The Case for Vegan Hot Dogs

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If you are a meat eater, you probably appreciate the texture and flavor of a nice piece of loin, or a properly cooked pork chop, or a chicken breast that is moist and flavorful. But what is it about hot dogs that you appreciate? The pasty enigmatic texture? The idea that the casing either is, or imitates, the intestines of a pig? The possibility that the ‘meat’ inside the thing includes a high proportion of anus tissue, other bits of skin that were unsuitable for use as leather (i.e., nostrils), nerve tissue, and other non-muscle parts of animals, often of unspecified species?

Let me put that another way. Say you order a nice steak at your favorite restaurant, but when it was served to your table, instead of a New York Strip or a Filet Mignon you were given an equivalent amount of whatever a hot dog may include. It would probably be served in a bowl because hot dogs are mainly water. Floating in the water would be nerve tissue, cow anuses, sinus tissues, chicken eyelids, maybe an eyeball. If it was an “all beef” version these would all be cow parts. If not, it might be a mixture of cow, pig, turkey, and chicken. But really, nobody ever said that a non-beef hot dog only includes those animals. Goats, sheep, horses, and really, mammals and birds in general all have nerve tissue and anuses. Bon appetite!

Clearly, the role of a hot dog is not to provide or even enhance the meat eating experience. So, I ask you, what is the purpose of the widely consumed tube-steak?

I submit that the role of the hotdog is to provide a substrate for mustard and relish. Or, ketchup. Meat purists may eat their meat plain, or with minimal condiment. Other than certain young children or dogs, have you ever really met a “hot dog purist” who eats the hot dog without anything on it? In fact, studies would show (if they existed) that there is a correlation between the degree to which an individual self identifies as a hot-dog lover and how much stuff an individual piles on top of the hot dog, both in terms of diversity (how many different things) and amount (how high the pile gets).

As with many things, the importance of the hot dog is found in the context, not the thing itself. The role of the hotdog is the roll. And the condiments, including for some kraut or beans.

Now, consider the following facts.

  • 1) For most Westerners, reducing the amount of meat in the diet would provide a health benefit.
  • <li>2) In the United States and parts of Europe, the efficiency of our agricultural system, in terms of energy in the field transformed to energy on the dinner plate, is abysmally low.  Something like 30-40% of our "field calories" reach the table.  The reason for this is that so much of those field calories are first converted into meat.</li>
    <li>3) The global food supply and the world's increasing population are expected, according to recent and reliable studies, to reach equilibrium in about 2050.  After that we start to starve en masse, I suppose.</li>
    <li>4) The production of food generally is a large contributor to climate change, and the production of meat in particular is a very large contributor to climate change.</li>
    <li>5) Anuses.  Cow, pig, sheep, goat, unknown.  In your hot dog.</li></ul>

    Meat in hot dogs is not really meat, if you are a meat eater. It is not what you would eat were it not turned into something you don’t recognize. Meat in hot dogs is bad for you and bad for the planet simply because it is meat. Meat in hot dogs does not produce culinary pleasure, especially when you think about it. A hot dog made with no meat but that still had the undistinguished mushy internal texture, with a burnable plastic like exterior, would serve just as well to hold the condiments. Such a meat-free hot dog would still serve a roll. As it were.

    Americans probably eat about 700 million pounds of hot dogs a year, according to the American Meat Institute. (Not per person, but rather, in total.) That’s close to 2.3 pounds per person a year. Th average American eats about 180 pounds of land-animal meat in total per year. So, about 1-2% of our meat diets consist of hot dog. (I’m purposefully leaving fish and other wild animals out of this.)

