What's Really Inside a Hot Dog?

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iStock

At baseball stadiums, holiday cookouts, and in the dorm rooms of broke college students everywhere, hot dogs have become a staple meal. Each time we wield a wiener, however, rumors and innuendo over the food’s manufacturing integrity come flooding to the surface. Is this tubed meat made from monkey brains? Is there an underground network of hot dog companies that slip in cows’ feet as a filler? Why are hot dogs so nutritionally suspect?

Fortunately, most of your worst fears may be unfounded. Except for the feet. More on that in a moment.

Ever since Upton Sinclair uncovered the misdeeds of the meat industry in the early 1900s, the government has kept a close eye on animal product manufacturing methods. Gone were the sawdust and dog and horse parts that previously made up hot dogs and other highly-processed meats. Companies had to obey strict preparation guidelines that significantly reduced the chances of foodborne illness and forced them into using transparent food labels.

Hot dogs are no exception, though you might have to decipher some of the language to understand what you’re really biting into. Beef, pork, turkey, or chicken dogs originate with “trimmings,” a fanciful word for the discards of meat cuts that are left on the slaughterhouse table. That usually means fatty tissue, sinewy muscle, meat from an animal’s head—not typically a choice cut at Morton’s—and the occasional liver.

This heap of unappetizing gristle is pre-cooked to kill bacteria and transformed into an even more unappetizing meat paste via emulsion, then ground up and pushed through a sieve so it takes on a hamburger-like texture. A number of things could be added at this point, including ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to aid in curing, water, corn syrup, and various spices for taste. Less appetizing ingredients can also include sodium erythorbate, which the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council swears is not actually ground-up earthworms:

"In contrast to a popular urban legend, erythorbate is NOT made from earthworms, though the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports receiving many inquiries about erythorbate’s source. It is speculated that the similarity in the spelling of the words 'erythorbate' and 'earthworms' has led to this confusion."

Got that? No worms. After another puree, the meat paste is pumped into casings to get that familiar tubular shape and fully cooked. After a water rinse, the hot dog has the cellulose casing removed and is packaged for consumption. While not exactly fine dining, it’s all USDA-approved.

More skittish consumers should pay attention to packaging labels. If you see “variety meats” or “meat by-products,” that means the hot dog probably has heart or other organ material in the meat batter. Additives like MSG and nitrates are also common, though all-natural dogs usually skip any objectionable ingredients. If it’s labeled “all beef or “all pork,” you can be assured it's coming from muscle tissue of that animal, not organs.

But those “trimmings”? By definition, they can contain a lot of things that come off an animal, including blood, skin, and even feet. It’s all edible, though some might object to the very idea of eating random cow or pig parts. At least none of it is actual human meat, as some people feared when a Clear Lab food advocacy test in 2015 showed 2 percent of hot dog samples contained human DNA. That was more likely due to human error and trace amounts of hair or fingernails making their way into the batch, not a worker falling into the vat. Enjoy!

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What Are the Santa Ana Winds?

Satellite image of Santa Ana winds in Southern California.
Satellite image of Santa Ana winds in Southern California.
NASA/JPL-Caltech, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Two massive wildfires burning in California have now become the state's deadliest and most destructive. In Northern California, the Camp Fire near Chico decimated the town of Paradise and killed 29 people as of November 12, 2018. In Southern California, the Woolsey Fire started near Simi Valley northwest of Los Angeles, and has torched hundreds of homes in Malibu and other communities.

The National Weather Service says that a combination of high temperatures, low humidity, and gusty Santa Ana winds have created perfect conditions for cataclysmic fires.

What are these Santa Ana winds and why do they help create fire conditions?

Santa Anas are dry, warm (often hot) winds that blow westward through Southern California toward the coast. They're usually seasonal, and typically occur between October and March and peak in December. They originate when high pressure systems form over the high-elevation deserts of the Great Basin between the Sierra Nevadas and the Rocky Mountains. Air from the system flows clockwise, so winds on the southern side of the system push west towards the Pacific Ocean.

The winds pass over the mountains between coastal California and the inland deserts. As they flow downslope, the air gets compressed and rises in temperature at a rate of almost 29 degrees per mile of descent. While air's temperature rises, its relative humidity drops, commonly to less than 20 percent and sometimes to even less than 10 percent. The winds also increase dramatically in speed when they're forced through narrow mountain passes and canyons.

By the time the winds hit the coastal areas, they're very dry, warm, and moving fast. This is what makes them problematic. They dry out vegetation, making it better fuel for a fire—and once a fire starts, the winds fan the flames and help spread them.

