July is National Hot Dog Month

July is National Hot Dog Month, and according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Americans will be consuming the infamous little red tubes of "meat" in record numbers this summer. The Council estimates that over seven billion hot dogs will be eaten by Americans between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  There are very few foods that have a month dedicated to them and perhaps it is time to change that tradition, since the All American hot dog contains some ingredients that have created our all American health crisis.

            Being a Cardinals fan, our family enjoys going to watch them play once each summer. It is virtually impossible to find anything worth eating at big league ball games.  Hopefully, that may be changing.  A reader sent me an article from the Mother Jones magazine entitled, “Is This the Beginning of the End of Junk Food at Stadiums?”  It is the most encouraging article I have read in a long time; going to a game may get greener—and more delicious!

            The San Francisco Giants have growing beneath their scoreboard water-saving aeroponic towers that grow as many as 44 veggie plants each.  Fertilizer is made from coffee grounds!  Yes, at a baseball field! 

            At At&T Park, is a 4,320-square-foot edible garden space that will grow seasonal produce year-round while hosting outdoor classes on sustainability, urban farming, and healthy eating for Bay Area children.

             Giants’ outfielder Hunter Pence says it is really catching on, at least among Giants team members.  At the grand opening of the garden, he said at first his teammates made fun of his kale salads from the garden—until they tried them and now they’re a team favorite.  He has been a healthy-eating ambassador and has converted the likes of Buster Posey and other teammates to the wonders of eating green. 

            Will this trend have potential anywhere outside of San Francisco?  Hot dogs and other junk food is what a visit to the ballpark means to most Americans.  The Giants don’t expect the garden to provide more than a fraction of the 44,000 fans’ needs but AT&T management said, “The main point of the garden is to be an educational one: how food grows, and that you can grow it even in small, challenging spaces."

            Many big league ball players support worthy causes with part of the huge salaries they pull in from playing baseball.  Most of them support groups that are trying to find cures for certain diseases like heart disease, cancer, autism, etc.  Cardinals are also encouraging people to stop using tobacco (not long ago many of them had a jaw full themselves) and to stay away from drugs. 

Hunter Pence, who is a fitness and health food buff, may be starting a new trend---prevention!  He has been a big supporter of the edible garden at AT&T Park, and at the grand opening he took a team of nine-year-olds and not only showed them some of the finer points of baseball, but the more important focus was on the finer points of healthy eating.  The group ate lunch made from the sort of ingredients that are in full bloom in the garden.  Pence has been a big supporter of the Giants Community Fund and the Junior Giants programs, which will be used to teach the kids the value of healthy eating.

Giants CEO and President Larry Baer said the garden is the first facility of its kind in Major League Baseball and may be the first in any pro sport.  They are hoping other teams will follow their lead in encouraging good health through eating green.

             After the All-Star break next week, the garden’s concession stands will serve food and drink made with garden vegetables and other locally produced ingredients. Fans can expect to see un-ballpark-like items, salads layered in Mason jars, fresh fruit smoothies, and garden vegetable flatbreads and sandwiches.

            I have to admit that hot dogs are my favorite junk food and I eat one occasionally—usually when I am at Bush Stadium.  Actually, one of those salads layered in a Mason jar would go real well with a hot dog.  Because of a new awareness of nutrition, some companies are making hot dogs without cancer-causing nitrates/nitrites.  It is too bad they think they still have to contain corn syrup.   

            Who is going to win the World Series this year?  I am betting on the Giants.  It makes sense that you can play better ball when you feel good—and to feel really good, it is important to eat healthful food.  Hopefully, we will get to see the edible garden when the Cardinals play the Giants this week.  I am concerned they will kill the energy drink slurping Cardinals.  I may have to change my allegiance.  A fellow Cardinals fan says, “That is crazy talk!”

(Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, and wrote a weekly column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at janicenorris34@yahoo.com)