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About the Foundation
Street food
The psychology of a hotdog
Judd Grill

If he had to choose a final meal, psychoanalyst Judd Grill would request a hot dog.

©Louise Kohli

I have always said that if I had a choice of my final meal before "the end", it would be a simple hotdog on a basic bun, classically adorned with mustard and relish. I have frequently questioned why the lowly American hotdog would rise above – and push aside – the wonderful flavours and extraordinary cuisines of the world to become my last supper. I found the answer in a single word: comfort.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of eating a hotdog at the ubiquitous hotdog stands, carts and diners that peppered New York City at that time – Nedicks, Grant’s, Chock Full o’ Nuts, Nathan's, Gray’s Papaya. Only the carts serving a particular brand of "dog" called Sabrett would do, otherwise I’d pass on by. The Sabrett featured ground beef pressed into a particularly crispy skin. The combination of the flavourful meat with the crunchy texture of its skin aloft its soft bun was pure hotdog perfection.

Of course, the hotdog was way more than just a hotdog to me. As early as three years of age I can recall my parent’s unhappy marriage. At that time, a hotdog was an easy and affordable way to appease a sensitive child. It made everything right with the world, and distracted me from my parents’ obvious unhappiness. As I grew older and developed a more sophisticated palate, I discovered Italian sausages and German wursts which featured the same texture (just thicker) with pork or veal inside. These European variants were as comforting as the hotdog of my early childhood and remain so to this very day. 

As a psychoanalyst I have worked to understand my childhood psychic traumas in order to gain clarity and resolution. My unfulfilled father humiliated and emasculated me more times than I care to remember. I have come to recognize that the hotdog became a phallic, edible representation of my own power. On some level, I used our shared love of it both to align myself with my father and to control him by getting him to buy me one. I could symbolically be as large as he, and even defeat him through its consumption – a classic case of Oedipal loss and victory. Simultaneously, eating hotdogs with my mother was a metaphor for the erotic feelings that the toddler experiences during this formative period of development in which I yearned to replace the role of my father in her life.

Clearly, food plays a critical and powerful role in the formation of a child's template throughout the world. For me, the lowly American hotdog was a trusted companion, a source of happy memories, a sense of pleasure and power, an emotional safe haven in a sea of ambiguity. What better and more profound choice could I possibly make for my final meal on earth?

Judd Grill


Judd Grill lives and works in New York.

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