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

So, why are the winds called "Santa Ana winds"?

"While the origin and cause of the Santa Ana winds are not in dispute," writes Robert Fovell, currently a professor of atmospheric and environmental sciences at SUNY Albany, "the origin of the name is."

One fairly popular explanation is that the name comes from a Native American word, santana, which means "devil wind" and was corrupted into Santa Ana. But according to Fovell, the Los Angeles Times, and other sources, no one has found any words similar to santana with that definition in any of the native languages of the area.

Another explanation is that the winds were named for Mexican politician and general Antonio López de Santa Anna, possibly in reference to dust storms kicked up by the cavalry he commanded. Santa Anna never operated in southern California, though, and spelled his name with two n's. The Oxford English Dictionary dismisses this etymology as having no foundation.

In the early 1930s, an article in the United States Naval Institute Proceedings suggested that the name might have originated with early Spanish explorers, who had a "custom of naming places and events for the saint's day on which they happened or were discovered." In this case, they might have noted the winds on St. Anne's day and named them for her. This also seems unlikely to historians, though, because a few Santa Ana winds, experienced for the first time, probably wouldn't have warranted naming—and the winds aren't recorded with any name until much later, anyway. St. Anne's feast day is also July 26, when a Santa Ana wind is unlikely.

The most common and accepted etymology, says Fovell, is that the winds' name simply derives from the Santa Ana canyon in Orange County.

This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.

Why Do Babies Learn to Crawl Before They Walk?

iStock/ozgurdonmaz
iStock/ozgurdonmaz

Fabian van den Berg:

Babies walk or dance before they crawl actually, well sort of, you’ll see.

Babies are amazing little creatures. They are very different from adults and should be treated as such. They aren’t born as blank slates, though; a lot of things are innate, and a lot of things are learned. And boy can they learn—not just by watching others do things, but also by experimenting. There’s a reason why early developmental psychologists called them "little scientists." They will form strategies on their own, test them out, and choose the best one.

We’ll focus on walking for now.

Newborns come fully equipped with a stepping reflex. If you happen to have a newborn at your disposal you can try it out (but support the head). By dragging them a bit over a surface, the feeling of their feet/soles touching will initiate a stepping reflex, it looks like they’re walking. (Don’t let go though, they are definitely not ready to stand on their own yet and will fall down.)

The reflex tends to be present for the first two months, sometimes returning right before they start to walk. It’s thought that the reflex helps to train the muscles and motor nerves. The reason why it disappears is thought to be because the legs become too heavy, the muscles grow faster than their strength. Basically, they become too chubby and the reflex doesn’t work anymore.

In a way, they are born with the ability to walk or dance (it differs a bit from baby to baby), but then lose it again because they grow so fast.

There are a lot more interesting and fun baby reflexes, like swimming and grasping, but that’s for another answer.

That brings us to toddlers and locomotion: Many parents will attest they looked forward to their baby being able to move on their own, and as soon as they did they missed the times the little bugger would stay put.

Infants can be very motivated, which is where the little scientist pops up. Having toys or anything interesting looking sitting around is very tempting. Kids love touching things, they explore, and they really want to go there… But how…

Should they wait for the big person to either bring them there or bring the shiny to them? No, of course not. They can move now—so off they go!

They will experiment and explore a lot of different ways of getting around. A very popular one is scooting. They are laying there (they’re good at that), but they want to be elsewhere. Almost all children will solve this conundrum by pulling or pushing themselves using their hands [and] scooting or shuffling across the floor. A popular and funny variation is scooting on their bums. If they can sit, they’ll prefer to sit and just use their arms and legs to push themselves around.

It’s not uncommon for children to be in this stage until they learn how to walk. It really is a matter of what works best for them.

Crawling is merely a more advanced version of scooting. Their legs become stronger and they are able to control them better. They will happen upon crawling by trial and error, and find that it can bring them from Point A to Point B faster than scooting.

The logic is simple to follow: I want to go over there, crawling works best, so crawling it is.

Strategy use is very common in children, you see it in many aspects. They will try out new things, compare it to old things, and decide on whatever works best. In the case of crawling it’s mostly about speed. But as I said before, not all kids crawl. For some scooting works best, and they’ll use it until they learn how to walk.

It’s also not strange to see them use different strategies, sometimes crawling, sometimes scooting. Usually this occurs when they are learning and experimenting with new strategies.

Children don’t need examples to learn, they are very capable on their own. They will try and discover things like the small scientists they are.

Crawling is one of those things. They don’t need to see it, they discover it, realize it works better than what they had before, and start using it more and more until something better (like walking) comes along.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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