    If all hot dogs were suddenly meatless, there would be no loss at the consumer end, only gains. We would still have the tube-shaped object to coat in corn and deep fry, put in a roll and cover with condiments, slice into barrel-shaped bits and pierce with uncooked linguini to boil later to make a festive meal of mini Cthulhus, and so on. But we would improve the quality of our own diets by an average of 1-2% with respect to meat consumption. Since there are a lot of people who eat no meat, and a lot of people who only rarely eat hot dogs, this probably translates into a much larger change for the hot-doggiest amongst us. The American Meat Institute estimates that close to half of American hot dog consumption occurs at outdoor events, mainly sporting events. We buy, at the grocery store, 350 million pounds a year of hot dog, and we eat at events the same amount again. This tells me that a very small subset of Americans, those who go to a lot of sporting events, then while there, consume a few hot dogs every time, are eating a very large percentage of the dogs. I’d wager that the most hot-dog loving third of those who eat hot dogs would reduce meat consumption in their diets by double digits if all hot dogs were suddenly Vegan.

    Also, while as a specialty product (that you can’t find in most grocery stores, sadly) Vegan hot dogs are not especially cheap. But imagine the potential savings. If, instead of making hot dogs out of nerve tissue, anuses, and noses of animals, hot dogs were made out of the equivalent parts of plants … whatever that might be … they would be dirt cheap. Maybe the use of dirt there is a poor choice. Anyway, they would be cheaper than meat-ish hot dogs. Cheaper hot dogs would sell.

    And that is the case for Vegan hot dogs.

    Sources of information:

    <li><a href="">The Problem With The Global Food Supply: New Research</a></li>
    <li><a href="">Ever wanted to know what’s really in hotdogs?</a></li>
    <li><a href="">Can we feed the world?</a></li>
    <li><a href="">The American Diet!</a></li>
    <li><a href="">Hot Dog Spaghetti</a></li>
    <li><a href="">American Meat Council</a></li>


    For completeness, I’ll note that the American Meat Institute claims this about hot dog ingredients:

    What exactly is in a hot dog?

    The ingredients in hot dogs have been the subject of much humor, rumor and speculation. But the answer is less exciting than the question.

    All hot dogs are cured and cooked sausages that consist of mainly pork, beef, chicken and turkey or a combination of meat and poultry. Meats used in hot dogs come from the muscle of the animal and looks much like what you buy in the grocer’s case. Other ingredients include water, curing agents and spices, such as garlic, salt, sugar, ground mustard, nutmeg, coriander and white pepper.

    If variety meats such as liver and hearts are used in processed meats, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires the manufacturer to declare those ingredients on the package with the statement “with variety meats” or “with meat by-products.” The manufacturer must then specify which variety meat is included. In the U.S., companies are required to list ingredients in order, from the main ingredient, to the least ingredient.

    But science says something a bit different. Here’s the results of one study looking inside the dog:

    …Package labels typically list some type of meat as the primary ingredient. … A variety of tissues were observed besides skeletal muscle including bone (n = 8), collagen (n = 8), blood vessels (n = 8), plant material (n = 8), peripheral nerve (n = 7), adipose (n = 5), cartilage (n = 4), and skin (n = 1). … Electron microscopy showed recognizable skeletal muscle with evidence of degenerative changes. In conclusion, hotdog ingredient labels are misleading; most brands are more than 50% water by weight. The amount of meat (skeletal muscle) in most brands comprised less than 10% of the cross-sectional surface area. More expensive brands generally had more meat. All hotdogs contained other tissue types (bone and cartilage) not related to skeletal muscle; brain tissue was not present.

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    33 thoughts on “The Case for Vegan Hot Dogs

    1. I think what you are not considering is that the meat you disdain in the hot dog isn’t going to just magically stop being produced if people stop eating hot dogs. Meat by-products are the leftovers, and there is nothing inherently wrong with them. Yeah, sure, anuses and nostrils and whatnot. The thing is the producers make money off the quality skeletal meat, and the by-products are inexpensive way to get nutrients into your starving kids.

      If we want to extend past that 2050 date, we have to acknowledge that most people aren’t going to go vegan and most farmers aren’t going to switch to growing quinoa and lentils. If we want to be efficient and keep people fed, we must eat as much of the whole animal as possible. Personally, I draw the line at brains and genitals, but even those have ardent supporters.

      Full disclosure: I eat lentils, quinoa, steak, and organ meat. I also love hot dogs. Really, if you have to smother your hot dogs in condiments, you just need to step back from your grill and let a pro do it for you.

