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Did Americans Always Love Hot Dogs? Not Really

“I devoured hot-dogs in Baltimore ‘way back in 1886, and they were then very far from newfangled….They contained precisely the same rubber, indigestible pseudo-sausages that millions of Americans now eat, and they leaked the same flabby, puerile mustard. Their single point of difference lay in the fact that their covers were honest German Wecke made of wheat-flour baked to crispiness, and not the soggy rolls prevailing today, of ground acorns, plaster-of-Paris, flecks of bath-sponge, and atmospheric air all compact.”
- American Journalist and Author H.L. Mencken

In this day and age, the people that object to hot dogs do so largely because of the presumed nutritional contents of any one hot dog and its less than wholesome ingredients. Ask anyone about the ingredients that go into a hot dog and they will either shrug their shoulders in abandon, or visibly shutter as if recalling the death of a parent. Just for laughs take a look at a vintage Simpsons clip illustrating this idea:

But as we Americans may have our misgivings about hot dogs, or at least concerns about its unexplained contents, we still eat a whole lot of them. On this day alone (July 4th) Americans are expected to eat around 150 million of the tubular goodies, and people from all walks of life (excepting vegetarians) seem to enjoy them, at least on occasion. But it wasn’t always a world of open arms acceptance for the hot dog. Up until about the mid-twentieth century, the hot dog was considered the food of the low lives and largely unfit for consumption by respectable Americans. In affluent communities like Scarsdale, New York, and Evanston, Illinois, hot dog sales were banned, and Hot dog vendors and advocates, after much finger pointing, were made to defend their wares from allegations that the products contained actual dog meat, launching campaigns to change the name to “franks,” “red hots,” and even “hot pig and cow.” It wasn’t until President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, according to an article in The Atlantic, came forward with his proud love of hot dogs that the tide began to turn for one of America’s most enduring forms of fast food. FDR’s hot dog exploits were well documented for the time, and it seems every time he indulged in a hot dog snack the press was there to take it into account. The biggest story came in 1939, when FDR made international news by serving hot dogs to England’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. By then, the hot dog’s reputation had improved enough that New York’s exclusive Gourmet Society had “officially recognized” it, calling it better than the food at an average small-town hotel. And then, for those who were willing to accept it, the hot dog got its long coming redemption.

While hot dogs remain a national favorite, consumers still remain weary of its not so savory qualities – namely its ingredients, nitrates and all. Still there is no stopping the tide of hot dog consumption (especially at the world famous Nathan’s in Coney Island) and its cheap and cheerful way of signaling summer in America for those willing to look the other way and take a bite of this iconic snack.

Will you be partaking in some hot dog snacking this summer, or are they too gross and objectionable to consider?

Read more: 4th of July, All recipes, Appetizers & Snacks, Following Food, Food, Health, , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

50 comments

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10:28PM PDT on Jul 25, 2012

Hot dogs are completely nasty. Corn dogs are good everyone in a while.

2:07PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

Once a year I indulge in a hot dog or two. Oh, to be young and invincible once again! :-)

11:42AM PDT on Sep 3, 2011

Good article - *Now take me out to the ball game.* LOL - Thanks

12:04AM PDT on Aug 1, 2011

no way. Not meat, not faux meat.

8:19PM PDT on Jul 28, 2011

I'm not really a hot dog person myself... not my thing! :)

5:37AM PDT on Jul 25, 2011

...thanks but I don't eat animals

9:35AM PDT on Jul 18, 2011

Moderation in everything...even if this is your favorite food!

9:35AM PDT on Jul 18, 2011

Moderation in everything...even if this is your favorite food!

3:27AM PDT on Jul 14, 2011

Corn dogs are better, but, I'm diabetic. So I eat healthier food.

12:00PM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

Not a hot dog fan.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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