Taking a Sound Bite Out of Nathan's

by Pamela Teisler-Rice

The VivaVine: Volume #4, No. 4; Sept./Oct., 1995

As a vegetarian activist, part of The VivaVegie Society, my primary thrust has been to get out on the sidewalk to confront Mr. and Ms. Pedestrian about the vegetarian lifestyle. I've decided that my little part to play in this life will always be the pursuit of a vegetarian world. I live to spread the good word however I am able, but mostly by the use of my one on one technique on the street corner, at the parade, or at the street fair.

Now, I never miss an opportunity do my street advocacy .... But sometimes I've found, you've got to bring out the big guns. Sometimes, you want to reach not just a few people with your necessarily verbose answers to meat-eater questions. You want to reach a whole bunch of people, a whole world full of people ... with just a sound bite.

Vegetarians need to continue to get attention if we're ever going to get out of our invisible little ghetto. And ultimately that was the intent of The VivaVegie Society and Big Apple Vegetarians when we went out this past 4th of July to the 80th annual Nathan's hot dog eating contest at Coney Island. The event, it happens, has just been sitting there for all of these years virtually begging to be used as a venue for the vegetarian cause. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that we vegetarians are finally getting organized enough to really put on a good show, because that is indeed what we did.

Perhaps I should explain: this hot dog eating contest is the little darling of the media. Like lemmings, every year they traipse out to that original Nathan's at the infamous Coney Island to watch a dozen or so lunkheads cram hot dogs into their mouths like there was no tomorrow.

Now, The VivaVegie Society has many times invited the media to its events with little success. Our issue, vegetarianism, it seems is still just a little bit ahead of its time. So, until vegetarianism becomes as prevalent in the news as say AIDS or Bosnia, our best strategy is to not just wait for the media to come to us. We must go to them. So we had our media and it was our issue too. Well, sort of -- hot dogs of course are really just a by-product (read: waste product) of that meat industry which is the main target of our wrath. But, come on, hot dogs are such an easy target -- a great place for us vegetarians to start prying open the door on our issues.


So there we were, all ten of us vegetarian activists standing shoulder to shoulder armed with a great little sound bite of a flyer, entitled: "What is a hot dog?" (Each of us also wore the flyer on our chests and/or backs as well.) We had people come up to us with one outstretched hand calling out to get a copy of that flyer, the other hanging on to a hot dog. "Let me have one of those," we heard over and over. "Oooh! Is that what a hot dog is?" we'd hear next.

But this was just the "one on one." The miracle was yet to happen when we got our sound bite. (Glory hallelujah, we got our sound bite.) Two of us were broadcast worldwide over CNN and Headline News (two Ted Turner cable stations), described as vegetarians from The VivaVegie Society -- yours truly holding an illustrative copy of the "What is a hot dog?" flyer, reciting the "ingredients." I read: "Carcasses from old or thin cattle and swine; cheeks, jowls, hearts, tongues, lips, eyelids, gums, intestines, ears, nostrils, tails, snouts, tendons, windpipes, livers, kidneys, salt, fat, bone, blood, and preservatives."

I read the list for all the world to ponder. And much of the CNN segment revolved around this flyer and "those vegetarians" out there distributing literature. The litany of ingredients I gave was edited into the segment three times, as the hot dog aficionados made their comments about us as prompted by Jeannie Most, the CNN reporter.

So can we call this a little coup for the vegetarians? Most definitely. A Bloomberg wire service story revealed at the end of June that Nathan's Famous Inc.'s advertising budget for the New York City vicinity is nearly $1 million. The VivaVegie Society and Big Apple Vegetarians put a damper on the biggest promotional day of the year for them. We can only wonder how many people saw that segment on CNN. We can only wonder how mad Nathan's was by our display. Mission accomplished! Yes!

Read about how the New York City Police Department feels that vegetarians are a menace to society... ur, Nathan's. One of VivaVegie's own gets arrested.

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