We Americans celebrate lots of things on July 4: Independence -- whatever it might mean for each of us. Family. Friends. Summer. And hot dogs. Yes, Americans celebrate hot dogs.
According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Americans consume 155 million hot dogs each July 4: That's enough to stretch from L.A. to D.C. more than five times. And the iconic Coney Island hot-dog eating contest celebrates its 98th year this Thursday, with 12 men and women competing in hopes of winning the title of hot dog eating champion. These are but two examples of our love affair with a cylindrical tube of by-products known as hot dogs.
This post is an invitation to reconsider your Fourth of July menu. Here are five reasons to celebrate your independence from a diet that promotes environmental devastation, obesity, disease, and animal suffering.
Reason 1: You love America. July 4 is a day not only to celebrate our good fortune to be American, but also to consider our individual responsibility for America's well-being. As confusing as it was before I began to educate myself, I now understand that the very best way I can care for my country, truly, is to refrain from eating animal products. I used to love burgers as much as the next person. But the truth is that animal agriculture is destroying America -- our air, our water, our topsoil, our biodiversity. And as the leading cause of global warming, it is destroying entire communities, and costing human lives. (Think of the devastation caused by Irene, Lee, and Sandy.) Here are just two of thousands of ways that our beautiful country is struggling under the weight of industrialized agriculture: 1) Midwestern farms are pumping 13 trillion gallons of water a year from the Ogallala aquifer that supplies water to a multi-state region. Why? Mostly for beef production. Many believe that the aquifer will be dry in 25 years, rendering states like Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Texas uninhabitable. 2) Because animals are so densely packed on today's industrial farms, they produce more manure than can be absorbed by the land as fertilizer. The resulting manure runoff has created 230 dead zones along much of coastal United States, including much of the once pristine Chesapeake Bay.
2.You love animals. If you do, I invite you to consider that the hot dogs and hamburgers you eat on July 4 are made from pigs -- some of the most exceptional individuals I've ever known -- and cows -- gentle, kind, and sensitive animals. To consider that just as your dog and cat greet each new day with anticipation, pigs and cows do, too, if given the chance.To consider that any ten pigs are as individual as any ten dogs, or any ten humans. At Catskill Animal Sanctuary, for instance, Franklin is high strung and moody, Nadine is sweet and serene, and Amelia is a goofy, in-your-face imp. I'm sure it will surprise you that many pigs love to swim. As I wrote in my new book, Animal Camp, all hearts yearn to sing. I don't think this to be true. I know it to be true. Even if you differ with me on this one -- if you believe, for instance, that cows, pigs, and chickens were put here for us to eat -- at least acknowledge that you're eating a someone, not a something. And acknowledge that they suffer mightily for your choice. At least give me that. And then think about what you really mean when you say the words, "I love animals."
3. While you may not be a health nut, you probably don't want to eat toxic food. Many doctors acknowledge that eating animal products is unhealthy. The facts are compelling: vegetarians are less likely to develop many forms of cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. They're less likely to be overweight, and less likely to have chronic conditions like allergies and acne. Yet as bad as the consumption of animal products is for us, eating highly processed meat is one of the worst dietary choices we can make. After reviewing 7,000 clinical studies of the links between diet and cancer, The World Cancer Research Fund concluded that processed meats (hamburgers, hot dogs, meat in frozen dinners, sandwich meats, bacon, etc.) are dangerous for human consumption, citing numerous studies including one that noted a 67 percent increase of pancreatic cancer among those who regularly ate processed meat.
4. Hot dogs are made of throats, nerves and blood vessels, etc. The spices that make a hot dog taste good, like paprika, are in veggie dogs too. But what's not in a veggie dog might be the best part about them. Conventional dogs are made using a process called Advanced Meat Recovery, which "squeezes cow bones to force out any meat still clinging to them after the animal is slaughtered." According to the USDA, this can include any "part of the muscle... which is found in the tongue, diaphragm, heart, or esophagus, with or without the overlying fat, and the portions of bone, skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which... accompany the muscle tissue."
5. Veggie dogs TASTE BETTER. Mind you, not all of them. Some are disgusting, frankly. But others taste better than the most delicious Ball Park Frank I ever ate. For instance, Field Roast, my favorite veggie dog company, "believes 'real' is better than fake." The Field Roast Frankfurter has a wheat base, with other tasty ingredients like garlic, paprika, onions, sea salt, and celery seed. They are available at Whole Foods and many other food stores. Tofurky dogs are another tasty option. Use their "find a store" link, or pick them up at your nearby Trader Joe's or Whole Foods.
I'm not an angry person. I'm not a militant animal rights activist. I'm an American who loves my country, loves animals, and who knows that a plant-based diet is not only better for the Earth and the animals... it's better for me, too. I'm hoping that on this special day, my words might resonate with those who would ordinarily dismiss them. I'm hoping that when I check the comments section after my post, that mixed in with the predictable knee-jerk comments from people too frightened to see the truth in almost any issue will be some from folks who say, "Ok, Kathy. I hear ya. I'm serving veggie dogs this July 4."
Now that would be something to celebrate.