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. Add in the fat - regular hot dogs derive 70 percent 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 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 barns. They live 24 hours a day on slatted floors above piles of their own waste. The ammonia rising from this 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.
Paula Moore writes for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.