I understand why it’s possible to find the conceit behind the blog 300 Sandwiches–that a woman has to earn a marriage proposal from a man by the successful execution of domestic tasks–disturbing, especially given the rise of “make me a sandwich” as a sexist order that’s meant to deflect women away from doing work in other areas. A combination of admiration for Page Six writer Stephanie Smith’s clear path to an engagement and contempt for what seems like her self-abasement is a great deal of what’s formed the weather system that propelled Smith, her boyfriend, and her blog to appearances on Rachel Ray, and as was announced today, a book deal.
But 300 Sandwiches has seemed to me more like a joke between a couple who knows that they’re on their way to getting engaged. That Stephanie Smith decided to blog her odyssey means that it’s inherently a bit performative, rather than entirely private and sincere, and the tone of the posts has never suggested that she’s anxious about her compliance. Rather, she’s consistently described her boyfriend’s linking of sandwiches and an engagement ring as a gag she decided to follow through on for fun. For the two of them, it’s a way to wile away that indistinct but still special period in which a couple knows that they will become engaged, but that commitment still hovers excitingly in the future.
That’s not the making of a particularly interesting or reflective book. There’s only so far you can take an extended joke, and most of Smith’s entries are light meditations on the virtue of the sandwich or the appeal of brussels sprouts rather than any sort of deep thinking on relationships, domesticity, and the performance of gender norms. Moments like a passing interaction with a white gay couple adopting interracial twins, prompting insights like “In all, their family photo was a fitting snapshot in the middle of the others included to remind people that family doesn’t have a traditional definition anymore. And, it was also SO. DAMN. CUTE,” are about as heavy as it gets. But that a book might be shallow isn’t the same thing as it being actively damaging or meritless.
What Smith does have is the making of a fun, pretty delicious-looking cookbook. Her food photography is pretty appealing. There’s genuine variety in her sandwiches, at least for those of us who are competent but not outstanding cooks. I’ve got some of her ideas, including turkey sandwiches with pears and a brussels sprout grilled cheese sandwich saved for later. If her book deal ends up focusing on food, it could actually be worth a limited amount of money. But if instead, Smith decides to wrest something profound out of the experience of going viral, a process that’s become decidedly commonplace, or to try to reflect in any real way on her relationship with her boyfriend and future fiance, the book seems likely to be a bit of a dud that renders the book deal retroactively ridiculous. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to the conceit that prompted the joke in the first place, or that makes the blog actually worth visiting. Virality doesn’t only elevate things that are inherently unworthy. But the process of going viral often isn’t what’s most interesting about an idea.