The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Did hot dogs increase American xenophobia?

As I eagerly await the start of the England-Columbia World Cup match that starts in a few minutes, I'm taking a moment to absorb Emily Atkin's report on the political implications of encased meats:

[T]he rise of cheap meats—fueled by hot dogs but also salisbury steaks—fed into more nationalist sentiments, too. Americans began to feel as though they were better than Europeans, who didn’t have enough land for grazing to make meat cheap enough for the masses. “If you’re a working-class factory worker in Liverpool, you’re not going to eat as much meat,” Kraig said. “But working-class Americans could get it, and they knew that,” feeding a patriotic sense of superiority that played into late-nineteenth century American xenophobia, as well. In turn, “Most Europeans were absolutely appalled” by the level of meat-eating in early America, Kraig said. Hot dogs brought Americans together while setting them apart from the rest of the world.

But it was twentieth-century advertisers who turned hot dogs into a nation-wide, values-linked symbol of American identity. In the 1930s and 40s, The Visking Corporation—which sold “Skinless”-brand wieners—advertised them as a July 4 food; a food for fighting soldiers; a food that was good for rationing (since there was “no peeling or waste”; and a food that was good for kids.

In the middle of the century, patriotism, nationalism, xenophobia, and an emphasis on traditional family structures proliferated regardless of party identity. The values that fueled hot dog patriotism, however, are held most strongly today within the Republican Party, which perhaps explains the political leanings of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. The group—which promotes July as National Hot Dog Month, July 19 as National Hot Dog Day, and holds an annual hot dog lunch for Congress—was founded by the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), which sends 81 percent of its political donations to Republicans. For years, groups like NAMI have lobbied against federal nutritional guidelines recommending eating less meat. Once, NAMI called a criticism of the meat industry an attack on the “American way of life.”

Because everything today is about politics. Even a food made of pork byproducts.

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