    2. Well, I did consider that but I didn’t happen to write about it. The reason is that I don’t actually know the facts . Common belief is that hot dogs are made of leftover stuff no one would otherwise eat. The Meat industry says no, it’s skeletal meat you would normally buy at the store (see quote above). At least one research project says it may be somewhere in between.

      I am not convinced that there is 700 million pounds of animal substance that would have no place to go if there were no hot dogs. I’d need to see something other than common belief about that first. have a feeling that if we add pet foods into the mix, a lot changes, for example. Also, hot dogs are only one place to put animal miscellany. There is probably room in breakfast sausages to put all that meat. And, we’ve also not clarified the liminal zone of the bratwurst. Not to mention liverwurst.

      Yeah, I’m pretty sure we don’ t need hot dogs as a repository for otherwise undesirable meat. And with the vegan hot dog idea, our “starving children” would be fed a better diet, I would think.

      But yes, those are points to consider.

    3. I expect that the original purpose of hot dogs is the original function of sausages in general: traditionally, meat was expensive to raise, and the people who did so were strongly motivated to squeeze out the last ounce of nutrition from them.

      They needed the protein, calories, and yes, the fat that came from whatever bits of scrap you could get off the bone. And then use the bone for making broth.

      And the seasonings were there to make it all as palatable for as long as possible in an era before refrigeration.

      Later (and now), it became a way for slaughterhouses to get a few extra bucks from stuff they’d otherwise have to throw away.

      American hot-dog consumers are pretty far removed from the hardscrabble roots of sausage making, and our health concerns are more related to overconsumption than starvation, but if you want to know “Why hot dogs?”, it’s because habits often far outlast the conditions that necessitated their adoption.

    4. Hear hear, Greg. I agree with you completely. Unfortunately, the case for vegan hot dogs has much more to do with what they aren’t rather than what they are. Simply put, nobody buys a not dog for the test. Believe me, I’ve tried them all. Smart Dogs are the best of a bad bunch, but you have to really pile on the toppings.

    5. I do eat vegan hot dogs because the high amount of fat and cholesterol in real hot dogs is bad for you, not to mention the preseratives. But in terms of taste: hot dogs taste good. yeah, you cna mention the grossness of the ingredients just like you can about any sausage. It happens that once in a while yen gets overwhelming, and because I believe “a little of what you fancy does you good” I have real hot dogs as a once or twice a year treat. And my favorie way to have them is roasted over open flames and eaten straight, no bun let alone fixing. And I’ll bet I’m not alone.

    6. Mike it may depend on what you start with. For example, we have a thing in Minnesota called Super America. I think it is cloven from the same company that owned/was 7/11. Anyway, they have hot dogs. Eat a few of those and pretty much anything will taste better. Also, Fun Dogs. Start with a Fun Dog then move to a Smart Dog.

      Actually, though, it may be a matter of simply seeing a vegan hot dog as a different thing and enjoying the fact that you are saving the planet a little.

      Of course, relish is probably made by slaves or something.

    7. About your point 5, the common saying in this area is that hotdogs are made of the ‘five ts’: toes, tits, tongues, tummies, and touchholes.

      And relish is the work of the devil.

    8. I gave up eating meat 5 years ago, and find that I can now satisfy my sweet tooth more often, and I feel a LOT better. The thought of meat makes me almost ill now,although I love veggie burgers and veggi chili..truly do not miss it.

      The high meat content of diets is truly an environmental nightmare. Unfort. you will be hard-pressed to find vegan dogs in most of merrakuh…

    9. What are you, six years old? Ewww, nostrils! Ewww, anuses! Buy Hebrew National, buy Nathan’s, if you’re so picky. I though all you guys were scientists. Meat is meat. There’s nothing wrong with hotdogs, except vegan hotdogs, which are perfectly horrible. For a year I worked in a theater in Seattle with a whole raft of vegans, and they all farted continuously, quiet little cabbagey pooty toots that made the entire building smell like a Liverpool tenement in 1922. Urk. Grill some dogs, cover with good homemade chili, grated longhorn cheese, chopped onions. Drink beer. Christ.

