Perhaps hot dogs are different than a hot dog. You don't grow up eating a hot dog, but you grow up eating hot dogs. There is a difference.

When I was a kid, there was always a package of them in the refrigerator. Mom would cut slots in them and microwave them for lunch in the summer, when all we did was lounge around the house and swim in the pool and play our games all day. And yes, I went through a phase where I thought they gave me headaches. And actually, they did, because they're very high in sodium, and if you are eating a lot of salt and also a lot of hot dogs, you're bound to feel sick at some point. I guess I figured out how to eat well somewhere along the timeline, because it doesn't bother me anymore.

I can't count them all. When I was in pre-school, they would serve half- hot dogs without any ketchup, on a half-bun (with badly-heated canned corn and generic fruit cocktail). They were served occasionally for elementary school lunch, whether I brought it from home or bought it for 80¢. At least Ada Lineweaver Elementary School had ketchup and mustard on the table. My grandmother baby-sat me a couple of times and she boiled them -- how I hated that! I'm not sure how, but it was definitely different. My father occasionally grilled them on the tiny gas grill we had, but that was very rare and probably not appreciated. To this day, the tastiest way to make hot dogs for me is to microwave them. One for 45 seconds, two for 1:30. I later found out that it didn't matter, because they were already cooked. My friends used to harass me for eating them "raw" -- they taste strange that way, not because of a cooking issue with the meat, but because all the grease is coagulated.

The hot dog stand, as famous an American institution as it is, was never a part of my life. I've eaten two, maybe three hot dogs from hot dog stands, total. I didn't discover sauerkraut until I saw it in the store and wondered what it was. Pickle relish was for making tuna salad. Chopped onions were for creamed hamburger.

This is what I can call American food. It is culturally important to me. Americans tend to lose their cultural perspective, because the history, economics, and politics of the United States encourage Americans to think of themselves as individuals, with no group identity and no unity. America is so heterogenous, especially in my quarter, that we don't really consider Chinese, Indian, or Mexican cuisine to be "foreign" -- we're all sharing this space, and your food is welcome. The hot dog, not surprisingly, was neither invented nor significantly altered by Americans, but it doesn't matter. And contrary to popular rumor, hot dogs contain nothing yucky or weird -- the FDA doesn't allow it. It's decent meat, if odd-tasting, bland, and not very good for you.