There’s a special feeling that often comes to me after eating hot dogs for a meal.
I guess I have to admit that hot dogs are a personal favorite food. I now recognize this because, when I’m left to my own devices at the grocery store and/or subsequently at home, as I am tonight, I have a great tendency to buy them, cook them, and eat them.
Hot dogs really have a lot going for them. They have a great flavor. They are inexpensive and extremely easy to prepare. They give one the satisfying impression that one is eating something meaty and substantial.
But that’s not all; in addition to aroma, they exude nostalgia. The frankfurter has a storied history that is deeply entwined with many pleasant elements of American culture: baseball, barbecues, camping, street vendors, amusement parks, drive-ins, kids meals, and our desire to give things new names when we decide we don’t like the country they came from.
And yet, examined without all these culinary and cultural trappings, the hot dog is quickly revealed as one of the most bizarre food items imaginable. Processed from the vaguest of origins and with a truly nonsensical name, the hot dog is far more abstract a food than any other sausage I can think of, except perhaps bologna. They contain high amounts of sodium, fat, and preservatives called nitrites, which I know nothing about but are supposed to be unhealthy when ingested in high concentrations. These strangenesses and apparent flaws, one can easily argue, originate only in the admirable desire to make good use of all resources and plan for the future.
However, in a culture where fat and salt are readily available and we can preserve food through refrigeration, the hot dog has a new reason for its particular form and function. A food often marketed and fed to children in a culture in which many are completely detached and ignorant of the sources and production of the food we eat, the hot dog is one of our most successful attempts at nullifying and mollifying ourselves out of recognizing the animal-ness and living-ness of our food sources, perhaps more so even than the hamburger or the chicken “nugget” or “strip.” Now more than ever, the hot dog is an iconic American food item. Let’s please not start discussing the corn dog, though, or we’ll be here all night.
There it is, that special feeling just hit. There are several more hot dogs left in package in the fridge; I am sure that I will be eating them sometime soon, in the days ahead. I don’t like to to let food go to waste. But still, my stomach roils and rises up in a cry of betrayal, just now realizing that it has been tricked yet again.