In January, New Jersey Assemblyman Tim Eustace sponsored a bill to protect the Garden State’s wild animals from needless suffering if caught in traps. Now he’s found himself ensnared in one of his own making, over the state’s most beloved—and disputed—food product.
Back in April, Eustace introduced a bill designed to crown an official state sandwich: egg, cheese, and a salty processed pork product that, depending on who you talk to, is called either Taylor ham or pork roll. Debate over the name is far from polite, leaving one to wonder if Eustace has perhaps, bitten off more than he can chew. To hedge his bets, the Assemblyman introduced two competing bills, identically worded except that in A3666 the porcine sausage is named pork roll and in A3667, Taylor ham.
New Jerseyans tend to think what you wind up calling the spiced mystery meat comes down to history and geography—Taylor ham in North Jersey, pork roll in Southern Jersey—but even that isn’t necessarily definitive. An informal polling of the Taylor ham-pork roll divide a few years ago reveals a map that generally adheres to the geographical divide oft repeated as common knowledge, but still reveals many outliers. Predicting what a person calls their porky mystery meat, it turns out, may be more art than science. Passage of either of Eustace’s bills will put one side at a distinct advantage—spirited debate over what to call the spam-like meat will be replaced, instead, with word of law.
The legal implications of this latest chapter of the debate have set New Jersey’s news media ablaze, with virtually every publication in the state filing polls, hot takes, and seemingly never-ending coverage of the pink sausage. Chris Christie, a native of Newark, weighed in on the controversy last month—”It’s ‘Taylor ham’ egg and cheese,” he said. “I may do an executive order on this. … We don’t need the bill.” An educated guess places Bruce Springsteen—a South Jersey hero who is probably not friends with Christie—in rival territory. Your money wouldn’t be wasted on a bet that the Boss probably tops his bronzed buns with pork roll.
Assemblyman Eustace has tried to put a happy face on the controversy, attempting to contain the linguistic civil war in a cheerful website survey, its header decorated with cartoon drawings of diner classics (Jersey’s beloved wiener is conspicuously absent from these doodles). But Eustace himself takes the path of the heartthrob. “When it comes down to the vote,” he told the Washington Post, “I’m leaning toward pork roll and abstaining on Taylor ham.”
Eustace’s willingness to humor a Taylor ham constituency is curiously wishy-washy for a politician who became only the second openly gay legislator in the state in 2012 and has taken a firm stand on women and medical marijuana. But worse, it’s simply un-New Jerseyan. Fortunately, pandering towards both constituencies won’t last for long. The instructions inviting New Jerseyans to cast their vote online leave no room for flip-floppers: “Let us know your choice,” the copy reads. “THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!!!” Residents of the third state of the union, may the odds be ever in your favor.
Neither Assemblyman Eustace nor Bruce Springsteen have yet responded to requests for comment.
Wei Tchou is a member of The New Yorker’s editorial staff.