Pork Roll or Taylor Ham? - Cutting Through the Fat

a photo of Taylor Pork Roll
As you may or may not have heard, there is a long standing debate in New Jersey that has torn apart family and friends, ruined relationships and threatened the harmonic fabric of our very existence. Is this debate political? No, not in the slightest. Does it have to do with our schools? Nope, not at all. Is it about our beloved shore and how certain TV shows have made us look bad? It should be, but no, no it is not. The debate my friends, is whether or not we have decided to call an insanely delicious pork product by one name, or another. I'm referring of course to the long standing debate: Pork Roll or Taylor Ham?

Now, depending on where you are currently located, the answer to this question is decidedly simple. However, I think it begs a closer, more analytical look and some historical context.

Pork Roll is recognized as being developed in 1856 by one John Taylor of Hamilton Square, New Jersey and originally sold as "Taylor's Prepared Ham" according to a number of modern articles on the subject (as of this writing, and after much searching on the subject, I have found no historical information or photographs to correctly uphold this claim). While it remains unclear, it seems that the product may very well have been named that, or at least may have been popularly referred to by that name upon its inception.

What is clear is that by 1906, New Jersey newspaper Trenton Evening Times referred to the product by the name Pork Roll, in regards to a legal dispute between the Taylor Provision Company and Lehman Co. on three separate occasions: November 21, 1906; January 8, 1907, and April 30, 1909. Also well known, is that following the release and meteoric popularity of Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was adopted, which sought to prevent "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated or mis-branded or poisonous or deleterious foods, drugs or medicines, and liquors." It is at this point that most historians claim the name changed from Taylor's Prepared Ham to Pork Roll, as the product no longer fit the legal definition of what constituted ham.

So, while this all makes for a great story, it seems that historical detail may have taken a back seat to the ever present human setback: tribalism. It is true, that other purveyors of similar products labeled it "Prepared Ham" even after the 1906 legislation (taking a back seat as a descriptive term after the name Pork Roll). But what is not clear or thus far evidential is historical documentation, photographs, or remnants of product packaging that would lead a modern historian to claim that Taylor distributed his product under the moniker "Prepared Ham." In contrast, early news clippings as mentioned above as well as all versions of post turn of the century packaging and advertisement refer to it as Taylor Pork Roll - a name which has stuck to this day.

So, does this put the debate to bed? Sadly, I find it hard to come to a conclusion here. While there seems to be a lack of early historical evidence, the legend of Taylor's Prepared Ham may very well be true. That said, it would have later been legally obligated to change its name to Pork Roll anyway. While the interference of "Big Brother" into the title of their favorite breakfast meat may leave a bad taste in the mouth of some, at the end of the day one thing is certain. Pork roll shares way more in common with hot dogs, bologna and Spam than it does with actual ham. 

At the end of the day though, who really cares about what you call it? It's a delicious meat you can eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and if you're more concerned with what people call it than enjoying this tasty treat, then in the opinion of this writer, you my friend, are an asshole. Now go get a breakfast sandwich and eat it in good health!

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