwich.

Jack: When was the last time you ate a Sloppy Joe?
Kevin: that’s a good question. long time
Jack: Do you like them generally?
Kevin: hmmm i dont know that ive ever had one other than the manwich brand and i feel like thats not a good gauge
Jack: Yeah, they’ve never really been dressed up for a more mature crowd like grilled cheese has, eh?
Kevin: i think your observation is correct. i had a sandwich at a place called maid rite. its a “loose meat” sandwich but not really a sloppy joe. it was ok
Jack: Yeah, that’s a fairly popular sandwich, actually. I think it originated in Iowa.
Kevin: i dont get the point of it
Jack: Yeah, does the Maid-Rite make any more or less sense than a Sloppy Joe?
Kevin: i think less. the sauce at least kinda keeps it together
Jack: Right. It’s a different texture.
Kevin: it’s like dippin dots versus regular ice cream. and dippin dots are stupid

Chris T. is an artist and video editor living in Brooklyn. He is the creator of the apparel company Choonimals, and is an occasional vegetarian. He has contributed to Eat a Sandwich previously.

Jack: When was the last time you ate a Sloppy Joe?
Chris: i had a vegan one on [Vans Warped Tour] this summer! i saw your tweet too. I was going to research how bad they are for you then reply. but i didnt.
Jack: So you think maybe it’s a health thing? That just occurred to me. They seemed so popular when we were kids.
Chris: good question. i wouldnt be surprised if it was a health thing at all.
Jack: Are they popular among vegans, to your knowledge?
Chris: not at all i dont think, it was just a switch up to the vegan menu on tour. it was made out of seitan which is straight wheat protein. pretty good, but still a god awful mess. hey, have you ever read John Krakauer?
Jack: Don’t change the subject. Final question: Would you be interested in eating one right now? Does it sound appetizing?
Chris: meh, in the right mood sure, it would be appetizing, but it wouldnt be my first choice from a menu. WHY
Jack: Nevermind.
Chris:  hey listen pal, have you ever read anything by Jon Krakauer?

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August 14, 2013


Made sloppy joe’s earlier this year (yes went with Manwich brand) as Karen had never had one before and I knew that was one American classic she couldn’t miss out on. That said, it was probably the first one I’ve eaten in 10+ years. After my first one, which was really delicious, I decided to add a slice of cheddar cheese and melted it to a toasted bun for a follow up. It was awesome.

Yeah, I think the overall conclusion here is that I need to make myself some Sloppy Joes. I’ve also discovered a few places in town that still offer them on their menus. This is encouraging.