    10. Unless it contains artificial supplements, a vegan diet is unlikely to contain healthy quantities of two specific nutrients: B12 and calcium. Fortunately nowadays even vegetarian societies (and some but not all vegan socieities) do publish information to that effect. Unfortunately many vegan adherants have a bias towards ignoring those facts.

      B12 comes only from animal sources (meat, fish, dairy) plus faeces. It is believed that the latter is the source for the majority of the world’s vegans, those living in the third world. Since the body can store a decade’s supply of B12, it can take a very long time before deficiencies cause irreversible damage to the blood and central nervous system.

      Calcium is more easily obtained from supplements added to soya “milk” and bread. Unfortunately many vegans drink unsupplemented soya products and blithely assume they can get sufficient calcium from vegetables. They can’t, in almost all cases.

      Excess quantities of poor quality meat is a health hazard. So is veganism without supplements.

    11. Reply to Nancy #10. Yeah, let’s eat the Kosher ones! Well, years ago, my dad had a friend who did the refrigeration work for Hebrew National. He was not specific but he stated that the “we’re Kosher” didn’t stop a lot of the stuff going into the dogs that are on the ‘yuk list”. The only thing we know for sure is that it came from the front of the animal. The back part just isn’t Kosher.

      But hey, they do taste good though!

    12. I always refer to hot dogs as “nature’s perfect food”. No-one ever seems to get the joke…

      I’ve recently switched to vegetarian chorizo sausages (Trader joe’s) and and TVP taco “meat”. All very good. So far, have never had a good vegetarian hot-dog.

    13. The reason hot dogs are typically a substrate for condiments is because most brands (even the ones that allegedly contain meat) have negligible flavor. As with other foods, the way to go here is smaller quantities of good stuff. Real sausage, in this case.

    14. Vegan “hot dogs” have been around for decades. In conservative San Diego, CA (which former Ku Klux Klan member Tom Metzger boasted was the right wing capital of America), in the late 1980s, spring festivals were held in Balboa Park, on the occasion of the Great American MeatOut.

      Modeled after the Great American SmokeOut (which urges people to quit smoking), the Great American MeatOut urges people to quit eating meat, and is sponsored by celebrities like Casey Kasem and Doris Day.

      In Balboa Park, San Diego Animal Advocates (a chapter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, before PETA dissolved the chapter system for legal purposes) was distributing free food — vegan “not dogs,” or vegan hot dogs.

      There were local bands playing punk, jazz, reggae, etc.

      My friend Greg, who credits me (along with pro-life feminist Mary Krane Derr) with having caused him to become a vegetarian (I think the real credit in Greg’s case goes to vegan author John Robbins’ 1987 Pulitzer Prize nominated Diet for A New America, which I gave to Greg as a gift in 1989 for his 26th birthday!).

      When we were roommates, Greg was referring to meat as “negative energy food” (I wouldn’t even call it “food” — is human flesh “food”?), enjoying imitation meat products and saying, “There’s no excuse for eating meat when you have food like this that’s just as good!” and he was amazed that his friend Ron couldn’t even give up meat for one day… on the occasion of the Great American MeatOut!

      As Peter Singer points out in Animal Liberation, *habit* is the biggest obstacle to animal liberation (not the Christian right!).

    15. In 2002, some friends of ours from San Diego came up to visit us in the SF Bay Area We’d purchased some vegan hot dogs from the local supermarket, a brand referred to as Smart Dogs.

      “Dumb Cats” quipped one of our guests, a young 16 year old girl.

    16. Good Post here. I don’t eat hot dogs and have favored “Not-Dogs” for a long time, but after reading this I’m pretty sure I will even be able to withhold from that one a year, maybe on the 4th of July, that I give in to after a few beers have impaired my judgement πŸ™‚

    17. I ran a hotdog stand for a year and a half. We sold Nathan’s kosher hotdogs. I’m not especially grossed out by ingredients. I’ve tried a lot of organ meat and find most meh. But when I do have a craving for a hotdog at home, I buy something kosher. I’m not be especially grossed out by names that make us go ewww, but I’d rather not take too many chances with the underfunded FDA.

