Hey Chris, what are we eating? - A look into the hot dogs at U.S. Cellular Field

Hey Chris, what are we eating? - A look into the hot dogs at U.S. Cellular Field

For the past few weeks, WSO Researcher/Historian/Bon vivant Chris Lamberti has been investigating the process by which some of the food we consume at the ballpark is made.

Suffice it to say, it’s time to pull him out of the field.  Both to see what he’s found and for his own sanity

So, Chris, what are you working on?

A food discussion began in the comments of a WSO post a while back around the same time I had been reading about and watching some films on food production in this country.  I wondered if I could find out more about the food we eat at US Cellular.

A Vienna Beef hot dog with grilled onions and mustard and a bag of peanuts are my go-to at the game.  I decided to start with the hot dog.  Attempting to learn more about where it comes from and the people involved in making it.  It’s history as well.

Where does the history of the hot dog and the White Sox start to intertwine?

Well, did you know that the Vienna Beef company got its start selling hot dogs at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago?  People went nuts over them.  Though I’m not sure how discerning people’s tastes were back then, it was the same world’s fair where Pabst beer got the “blue ribbon.”

So to investigate hot dogs at U.S. Cellular Field is to investigate Vienna Beef.  How fruitful was looking for thorough information on their process?  I imagine it’s to their benefit to put up some roadblocks between the common man and their recipe

Maybe detours is a better metaphor than roadblocks.  Like, you’re driving along Interstate Life’s All Good thinking, “I wonder what’s in my Vienna Beef hot dog,” and then you see an “All Traffic Must Exit” sign.

Then you see another sign with a right arrow that reads, “Our products are made to the highest standards of quality and safety.”  Then a left arrow and “The meat used in our beef products is 100% domestic beef and beef trimmings from a carefully selected group of suppliers.”

You drive straight for a while and intermittent signs read, “From the moment a shipment of USDA-inspected beef arrives at our Chicago plant-and even before-we adhere to the highest standards of cleanliness and food safety,” and “At Vienna we follow the very latest governmental regulations for sanitation and food handling practices.”

Finally, as you make your way back onto I-LAG the last sign reads, “You can be sure that everything we make-and the way we make it-is backed by our unwavering commitment to quality.  Drive safely and for goodness sake, have a nice day!”

Is there anything to differentiate their PR work from the typical meat supplier?

To be fair to Vienna Beef, their preparation methods are pretty intensely advertised.  They seem pretty conscious of the kind of reputation hot dogs have for quality.  They offer public tours of their factory on N. Damen.  You can watch Vienna Beef hot dogs being made on You Tube.

I sent an email with a few pointed questions via their website, and a Vienna Beef rep got back to me pretty quickly.  Vienna also uses union labor, which is a good thing because you assume that their workers are receiving a decent wage and benefits.

But that’s still the information they’re making readily available, which I doubt would have kept you busy for so long if it was sufficient.  What level do you have to go to in order to find some of the real inconsistencies in quality?

For that, you need to get down the living and slaughtering conditions of the cattle themselves.

Since this already running fairly long, check in for the 2nd part of this feature to see what Chris uncovered.  We’re not trying to tease; it should go up around 2pm (Here’s the link)  To tie you over until then, here’s an exhaustive list of Chris’ sources:


Sources/Additional Reading:

Vienna Beef: Website: http://www.viennabeef.com

YouTube Food Network’s “Unwrapped”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YShN_wJ0E4

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vienna_Beef

On Dining Chicago Website: http://www.diningchicago.com/blog/2010/07/06/the-chicago-style-hot-dog-a-masterpiece/

Vienna Beef Workforce UFCW Local 1546 http://www.ufcwlocal1546.org/index.php?link_id=3&news=1

Pink Slime: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_slime http://www.newsnet5.com/dpp/news/consumer-concerns-about-whats-in-ground-beef

Consumer advocate concerns over meat production:

“The Jungle 2000: Is America’s Meat Fit to Eat?” http://www.whistleblower.org/storage/documents/the_jungle.pdf

“THE USE OF HORMONES IN ANIMAL PRODUCTION” http://www.fao.org/docrep/004/X6533E/X6533E01.htm

Sustainable Table http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/hormones/

More food science: “Differences in natural steroid hormone patterns of beef from bulls and steers” http://jas.fass.org/content/76/6/1621.full.pdf

“Food Q&A: Just what is ‘natural’ flavoring?” http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/4676616/ns/today-food/t/food-qa-just-what-natural-flavoring/#.T6voNOtYvh5

USDA: “Beef….from Farm to Table|USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Factsheets/Beef_from_Farm_to_Table/index.asp

Relevant documentary films: Food, Inc http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1286537/

King Corn http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1112115/

MLB.Com Ode to the Hot Dog: http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20040831&content_id=843024&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=null 


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