The Real Reason People Have Stopped Eating Sloppy Joes

Do you remember the last time you ate a sloppy Joe? Wait — do you even know what a sloppy Joe is? If you're under a certain age, there's a chance you might not even be aware that this is a type of food once consumed in elementary school cafeterias and family dining rooms on those nights when Mom had to work late and Big Sis (age 12) was responsible for getting dinner on the table. 

Sloppy Joes, as you can probably tell from these context clues, aren't the most difficult dish to throw together. Basically, they consist of ground beef cooked in some kind of tomato sauce and served on a hamburger bun. In fact, The Takeout tells us that same year that saw man land on the moon also brought sloppy Joe mix in a can (the infamous Manwich whose name spawned a thousand jokes, most of them not fit to print), thus making meal preparation well within the realm of the average 6-year-old's culinary expertise.

Once a popular suburban staple, sloppy Joes have seemingly retreated as far into the past as cottage cheese Jell-O salad (which was also once a thing, seriously, kids). But why did they go? And will they come back? These are questions to which there is no definitive answer, but that won't prevent us from speculating.

Why sloppy Joes disappeared

A totally scientific and thoroughly comprehensive survey on the subject of sloppy Joe consumption performed via Google Chat by the Eat a Sandwich blog found that most of the survey subjects (consisting of five dudes) were vague on when they last consumed said dish. One respondent thought it might have been the "early '90s" while another said "college, maybe," and still another theorized that he may have done so while "randomly drunk at a lake house or something." 

When questioned as to the reason behind this sandwich's seeming disappearance, reasons given were "the name itself subconsciously turns people off," "a health thing. Parents not wanting to serve them," and "I don't think they were ever in favor so much as served at specific times to specific people, i.e. children, at lunch."

As regards those last two reasons, sloppy Joes may have disappeared from school cafeteria menus over the past decade-plus due to former FLOTUS Michelle Obama's much-needed campaign to reform school lunch programs nationwide. She made it her mission to ensure that kids would actually get something healthy to eat at school every day, and the typical elementary school sloppy Joe didn't fit the bill.

Are sloppy Joes making a resurgence?

While Eat a Sandwich notes that many childhood favorites have been given grown-up (even gourmet) makeovers — we presume they're talking about grilled cheese and mac and cheese, both of which got huge in the 20-teens — it seems that sloppy joes have yet to come in for such treatment. Or have they? 

One of the survey respondents did speak of being served a seitan sloppy Joe on the Vans Warped Tour, and at the time the survey was conducted (2013) there was evidently a gourmet sloppy Joe food truck serving the DC area. 

While the DC truck is no more (or at least, the link to its website is R.I.P.), the Sloppie Joe's food truck currently makes the rounds in Yonkers, NY, while the Jumbo's food truck feeds the sloppy Joe-craving populace of West Fargo, North Dakota. There's also a New Jersey-based Sloppy Ray's food truck with such intriguing offerings on the menu as an Asian-inspired sloppy Joe as well as one made with pulled chicken and pineapple. Oh, and there's even a not-so-sloppy taste-alike burger you can order off the secret menu at Five Guys.

Homemade sloppy Joes don't have to start with a can

Even though sloppy Joes have yet to be elevated to the pantheon of comfort food classics alongside the likes of mac and cheese and the PB&J, they still have plenty of fans. If you have yet to experience this often under-appreciated item, why not give it a try? Sloppy Joes are ridiculously easy to make, and they're not particularly expensive, either (unless you go with ground wagyu). Whatever you do, pass on the Manwich or any similar generic knockoffs.

Instead, start with ground beef, turkey, chicken, or even pork. (Ground pork on its own tends to be fatty, but a 50/50 mix with beef could work quite well.) You could also use a plant-based ground meat substitute to make vegan sloppy Joes. Parents and partners of picky eaters, take note: Sloppy Joes also make a great vehicle for sneaking in some finely-chopped "stealth veggies."

If it's the idea of a soggy bun that kind of ruins the whole sloppy Joe thing for you, there's no shortage of alternatives here, as well. Sloppy Joe filling can be used to top a baked potato, or you can serve it on rice or noodles. Prefer to go low-carb? It works well on a bed of lettuce, too.