By Neha Talreja
Dr. Bruce Kraig, author of Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America, has been studying hot dogs for 25 years. Yep -- the American hot dog, late 19th century deviant of the German frankfurter, placed in a bun, and apparently given its joke name from its German pet name, "dachshund sausage."
"It turns out," Kraig says, "that hot dogs have a lot to do with our disgust with -- and jokes about -- eating dogs." His own obsession (with what is now getting disturbing and fascinating attention on viral blog "Hot Dogs or Legs") began with a facetious paper for the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery about Western taboo against eating dogs, after which Kraig was publicly denounced in the UK's newspapers, sent death threats, and naturally encouraged to pursue what might be even more gastronomically diabolical, the hot dog.
In actuality, the book is more about hot dog iconography and its role in American culture than what mysterious substances sometimes end up in the casing. Man Bites Dog is also collaboration with Chicago-based photographer Patty Carroll, who started photographing hotdog stands far before she met Kraig (through a mutual friend who owned a hot dog stand).
She saw the stands the same way he did. "I became more interested in the places themselves," says Carroll. "Such as the fact that they were mostly owned by either an immigrant guy or was a mom and pop operation." Her photographs feature the garish and funny signs and stands themselves, as well as the owners, many of whom were interviewed along with salespeople, manufacturers, and other people in the wiener business. After several years of work, they've finished a book about how central hot dogs and hot dog stands are to American popular culture, history, and as Kraig claims, "to our ideas about ourselves."
"Everyone went to them no matter how old or young, rich or poor, black or white," says Carroll. "A small but iconic American dream."
Hear more of Kraig's vast knowledge on the topic and see Carroll's photography tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Omnivore Books on Food, 3885a Cesar Chavez Street. Admission is free.