By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

It’s the Fourth of July, and we must have food!

But the requisite menu — barbecue, hot dogs, potato salad — doesn’t have to be as fattening or environmentally questionable as always. You can buy grass-fed meat locally, make a lower-calorie potato salad and add fresh fruit and veggies from the summer garden.

You can even…this is not unpatriotic… serve an alternative meatless hot dog. That is, one with no meat. A veggie dog or weeny wienie as the skeptics would say. There are several varieties to choose from, though your grocer may not have them all.

Here are a few of our favorites — and by favorite, we mean, we really LIKE these faux dogs  — with some info about the calories and fat content you’ll save over conventional hot dogs. We don’t even need to delve into how those old-fashioned hot dogs are processed with slaughterhouse tailings (who knows if those urban legends are true?), or dwell on the sad, inhumane confined agricultural farming operations (CAFOs) that corporations have created to mass produce those cheap hot dogs. These hot dogs are better for your heart and biological systems that…

Wait a minute, the veggie wiener is patriotic! It has less impact on the environment. It helps reduce the river pollution in North Carolina from industrial pork factories. Its manufacture generates fewer carbon emissions. It comes from renewable plant sources that are lower on the food chain. It’s humane, and yet grillable.

Smart Dogs, fat free and still owned by creators, Light Life .

And it tastes…well, you’ll have to be the judge of that.  We’ve personally tried all of the hot dogs or sausages listed here, except for the Field Roast Frankfurters, which are newer and difficult to find in our corner of the world. We can vouch for the
others though, more or less. Some might take a little getting used to. The uninitiated may want to start with the sausages or brats, which have more zing. Or turn your veggie hot dog into a (veggie) chili dog. That’s another good entry point. Here then is the list:

  • Smart Dogs by LightLife of Turner Falls, Mass., a small company founded in the 1980s. These soy and wheat gluten hot dogs have one big selling point that’s hard to overlook: They’re fat-free and weigh in at just 45 calories. We’ve overcooked them and found that they will get waterlogged, ruining their otherwise excellent mimicry of a regular ole’ meat dog. So don’t do that.
  • Smart Sausages by LightLife. These Tuscan-flavored sausages will bring more flavor than the Smart Dogs.  They’ve got spices, veggies and 7 grams of fat added. That’s still not bad, considering only one of those grams is saturated fat.

Yves makes it veggie, but it's owned by a big corporation, if that matters to you.

  • Hot Dogs by Yves Veggie Cuisine. These remind us that when you’re eating a veggie hot dog, you’re still getting a big dose of protein, 10 grams per hot dog in this case. Like Smart Dogs, the basic ingredients include soy and wheat gluten, both contributing protein. Sorry gluten-free folks, this one’s ruled out.
  • Jumbo Hot Dogs by Yves. These pack 16 grams of protein and zero sat fat and zero cholesterol. On the Yves website, the makers note that the protein in their veggie jumbo hot dog exceeds that in a comparable-sized meat jumbo dog, which has 9 grams of protein loaded with 9 grams of sat fat and 45 grams of cholesterol .  Yes, these veggie dogs have carbs, unlike meat wienies. But the 5 grams of carbs here aren’t the problem. It’s the carbs from refined sugars and grains that play havoc with our metabolism. Here’s Yves brag: “A special blend of spices and natural hickory smoke give our Meatless Dogs an authentic, traditional flavor. They taste just like the real thing but without the fat or cholesterol.” And if you find them bland, you can advance to Yves brats. A side note, that may be important to some consumers. Hain Celestial, which has become a big corporate player in the food industry, owns Yves Veggie Cuisine. Hain is at the center of an explosion of corporate buyouts of small, organic and natural food companies.

Field Roast Frankfurters sound zesty.

  • Field Roast Frankfurters are another option.  These promise “old world-style” taste that comes from the inclusion of garlic, onions and a blend of spices. We dunno yet how that came out, but the ingredient list suggests these may have more kick than their competitors’ hot dogs. They’re made with wheat gluten, apple cider vinegar, onions, tomato past and paprika, and safflower and palm fruit oils. Still only 1.5 grams of saturated fat.
  • Sausage Links by Field Roast, another family-owned company, this one based in Seattle, can dress an Italian pasta dish or make a sandwich. These come in Italian, Mexican Chipotle and Smoke Apple Sage varieties. We stick with Italian, which does have a rich blend of spices. Fennel adds a distinctive touch to this version, and we like it. Here’s a funny blog comparing Tofurky and Field Roast Sausages. Frankly (heh), we’re not as picky as this reviewer. We like Field Roast and Tofurky sausages. (Here’s a funny blog comparing Tofurky and Field Roast sausages.)

Tofurky, known for veggie turkeys, makes a good sausage too.

  • Tofurky, made by the family-owned company Turtle Island Foods Inc., in Oregon, also makes a hot dog and a jumbo hot dog.Their formula includes soy and wheat proteins, but also adds pea and oat fiber. They’ve got 4.5 grams of fat, and no saturated fat. They’re worth a try. Here’s their pitch: “We reformulated our Tofurky Franks by adding pea protein for a firmer dog that stands up better on the grill and has a heartier, hot doggy bite! Like all Tofurky products, these are all: -based on organic soy protein; – made with NO Hexane Extracted; ingredients; – made with Non GMO ingredients; – 100% meat free (vegan). Gotta like the no-GMO promise.
  • Tofurky’s Italian Sausage claims to be the No. #1 selling veggie sausge, and derives its flavor from sun-dried tomatoes and basil. It’s got more fat (13 grams) and calories than the hot dogs listed here, but hey! it’s a sausage.
    Our favorites? If we could put anything we wanted on a bun, it would be a Smart Dog with veggie chili or a Tofurky Italian sausage with onions and marinara sauce. And we will.

(Thanks to Field Roast for our promotional picture of a Chili Dog.)

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