"Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made." -- Otto von Bismark.
To hear tell, our elected representatives in Sacramento, always a nimble bunch, moved swiftly and heroically this past week to confront a crisis.
Budgetary issues? Bullet trains? Prison reform? Immigration?
Well, no. Actually, our lawmakers united as one in an attempt to save hot dog vendors from Crescent City to Calexico.
Apparently, your friendly neighborhood wiener wagon was about to be crushed under the heel of jack-booted health inspectors who were, ahem, dogged in their pursuit of these street corner entrepreneurs.
Who wants to see the hot dog disappear? There's nothing like biting into a sizzling mixture of mechanically separated edible turkey tissue, mechanically separated chicken and pork, water, salt, ground mustard seed, sodium lactate, corn syrup, dextrose, sodium phosphates, sodium diacetate, sodium acorbate, sodium nitrate and flavor. All on a freshly baked bun.
Certainly not the state Assembly. According to the Los Angeles Times, that body's Health Committee took on the Herculean task of coming up with a legal definition for "hot dog."
Battered but unbowed after deliberations, they emerged with a change to state health law that states: "'Hot dog means a whole, cured, cooked sausage that is skinless or stuffed in a casing that may be known as a frankfurter, frank, furter, wiener, red hot, Vienna, bologna, garlic bologna or knockwurst and that may be served in a bun or roll."
Thus defined, health departments can hold hot-dog vendors, who boil already cooked wieners, to a less-stringent sanitation standard than food stands that cook raw foods, Justin Malan of the California Association of Environmental Health Administrators, told the Times.
If this bit of legislative genius is passed into law, cart jockeys will be able to freely peddle what an old vendor on Market Street in San Francisco used to call "Turkey in Tights."
It's responsive and responsible government, a concept we can all relish.
Except I don't believe it. That's not the way things get done in Sacramento.
A more likely scenario is that some lobbyist, possibly from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council or the American Meat Institute, was involved in cooking up this particular legislation.
After all, these are hard times in the hot dog biz.
Just a couple of years ago, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that eating processed meat, such as hot dogs, bacon, sausage or processed deli meats, is associated with a 42 percent higher risk of heart disease and a 19 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
A report from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund showed that people who ate 3.5 ounces of processed meat a day had a 36 percent greater chance of suffering from colon cancer. A 2010 study from the National Institutes of Health and AARP that found eating processed meat raises the chance of developing prostate cancer.
About the same time, the nonprofit Cancer Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of three New Jersey plaintiffs asking the court to compel the companies to place cancer-risk warning labels on hot dog packages sold in New Jersey.
Of course, the Cancer Project is a vegan advocacy group so you can draw your own conclusions about their motives. As one wag noted, "Vegans complaining about hot dogs is like the Amish complaining about gas prices."
Let's face it, the hot dog industry is not going to disappear anytime soon. In 2012, consumers spent more than $1.7 billion on hot dogs in U.S. supermarkets.
But a cancer scare here, a heart attack there, and before you know it, the hot dog has gone the way of the cigarette. You can't expect the industry to sit back while its product is being replaced by broccoli on a stick.
So the hot dog industry teamed up with state lawmakers for the perfect solution: Don't improve the product, lower the standards.
Problem solving, Sacramento style.