Episcopalians go viral over food opinions, facts

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Jan 3, 2024

The Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia attracted media attention after humorously declaring that mayonnaise on pepperoni rolls is an “abomination in the eyes of the Lord” in a viral Dec. 27, 2023, Facebook post. The post was made in response to ESPN commentators spreading Duke’s mayonnaise on pepperoni rolls, West Virginia’s official state food, during the Duke’s Mayo Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina, where West Virginia University defeated the University of North Carolina. Duke’s Mayonnaise is Duke’s Mayo Bowl’s official sponsor. Photo: Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia/Screenshot

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians have made headlines over the past week by sharing food-related opinions and facts.

Last week, West Virginia University’s football team defeated the University of North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. During the game, ESPN commentators spread Duke’s mayonnaise, the bowl game’s official sponsor, on various foods to promote the brand, including pepperoni rolls, West Virginia’s official state food.

“Putting mayonnaise on the pepperoni roll is a horrible thing to do because you don’t put anything on them. The pepperoni roll is perfect as is,” the Rev. Chad Slater, the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia’s canon to the ordinary, told Episcopal News Service on Jan. 3. “No true West Virginian would ever put anything on their pepperoni roll.”

Slater said that on Dec. 27, while watching the game, he and his colleague, the Rev. Jordan Trumble, canon for communications and congregational development, were discussing over text message how “disgusting” it was to see someone add mayonnaise on top of pepperoni rolls. The two native West Virginians decided to post a joke about it on the diocese’s official Facebook page:

“It’s come to our attention that during tonight’s Duke’s Mayo Bowl, in which WVU competed and won, sports commentators were seen putting Duke’s Mayo on pepperoni rolls. Let it be known that putting mayo on pepperoni rolls is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. Those who perpetrate this heinous act have committed a mortal sin which can only be forgiven by special dispensation from the clergy of West Virginia. Clergy are permitted to withhold absolution until proper contrition is made—either by burning a couch or making a pilgrimage to the Mothman statue.

“This applies only to those who have put mayo on pepperoni rolls. The use of Miracle Whip is unforgivable.”

The Facebook post went viral. It’s not only been shared almost 13,000 times, but also attracted attention by news media throughout West Virginia, North Carolina and other states.

As of midday Jan. 3, 952 people from across the country had commented on the post, many of whom were native West Virginians agreeing with the statement. Other comments came from people expressing their appreciation for the diocese sharing a sense of humor.

“[The post] really did strike a cultural chord. It’s refreshing, I think, to a lot of people, especially those that may have been harmed by church or religion, to see that The Episcopal Church has a sense of humor,” Slater said. “I don’t think anybody’s coming to our churches because of a funny Facebook post, but I think it does help lay the groundwork for parishioners and clergy who are inviting people to come to church to show that they have a positive attitude towards the church.”

Pepperoni rolls — white bread stuffed with pepperoni and sometimes cheese — were created in the early 20th century as a convenient cold lunch for Italian American coal miners in north-central West Virginia. Today, the beloved rolls are considered a staple comfort food in the state, with recipes varying by region. Unlike Totino’s frozen pizza rolls, classic pepperoni rolls aren’t typically cooked with marinara and don’t need to be reheated.

On Jan. 1, five days after Slater and Trumble posted the Diocese of West Virginia’s viral pepperoni roll post, Texas Bishop C. Andrew Doyle also attracted attention from regional news media for his open letter to The New York Times, educating the editorial staff on why it was incorrect to use the clue “Tex-Mex condiment” for the answer “taco sauce” in its Dec. 29, 2023, crossword puzzle.

Condiments for Tex-Mex tacos may include guacamole, sour cream, and grilled vegetables, lettuce, onion, tomatoes, chiles and SALSA. There is indeed an enchilada sauce or gravy in Tex-Mex dishes, but that is different,” Doyle wrote in his letter. “I know that Taco Bell does indeed pass out ‘taco sauce’ packets which are labeled as such. Taco Bell, I remind you, was founded by Glenn Bell in California. (It is important to note it is fake history to believe Glenn Bell also created hard-shell tacos. These were first created in Mexico and made their way to Texas and California.)

“Therefore, I suggest the appropriate hint for the puzzle for Friday should be: ‘Cali-Mex (or Mexicali) condiment.’ If the desired answer is to be: ‘Taco Sauce.’ If the answer you want is ‘salsa,’ then the hint needs to be Tex-Mex condiment. For neither is salsa created by Taco Bell or from California.”

Doyle told ENS in a text message that even though people have told him his letter is “silly” and that “there are better things to do,” it’s important to point out the significance of cultural cuisines and their complex histories, Tex-Mex in this case.

“There are many ways we gloss over a rich history which now is all over the U.S. because the diversity of Texas is a precursor to changes in the U.S.,” Doyle said. The state offers “an amazing smorgasbord of food,” he said, “but we must remember there are people’s stories behind that food, and long histories which are part of a rapidly changing culture — and I hope church. If we can appreciate Tex-Mex and Calimex (see history and articles by Gustavo Arellano) and the stories behind that food, maybe we can sit at a taco truck, break bread and get a little closer to diversity, migration and immigration with dignity.”

Doyle also received many positive comments in agreement from readers on his Facebook and Blogspot pages, where the open letter was published.

Slater said any positive attention where The Episcopal Church stands is good, whether serious or through humor. One day after posting the pepperoni roll rant, Trumble added a new post on Facebook welcoming new followers.

While we aren’t always quite that funny, we do believe that God delights in a good sense of humor,” the post says. “If that’s how you found us, we’re glad you’re here. Come for the jokes, stay for the Jesus!”

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.