Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I'm confused and hungry

Wherein if you want a true Coney Island dog you have to go to Flint, Michigan. Don't stop in Detroit, they don't know what the hell they're doing. That's the truth and if you know what I'm talking about you know I'm right. And don't try to tell me that any chili dog is a coney; that ain't right.

Article in the NY Times about organic hot dogs. Interesting article that presents a confusing picture of what "organic" really means. Does it mean grass fed? Lower fat and sodium? Nitrite free? A number of competing dogs are presented with the claim that organic weiners are finally beginning to equal the taste of conventional franks. Which I find odd. I'd think following the same process with a grass fed carcass as with a grain fed carcass, you'd end up with pretty much the same product, tastewise.

The confusing part comes near the top as the author writes "The key is that the curing code has recently been cracked." Pretty much declaring that organic hot dogs can't have sodium nitrites or nitrates. Ok, if someone can reinvent the curing process, that could be a good thing, or last a different thing worth trying. One problem, as Michael Ruhlman points out, the truth is obscured for marketing. Sodium nitrite is being replaced with celery juice. What is celery full of? That's right, nitrites:
Nitrite is a chemical that is found in green leafy veg, such as spinach and celery. There's nothing wrong with celery juice in hot dogs--in fact it's probably important in addressing the botulism concern in any smoked sausage, the main reason for nitrites in hot dogs--but to claim that these hot dogs don't contain nitrites is likely misleading.

I am not an advocate for nitrites (or the different sodium nitrate which is used exclusively for long term dry-cured sausages), I don't think we should put it in our soups and stews and ice cream and coffee, but I am an advocate for accurate information. Information on nitrites and their effects on our health, how cancer-causing nitrosamines are formed in foods containing nitrites, and how dangerous they are is sketchy at best. I'd like to know more.

Michael and Meg have both mention The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Another interesting sounding book and Meg has a recap of a discussion between Michael Pollan and Ruth Reichl. Basically, what we consider better for us is constantly being redefined. We'd like to think that buying organic benefits a local farm, but when Wal-Mart gets into the organic business we should realize instead of a small farm we're most likely speaking of a factory farm in China. Not to bash Wal-Mart or international trade...just saying that's the way it is. If you're capable of knowing you only support small, independent producers, then good for you. For most of us, we're still closely reading labels and doing the best we can. Sometimes convenience and cost wins out.

I'm still a few books away from ordering The Omnivore's Dilemma. Until then, I think I'll have time to order some pork belly and nitrites so I can cure my own bacon. Mmmm, bacon.


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