Even with peppers, onions and mustard, something doesn't seem right.
The surroundings are working well enough. The public address guy is doing the lineups and the crowd filing into Oriole Park at Camden Yards along Eutaw Street is suitably done up in Os caps and khaki shorts on a perfect night for real green-grass baseball.
The discordant note is this "hot dog." Flick your air quote fingers for emphasis, as this item is a kind of ironic idea of "hot dog," not to mention a sign of these changing times of ours. Nothing against progress, you understand, but perhaps the folks in the lab still have some work to do here.
This vegetarian "hot dog" is an experiment; even the fellow who manages Camden Yards concessions says so. This ballpark has a history of being adventurous with the food offerings, and who's to complain about that. A few years ago, they had a vendor hawking little bottles of Gallo white and blush wine in the expensive seats on the field level. It was good for laughs -- "BRIE MAN, HEY BRIE MAN!" yelled one heckler -- but not profits.
Now this baby -- new to Camden Yards this season -- has been placed into the experienced hands of the Reid family, which has been running a hot dog stand at the ballpark for nine years. From the Dogs Plus stand at a prime spot on the Eutaw Street concourse behind the centerfield bleachers they dispense regular hot dogs and hot dogs filled with jalapeno cheese and three kinds of sausage and chicken sandwiches and turkey burgers, all seared just right.
The veggie dogs are nicely seared, too. Also, oddly orange. The color is closer to carrot than pink flesh, which only stands to reason. No animals died for this dog.
But will this dog hunt?
Four months into the season, the numbers are not encouraging.
Mmm, vegetable gum
At the moment, per-game average sales come to a dozen veggie dogs sold per game from the Dogs Plus stand, just enough to feed the starting Orioles lineup, plus the pitcher and a couple base coaches. Roy Reid says his family's stand alone probably sells between 350-450 regular hot dogs per game, part of the total of about 5,800 dogs of several varieties sold by the many Oriole Park concession stands and vendors combined.
Asked why they added vegetarian hot dogs to the Camden Yards menu, David J. Haines, concessions manager, says "we understand there are people out there who don't eat meat."
Yes, somewhere. More all the time, it seems, if you trust current press reports. A recent Time cover story estimates that some 10 million Americans consider themselves vegetarian, although the report notes that the term is often used loosely. To be truly vegetarian is to eat no fish, no meat, no poultry -- nothing that ever walked, crawled, flew or had a face, period.
The old saw about witnessing the manufacture of sausage and legislation might well apply to meat hot dogs, but perhaps not the vegetarian dog. Not unless you're squeamish about the sight of enormous quantities of soy protein, wheat gluten, yeast extract, carrageenan, spices, evaporated cane juice, granulated garlic, vegetable flavors, vegetable gum, tomato pulp and potassium chloride.
It's that simple.
You add your own mustard and sauerkraut and perhaps a squirt of imagination, depending on your fealty to the original taste and texture of a meat hot dog.
The veggie dog is something else, but then the world is accommodating an array of moves in this direction. Even those global shrines to beef love, McDonald's and Burger King, have started adding vegetarian burgers to the menu.
Bite worse than its bark
At Camden Yards, Haines' staff tried several types of vegetarian hot dogs and settled on a brand made in Turners Falls, Mass., called the "SmartDog," a name smug enough to annoy any meat eater. Whether strict vegetarianism is smarter or even better for one's health is an arguable point. There's no question that a veggie hot dog delivers about half the calories and one-tenth the fat of a meat dog.
As to the eating experience itself -- well, there's another argument.
Sources closest to the story seem the least reliable on this point.
"I haven't tried it and I don't think I will," says Haines. "I'm not a fan of veggie dogs."
What about the man at the grill, Roy Reid?
"I personally have not tried them," says Reid, who works by day in sales and marketing for an automotive chemicals company. "If I'm going to get a hot dog, I want beef in it."
Ditto for his sister, Blondelle Reid-Hunter, a Howard County school teacher who on this night is serving customers at the cash register.
"I have not been brave enough," she says. "I like fresh vegetables. I don't like that tofu stuff."
Indeed, the texture of this "hot dog" approximates firm tofu, which seems hardly firm enough. This is particularly problematic given the casing, which is rather chewy, but that may be a result of Reid's tendency to grill the dogs for longer than the manufacturer recommends.