What’s In Your Hot Dog?

I’m not a vegetarian, but thanks to a runaway cholesterol score, I am on the way. I eat very little meat, and no red meat at all. I have learned to adapt, and I can honestly say that I almost never covet the steaks that my wife gets at restaurants now and then.

But I do, inexplicably, miss hot dogs. You know, the cheapo sausages that kids love to eat with Kraft Dinner (Google it if you don’t live close to the Canadian border or love the Barenaked Ladies). I used to love them. I would still love them, if I could eat them. You know those dogs at the ball game or the convenience store that have been on the “hot dog roll-o-matic” for three days? The ones that are so rubbery that you can almost bend them into a complete circle before they break? I miss eating them on a white, processed bun that has a half life of roughly two years. I miss getting them at the local Dairy Queen in a white sleeve shaped like a dachshund, the perfect payload delivery system for 3.5 ounces of mystery meat and 4.5 ounces of ketchup.

In fact, I used to eat them with so much ketchup that you could barely see the hot dog (take that, mustard-only hot dog snobs). I could never understand those competitive eating contests where some 90-pound woman with the metabolism of SpaceX launch system squishes them up and then packs them into her mouth like a psychotic chipmunk. How can those “athletes” savor the sweet, smoky flavors of all those horrible, beautiful preservatives? What a waste.

“But hold on, Jay,” I hear you saying. “Don’t you know what hot dogs are made of?” Of course I do, and I even recall when I first heard that interesting gastronomical fact. I must have been about eight, and one of my friends repeated what his dad had told him about “lips and blah blah,” and I sort of remember just logging the information and continuing to eat my hot dog without skipping a beat. In fact, I bet I have been asked “don’t you know what’s in those things?” a hundred times in my life. And it never stopped me from eating hot dogs. It never even slowed me down, much to the chagrin of those trying to gross me out.

The only person who could stop me was my doctor. And for the record, my genetics were the real problem, not my beloved dogs. Thanks mom and dad.

When I look back, I think I understand now why I was able to keep consuming those tubes of pink slime even as all of the other adults around me switched to bratwurst (which sounds much classier for some reason – like a German roadster): I kept eating hot dogs because I had an unwavering focus on the result rather than the process. I was a living, breathing example of the cliche “you don’t want to see how the sausage is made.” For my taste buds, the end simply justified the means.

I know people who say “after I worked in a restaurant, I couldn’t eat out any more.” For some reason I worked in several restaurants during college and had the opposite reaction: “Huh? Looks like I’ve been eating food off the floor for all these years, and I never even knew it. I guess that means food off the floor won’t kill me.” Once you accept that the undertaking is disgusting, you can really appreciate the beauty of the finished product.

The creative process is pretty much the same as making a hot dog. It can be hard to watch. Thankfully, our clients don’t mind. Instead, they tell us “We don’t care how it gets made, we only care how it tastes.” Good branding is powerful, but often messy – at least in the beginning. When it works, though, it is worth every challenging minute you’ve spent cooking it up. Just ask any of our customers.

Today, I eat veggie dogs. They’re not as good, but I’m making the best out of my situation. And the truth is, I probably don’t want to see how they are made, either. I just want to open ten or so of those little ketchup packets and go to town.