(Full disclosure: I’m a long-term vegetarian and haven’t eaten a hot dog in decades.)
An advocacy group for preventive medicine, the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine (PCRM), is claiming that hot dogs are as bad for your health as cigarettes and “wreck your health.” PCRM has put up a billboard featuring an image of hot dogs in a cigarette box near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to warn NASCAR Sprint Cup fans that they’d best make other choices when they visit the snack bar.
Last year, says PCRM, fans at the Indy 500 consumed more than 1.1 million hot dogs. The American Institute for Cancer Research has found that daily consumption of one 50-gram serving of processed meat (about the amount in one hot dog) can increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
Obviously, manufacturers of hot dogs and other processed meats are of the opinion that the hot dog/cigarette comparison is not only odious, but inaccurate. Says the president of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Janet Riley, in SFGate:
“This is an absurd claim. Trying to link a food product that has clear nutritional value with a product like cigarettes, which have no redeeming qualities, is inflammatory and alarmist. This is an animal rights group that wants to take away your choices.”
PCRM does call for an end to animal testing; its website says that it conducts clinical research and “encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.” The health and nutrition section of PCRM’s website promotes vegan and vegetarian diets: It’s not an organization that is very hot dog-oriented unless, you’re talking about tofu dogs or the like.
Writing at SF Gate’s Mommy Files, Amy Graff notes that she still plans to continue serving her children the occasional hot dog, while seeking out nitrate-free hot dogs as much as possible. Others have all-out objected to the billboard and called the PCRM “food fascists.”
The Washington Post offers a review of research studies about the safety, or danger, of eating processed meat. Behind all this brouhaha is a valid question though. Should foods that have been shown to have health risks come with warning labels as cigarettes do? It is often said that people have a “choice” about what foods they eat, and that such warning labels are “unfairly” prejudicing people against eating some food or other. But even when people know that anything deep-fried could give you diabetes/heart attack/etc., the lines at McDonalds don’t seem to be any shorter, and it’s not because people are clamoring for Golden Arches apple slices.
The “hot dogs are like cigarettes” billboard is deliberately inflammatory and even veers on the sensationalistic. On the other hand, it’s certainly getting people to ask how healthy hot dogs and other processed meats – other processed foods — are. Certainly people have a choice of what to eat but, as the old saying goes, “you are what you eat”: The billboard may well give NASCAR fans in line at the concessions stand just enough food for thought.
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