WASHINGTON _ Think of it as The Battle of the Hot Dogs.
Tofu vs. meat.
On Wednesday, National Hot Dog Day, the American Meat Institute and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals waged war.
On the side of the meat eaters, the meat industry’s trade group hosted its annual cookout in the Rayburn Senate Office Building courtyard. It was a glutton’s dream: 4,300 hot dogs, 840 beers, 840 sodas and 600 Twinkies.
All served up by suited executives who worked hard to charm the guests. Lobbyists wearing aprons grilled hot dogs and sausages.
Red, white and blue balloons clung to pillars. Patio chairs surrounded a fountain. Retired baseball players signed autographs. And guests gorged themselves. Pork, beef and turkey hot dogs were buried in buns, smothered by condiments and stacked on paper plates.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez and his staff reveled in the chance to have a hot dog.
“The hot dog is an American icon,” exclaimed Gutierrez, a Democrat from the U.S. hot dog capitol, Chicago.
In the best tradition of Capitol Hill interns, Martin Arteaga, an intern in Gutierrez’s office, dug into his share of the smorgasborg. “We don’t get paid,” he said. “This is our opportunity to get as much free food as we can.”
But one intern was turned away because he didn’t have an invitation.
“Word on the Hill was that the hot dog shin-dig was a free for all, but the trough was closed to the public,” Davy Volner said.
Outside with anti-meat-eaters, he mustered up some courage and tried a tofu hot dog.
“It’s pretty good, but it doesn’t taste the same,” Volner said. He went back for seconds.
Part of the pitch from the tofu purveryors was good health. To make their point, three buxom blondes wearing red-white-and-blue bikinis dished out the hot dogs made from tofu, a vegetarian meat substitute derived from soybeans.
The American Meat Institute said the tofu hot dog, made by Yves Veggie Cuisine, should be called an “analog product,” or a copycat hot dog.
Janet Riley, spokewoman for the meat institute, eats about six hot dogs a week, usually with chili. “If it doesn’t have meat in it,” said Riley, ” then it’s not a hot dog by definition.”
Caught in the hot dog crossfire was a vacationing Wisconsin family, who stopped at the tofu table for a snack – not a statement about meat.
Anne Lukach, 7, is a hot dog connoisseur. Every school day, her mother packs a thermos of hot water with a hot dog inside. It’s the only lunch Anne will eat, said her mother, Jane Lukach.
But the tofu hot dog won her approval.”It was kinda good,” said Anne Lukach. “I liked that there were vegetables in it, and it was healthy.”
The tofu-supporters promoted their version of the hot dog as fat-free, cholestorol-free and preservative-free. But that might not be enough to get her to buy it for her daughter, Jane Lukach said.
“It doesn’t do her health much good,” she said “if it just sits on the plate.”