Raw Dog by Jamie Loftus, Book Review

It’s been a while since I lasted posted. I’m getting back into that with Raw Dog: The Naked Truth About Hot Dogs, by comedian, writer, and podcaster, Jamie Loftus. If you are unfamiliar with her work, the New Yorker article I linked to is worth reading before diving into Raw Dog. I came upon this book after Rachel Twigg, a priestly colleague had posted about it on social media.

The cover of Jamie Loftus's Raw Dog.
Raw Dog cover

People love hot dogs. When serving lunches to the community at Holy Trinity, we served soup in the winter and hot dogs in the summer. As the weather started to warm up, the desire and requests for hot dogs increased far faster than the outdoor temperatures that made serving them practical.

Raw Dog is a difficult book to classify. It’s part comic memoir, part history, part activist, and part social study. I suppose you could call it a hot dog in book form. Much like the hot dog, the book is satisfying in the moment, but doesn’t fare quite as well on reflection.

Reading Raw Dog makes me think of the idea, attributed to the Persians, that one should make any major decision while drunk, and then the next day, when sober. Except that Loftus didn’t seem to do the second step. The book is based around a pandemic tour of the U.S., where Loftus seeks out the best hot dogs in the country. Trying 3 or 4 different dogs each day.

That’s an idea that clearly doesn’t sound like it was thought through in a sober condition. However, we wouldn’t have this very entertaining and informative book had such forethought occurred.

As we embark on this road trip with Jamie, her boyfriend, dog, and cat, we soon realize we are in for a wild ride. Raw Dog captures a moment during the Covid pandemic, when things were seeming hopeful and full of promise. Yet as the trip progresses we see how fleeting and faint those hopes were.

In these histories of the hot dog, and hot dog restaurants, the reader encounters well-honed stories which hide dark realities. Whether it’s how hot dogs are made. How the large meat manufacturers lied and helped spread Covid, or any number of other falsehoods.

We learn about how a poverty food has been upscaled, and made increasingly affordable. There are stories of how the white upper-class purveyors of hot dogs appropriate other cultures to market their products Until reading this book, I didn’t realize that selling pickles has such a sexualized history.

Hot Dogs worth celebrating.

Despite this, the hot dog, not only survives, but thrives. It has that snap that Loftus is constantly looking for. It’s quick and cheap. While the practices used to produce it are abusive(if you read the book and missed that, reread it), it embodies much of what is good about the United States.

The hot dogs status as a poverty food also lends to the celebration. It can serve as consolation. It’s a great food to share with friends, but it’s also great when you’re left on your own. The hot dog doesn’t let you down even when the bun is untoasted and falls apart.

Whatever else, the hot dog is a constant. When relationships end, when illness strikes, the hot dog is always there.

As Loftus is a comedian, I should note, the book is very funny. The humour in the book is often sexual and scatological in nature. Raw-dogging, for the unfamiliar, refers to sex without a condom. Given that the subject is hot dogs, often covered with various chilis, this seems to be appropriate. Beyond that there are a lot of ironic takes on capitalism that make unpleasant truths slide down more easily, much like Joey Chestnut’s water aided hot dog consumption.

Summing Up:

In the end, Raw Dog is a little like offering all sorts of vegetable toppings on a hot dog. It adds an element of healthiness to the dog. Though, it’s always at risk of getting overwhelmed by the tasty, yet questionable dog itself.

You may get readers to unwittingly digest unpleasant truths about U.S. capitalism and the harm it causes. However, you are just as likely to pick off the vegetables, or hard truths, and focus on the tasty, but ultimately unfulfilling, unhealthy wiener of exploitation.

Still, I have no plan to give up hot dogs. Who knows, this year, I may even try one of Winnipeg’s specialties, the Jets Dog. The video is of a homemade version.

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