By Paula Moore
Every summer, Americans scarf down more than 5 billion hot dogs–enough
wieners to circle the Earth about 15 times. Good news for meat marketers, no
doubt, who have declared July “Hot Dog Month” to encourage mass consumption
of processed pig parts. But really, if you toss one on the grill, what are
Every third-grade boy knows what nasty things lurk in hot dogs–from ears to
eyelids–and delights in sharing this information with his more squeamish
friends. In Hog Farm magazine, a U.S. Department of Agriculture official
confirmed that “hot dogs contain skeletal muscles, along with parts of pork
stomach, snout, intestines, spleens, edible fat, and yes, lips.” Don’t forget
the preservatives, to keep it all “fresh.”
It’s not just swine snouts you have to watch out for. When the Wall Street
Journal filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the USDA to obtain
consumer complaints of “foreign-object contamination” in hot dogs, they found
several unsavory surprises, including a three-inch rubber band, something
described as a “greenish blue glob,” pieces of glass and even screws and
other metal objects (this, despite the fact that hot-dog makers put their
products through metal detectors to catch stray machine parts).
Of course, an errant widget in your wiener probably won’t make you sick. But
listeria, a potentially deadly bug that frequently contaminates franks,
might. Listeria can cause everything from flu-like symptoms to meningitis and
blood infections. Eighty-eight percent of people who are seriously infected
with listeria end up in the hospital, and 25 percent die.
Hot dogs–and in particular the nitrites that are used to preserve them–may
also be a cancer-causer. University of Southern California researchers found
that children who eat more than 12 hot dogs per month have nine times the
normal risk of developing childhood leukemia. Expectant mothers who eat at
least one wiener a week double their child’s risk of getting brain tumors.
Add in the fat–regular hot dogs derive 70 to 90 percent of their calories
from fat, most of it saturated–sodium and cholesterol, and it becomes clear
that hot dogs are a health hazard. (Even poultry “pups” are hardly health
food. Chicken and turkey franks contain as much or more cholesterol–up to 50
milligrams–as beef and pork hot dogs, and if they’re made from dark meat and
skin, where most of the fat is found, they’re not exactly “lite.”)
For many consumers, though, the worst part about wieners is the animal
cruelty contained in every single bite. People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals (PETA) recently sent an undercover investigator to a hog farm in the
Midwest, and if you eat meat, what we found should make you rethink your
lunch. A thousand pigs were crammed inside each of 28 huge steel barns. They
live 24 hours a day on slatted floors above piles of their own waste. The
ammonia rising from this cesspool is so toxic that the pigs’ eyes are
permanently ringed with black from dried tears.
Some pigs suffer leg injuries from constantly standing on the hard concrete
floors. PETA’s videotaped documentation shows pigs with abscessed joints
swollen three times their normal size. One pig hobbled on a skeletal leg from
which the flesh and muscle had been eaten by other pigs. Those who can’t walk
lie pitifully on the floor, their deformed legs splayed and useless.
We also documented live pigs thrown into dumpsters with dead ones; workers
smashing pigs’ heads against the floor to kill them; and the farm manager
beating pigs to death with metal gate rods and hammers.
If you find this kind of cruelty hard to stomach, then hot dogs (and other
pork products) should be left off your shopping list. Why not try “not dogs”
instead? These days, almost any supermarket sells a variety of vegetarian hot
dogs that have all the taste of the “real thing”–but none of the cruelty,
cholesterol or pig lips.
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