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The Case for Vegan Hot Dogs

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="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2013/08/01/the-problem-with-the-global-food-supply-new-research/">The Problem With The Global Food Supply: New Research</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/seriouslyscience/?p=785#.Ug-rZ2TXikI">Ever wanted to know what’s really in hotdogs?</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://www1.umn.edu/news/features/2013/UR_CONTENT_430583.html">Can we feed the world?</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://www.inspirationgreen.com/food-consumption-in-america.html">The American Diet!</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://www.food.com/recipe/hot-dog-spaghetti-445667">Hot Dog Spaghetti</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://www.hot-dog.org/ht/d/sp/i/38599/pid/38599">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.