Rethinking The Hot Dog

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

you thinking?

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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