Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Hot Dogs on the 4th of July

This is a story about a co-worker of a friend of a friend. She went to a party on July 4, the one big summer holiday in the United States, and felt slightly ill by the time the fireworks rolled around. She woke up the next morning feeling very queasy. She missed work that day, and the next day too.

The cause of illness, everyone suspects, was the hot dogs. It was not that the hot dogs were improperly made or improperly cooked. It was that she was no longer used to eating them.

Hot dogs are still considered an all-American food, but they aren’t seen nearly as often as in the past. Five or ten years ago, they started on the transition from an everyday food to a festival food. By now, most people don’t eat them at all on any other day of the year except the 4th of July.

That can be a problem if your memory says you eat hot dogs all the time, but your gut protests that you haven’t eaten them since the last 4th of July. When foods make the transition from regular to occasional to festival, it’s to be expected that you might lose some of your digestive tolerance for them — and this is especially likely for a food whose origins are as unspeakable as those of hot dogs. When you get a hot dog at a summer festival, you don’t know and wouldn’t want to ask what parts of what animals are included. The contents of that pink tube could be any combination of virtually any parts of cattle, pigs, turkeys, chickens, texturized soy protein, and factory-processed soft cheese. It’s a food you can learn to tolerate, but it’s not obvious that you’ll get along with it if you’re eating for the first time, or the first time in ages.

When you adjust your eating habits, it can take some time for your thinking to catch up. I first found this out with mayonnaise, a food I was forced to give up because of a soybean oil allergy. A couple of years later when soy-free versions of mayonnaise became available I found that I could take them only in very small amounts. I had fallen out of the mayonnaise habit. I used so little of it I ended up throwing most of it away, and eventually I realized I should stop buying it. Other people in recent years have had similar experiences with factory beer. They used to drink it almost every day, so it’s hard to imagine that they’ve lost their stomach for it, but then when they try it again, perhaps on the 4th of July, they find it a hard brew to swallow.

There is a broad movement in the United States, particularly in the coastal regions, toward better food. This also means that lesser food items are being left behind, one by one, often fading away without anyone noticing. If you realize you are facing a food that you haven’t eaten in a year or more, it is only prudent to be as skeptical of it as you would be of a food you have never eaten. Try it in moderation and see how you do. Or, if it is one of those foods that comes with a story you wouldn’t want to hear, perhaps you might skip it entirely.