      At my age, I should definitely cut back the amount of meat I eat, and I have. The trouble with a vegan diet is that I love plants too much to encourage the unconscionable slaughter (slaw-ter?) of vegetables that would follow a sudden conversion of the western masses. Plus, I’ll never give up cheese. Never.

    18. John $#19
      Yep, kosher for flavor- though there are other fine quality hot dogs/sausages. I’m 66 and I also eat less meat than once I did- red meat once or twice a month – chicken, fish 4-5 times a week. I love animal protein, and I just do not get the vegetarian/vegan thing at all. I mean, if you don’t want it don’t eat it, but the supposed ‘eww’ factor is ridiculous . I was a small scale market gardener for years, raised chicken, rabbits, ate them, would have had a pig if I’d had the room.

    19. I can’t quarrel with your information. However, I don’t think you give the cultural impact of the hot dog enough weight. The fact is, it is associated with good times such as baseball games, picnics, and barbecues. That is the big draw, I believe, for most people. The item itself as a food isn’t that important and can be replaced.

    20. At 64 I know I should cut back on meat but ……I’ll have that 3/4″ rib steak medium rare please with emphasis on the rare. πŸ˜‰ (Ads my wife is Jewish we eat kosher dogs when we do)

    21. I don’t eat hot dogs much anymore. As a friend said some time back, they used to taste really good. I occasionally will buy a pack, and be disappointed at them, even the Kosher ones.

      When I was in high school, we did a lot of building and modification work on the ranch. Building new pens and fences, tearing down an old barn and fixing up another one, etc. I would walk the mile home from the bus stop, and my mother and father would be out working. On the kitchen table would be ten hot dogs, a loaf of bread, mustard and a pan. I would put the hot dogs in the pan to steam while I changed clothes. I would lay out ten slices of bread, mustard them. and add the hot dogs. After I finished my home from school snack, I would go out and work until dark, then do the chores, eat supper, listen to the radio a little and go to bed.

      Best hot dogs I ever ate, I got from a little meat market in southeast Missouri. They had a course ground texture, and had a good hot dog taste.

      In Colombia I had a grilled sausage made of organ meats, and my friend had one made of cow mammary gland. I liked mine better.

    22. The contents of most sausage-type products, including hot dogs, is pretty gross, but I have seen restaurants on TV that make their own sausage-like stuff out of actual meat that I would consider eating before they were ground up and extruded. My conclusion: if you really want to eat hot dogs, make your own.

    23. So I see this topic has been revived revived after a couple of years.

      Greg, the problem with your arguement is that it switches back and forth between ecology and health in an inconsistent manner.

      If ecology is the key issue, then making full use of available meat animals is preferable, including the icky bits (but NOT including ANY nerve tissue: just say Mad Cow). Eschewing hot dogs only has the effect of making less efficient use of animals, resulting in more animals raised & slaughtered, at greater ecological impact overall.

      If health is the key issue, an occasional hot dog is no more a hazard than an occasional ice cream sundae, and hot dogs in excess are no worse than most other fatty foods in excess.

      Turning icky bits into petfood rather than humanfood is silly, as it only displaces some other petfood ingredients to some unknown destination, probably a compost pile, thus no efficiency gain there.

      Bottom line is, I don’t see a health or ecology problem here. Cheap meat is better than expensive meat. Icky meat in a bowl becomes innocuous meat on a bun. More efficient energy-conversion from animal feed to calories for humans is better than less efficient.

      There is of course the ethical issue of raising animals for slaughter. I believe that cows etc. are conscious and that the real Original Sin of humans is that we must kill to live (killing plants is still killing), but that we evolved for an omnivorous diet so the best we can do is a degree of compromise. That issue will eventually be dealt with by vat meat, something I eagerly look forward to for both moral and ecological reasons. When we get to the point of synthesizing plant matter from sunlight and chemicals, we’ll be free of any killing in order to live. And the other thing about vat meat is, it can also produce hot dogs that don’t have icky bits in them.

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