The beloved wienie is finally getting roasted
For a moment, let’s be frank about hot dogs.
1) They are fattening.
2) They are made from undesirable pig and cow parts — lips and, well, unmentionable holes, as they say.
3) They are one of the top killers by choking among children under five.
4) They may cause cancer.
5) They taste so delicious wrapped in a bun and smothered in condiments that we overlook their dark sides.
Maybe you were or maybe you weren’t surprised by No. 4. And maybe you do or don’t care.
I learned years ago about the possible links between cancer and cured meats, including bacon and processed turkey, and still I find myself snarfing down a Juicy Jumbo once every couple of months.
I believe the cancer evidence, but I also know that I’ve consumed about a thousand hot dogs already in my lifetime.
It’s the generation after me that might be better off frankfurter free.
Now let me digress for a moment to mention that one of my favourite books, The Jungle by journalist Upton Sinclair, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
The Jungle centered around a family of Lithuanian immigrants working in the meat stockyards of Chicago in the early 1900s, a place where dead rats and severed fingers were shoveled into sausage-grinding machines and putrid guts were scraped off the floor and packaged as “potted ham.”
Sinclair’s book let the rat out of the bag in nauseating detail and, consequently, revolutionized the meat industry.
England refused to buy meat from the United States.
And President Theodore Roosevelt called upon Congress to pass a law establishing the US Food and Drug Administration, which, for the first time, laid out federal inspection standards for meat.
Ironically, 100 years later it is the chemical agent that companies rely on to make meat safe that is now under attack.
Hot dogs contain sodium nitrates or sodium nitrites, which are used to preserve meat and combat botulism. And that’s a great thing.
But during the cooking process, these chemicals combine with amines, which are naturally present in meat, to form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds — or nitrosamines. Not so good.
Nitrosamines have been associated with cancer of the mouth, bladder, esophagus, stomach and brain.
In children who eat more than 12 hot dogs per month, evidence indicates a risk of childhood leukemia that is nine times higher than normal.
And children born to mothers who consume hot dogs one or more times per week during pregnancy have approximately double the risk of developing brain tumours.
In the late 1990s, several European countries responded to the mounting evidence linking cured meats and cancer and banned nitrates.
Some experts say hot dogs are as bad as cigarettes for our health.
But some parents think it’s cruel to deprive children of the beloved wiener based on inconclusive evidence of a health risk or mere fear-mongering by the mass media.
America’s most child-loving corporation, Sesame Street, does not endorse taking wieners out of your kids’ diet.
“Research has indicated that when children receive an adequate amount of vitamins from fruits, vegetables and dairy products, the risk of cancer decreases,” says Dr. Jose M. Saavedra at sesameworkshop.org.
“So instead of banning hot dogs in your home, serve them with a salad,” he adds.
Thanks Elmo, but any chemical that lets me eat — without vomiting — a raw hot dog that has spent more than a month in my fridge can’t be viewed with anything but the cynicism and skepticism that is finally eroding this billion-dollar industry.
Another totally unnatural condition for dead meat is that rosy pink colour, another consequence of nitrites and its primary function in this age of refrigeration.
The alternative nitrate-free organic hot dog is an ugly brown colour and is much tougher and less tasty than the ballpark variety we all love.
It’s also twice as expensive.
You might as well not even bother with the meat alternative.
Get yourself a veggie dog or say goodbye and put the dog down for good.
There is another alternative that is growing in popularity and could be found in supermarket refrigerator in Whitehorse someday soon.
Instead of relying on sodium nitrates or the nitrites for colour, texture and shelf life, hot dog makers have found a potion of celery juice, lactic acid and sea salt that preserves the dogs and keeps them juicy and red.
Nitrosamines, it should be noted, are not exclusive to cured meats. They are in beer, nonfat dry milk, tobacco products, rubber, pesticides and makeup.
And don’t panic if you’ve heard that nitrites are also present in many green vegetables such as spinach, celery and green lettuce. The Vitamin C and D also found in these veggies inhibits the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines.
Hot dogs, it should be noted, are bad for you for other reasons.
The Cancer Prevention Coalition lists nearly a dozen more possible toxic ingredients in beef franks, many of them are not listed on hot dog labels and most are considered carcinogenic.
They include the hormones and antibiotics ingested by the animals.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.