Fried, boiled, barbecued or campfire roasted, there’s nothing more quintessentially “summer” than a classic hotdog, especially paired with white bun, French’s mustard, ketchup and relish.

While I loved this old standby as a child (who doesn’t love a good ol’ fashioned weiner roast?), as an adult, I’ve become far too informed about the preparation and seriously questionable (and potentially carcinogenic) ingredients in generic, store bought hot dogs, to consider consuming them.

Sure, hot dogs were mainly reserved for family camping trips to Quiet Lake and down the Yukon River as a child, but I thank dog my parents recognized that hot dogs were not part of any heart-healthy food group.

Most packaged hot dogs you’ll find at the grocery store contain pork and beef meat “trimmings” (hello cheeks, jowls and snouts), fat, flavourings, colouring, and preservatives like sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrite. Personally, if I’m going to indulge in meat, I’ll take mine wild or organic, preservative free, and void of mystery meat.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Health, studies are now providing increasing evidence that eating red meat on a regular basis may shorten your lifespan. Research has also linked red meat consumption to increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Processed red meats like bacon, hot dogs, sausage and salami are among the worst culprits.

In a study by the Harvard School of Public Health looking at the association between red meat consumption and mortality over the course of approximately 30 years, researchers found that an additional daily serving of unprocessed red meat increased the risk of total mortality by 13 per cent and an additional serving of processed red meat (including hot dogs) increased the risk of mortality by a staggering 20 per cent.

I’m not here to trash talk a cultural tradition, nor am I trying to dissuade you from enjoying this ubiquitous fare (I’m not that much of a weenie). I’m a firm believer that moderation is key and if you eat the odd processed dog here and there, you’re probably not going to cause any long term damage.

I am however, going to offer alternatives to the traditional frankfurter – options that are ethical or cruelty free, and far better for your health, and the planet.

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan searching for a plant-based “not dog” to grill up at your next summer barbeque, you’re likely to find a few options at most grocery stores. These veggie, meat-free alternatives are usually made of fermented soy proteins like tofu. While brands like Yves Soy Dogs, Lightlife Smart Dogs and Tofurky Hot Dogs are still processed and packaged, they are lower in fat and cholesterol than their meaty cousins.

But these meatless wonders are also at a physiological and environmental cost. Soy has been linked to health risks like cancer, infertility, endometriosis, infertility, and low libido, and soy’s widespread use in recent years has proven to be incredibly destructive to the planet.

If you’re hankering for a hot dog that’s healthy, sustainable and vegan, you might consider carrot hot dogs. Yep, that’s right. Carrots, when peeled, boiled, marinated and roasted until soft and charred, are about as healthy and au natural as you can get.

You might laugh at this seemingly sad excuse of a hot dog, but amazingly, when paired with a smokey glaze and spices, is a delicious, plant-based surprise. Place in a bun, top with caramelized onions and your favourite condiments and you’re set for your next cookout.

If carrots aren’t your thing, here in the Yukon, we’re lucky to find many options for local, wild and domestic game. Many delis and butcher shops (such as Yukon Meat and Sausage and Off the Hook Meat Works) will take your wild game – moose, elk, sheep, bison – and turn it into delicious sausages.

Bill and Barbara Drury of Circle D Ranch, located in the Ibex Valley, offer locally raised beef and pork sausages that are preservative free, non GMO, and include organic ingredients as much as possible. They offer sausages in flavours like haskap, black currant and chipotle that you can purchase through them. Circle D Ranch is located at Km. 1459.5 on the Alaska Highway. Check out www.circledranchyukon.com for more information.

Yukon Meat and Sausage in Whitehorse offer bison and elk sausage options, and while they aren’t locally harvested, they contain whole ingredients, and no chemicals. Some of their most popular sausages include buffalo jalapeno cheddar, spicy elk and their newest flavour, cranberry elk.

Off the Hook Meat Works Smokehouse and Deli in Whitehorse, offers bison and elk smokies, which come in flavours like jalapeno and cheese, honey garlic and blueberry, which are all preservative and gluten free.

Stacey’s Butcher Block in Porter Creek also offers gluten free, bison and elk sausages, as well as some organic beef options.

Hot dogs may be a cultural icon, but they shouldn’t be consumed at the cost of your health. You can still indulge, while feeling good about the impact you are having, on your heart and on the planet.