December 8th, 2011
01:00 PM ET
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Food in the Field gives a sneak peek into what CNN's team is eating, and the food culture they encounter as they travel the globe. Jeremy Harlan is a CNN photojournalist. He has a hungry baby.

I know how this scene goes. You stroll into the convenience store looking for your typical travel snacks: Teriyaki beef jerky, pepperoni pizza Combos and a Diet Dr. Pepper. And as you peruse the aisle just to make sure there's not a sweet treat that suits your fancy, you catch a glimpse of some canned goods: microwavable beef ravioli, potted meat, and Vienna Sausages.

"Bleh, Vienna sausages. Seriously? Who in the world eats that?"

Allow myself to introduce myself. My name is Jeremy Harlan and I do love me some Vienna Sausages. They are my perfect finger snack for long driving assignments. And in my humble opinion, they are a cornerstone of any quality convenience store. (I'm talking to you, Sheetz.)

Why do I like them? I can't give a specific reason, I just enjoy prying them out of the can and eating them one by one.

Yes, I know they're made primarily of mechanically separated chicken. No, I don't know if the broth they're packed in could strip the finish off my dining room table. And no, unlike this guy, they're not a regular tenant in my kitchen cabinets. I only eat them about twice a year.

But, I am certainly not alone in enjoying these pink-toned, pinkie-sized treats. Armour Star, which first started producing Vienna Sausages sometime just before 1900, sells over 200 million cans in North and South America each year. The Armour plant in Fort Madison, Iowa produces enough sausages in a year to circle the Earth four times.

My history with them goes back to when I was a small tyke visiting my great-grandmother's house in Baytown, Texas. I don't remember a whole bunch from those summer visits. But I'll never forget it was humid as heck, the oil refinery behind her house smelled awful, and I spent many an afternoon eating Vienna Sausages washed down with Tang. It was Houston, what else would I be drinking?

As I got older, I didn't get many chances to eat them and what canned meat I did have was mostly Spam. My dad never turned down a grilled Spam and mustard sandwich. So when he wanted a Spam sandwich for lunch, I ate a Spam sandwich for lunch. There were not too many Vienna sausages to be had. Then came 2005.

In my second full year at CNN, I got a full helping of hurricane coverage. I was IN four major hurricanes, starting with Hurricane Dennis in Ft. Walton Beach, FL and finishing with Hurricane Wilma in Naples, FL. I spent the better part of six months in New Orleans covering Katrina and its horrific aftermath.

For those not in our business, I'll tell you our diet during hurricane assignments is pretty limited to granola bars, Pop Tarts, trail mix, beef jerky, peanut butter crackers, water and sports drinks. Essentially, it's whatever we can scoop up at the local Wal-Mart that doesn't require a utensil and hasn't already been ripped from the shelves by residents.

During Katrina, it was even less. I spent the five days immediately after the storm consuming nothing but orange Gatorade and Imodium. When it's late-August and there is no power or plumbing in a Crescent City under several feet of water, all you're hoping to do is stay hydrated. After a couple days covering the delayed evacuation of Charity Hospital, I finally had a chance to leave New Orleans for a small reprieve in Baton Rouge.

When I arrived in the state capital, I immediately went searching for food. What did I find at the makeshift CNN work space? Cans of my mini-frank friends. After almost a week of no food, those Vienna Sausages tasted like dry-aged ribeye. Can after can, I ripped open pull tab lids, drained the broth, and devoured those sausages. They never tasted so good.

CNN eventually published a book commemorating our work in Louisiana and Mississippi. Pictures in the book showed my coworkers enduring tough conditions along the Gulf Coast while still newsgathering.

Some are seen shooting interviews standing knee-high in sewage; others trying to hold down a tent while rescue military helicopters fly over their heads. What is my big moment of glory in the book? Sitting next to Sanjay Gupta, stuffing my face with Vienna Sausages while he logs video we shot at Charity Hospital. Oh well.

Days after that photo was taken, the finger sausages got me into a bit of trouble.

Back in downtown New Orleans, I was now addicted to eating Vienna links as much as possible. I walked into an RV, parked on Canal Street, being used as a workspace for many of our correspondents and crews. I figured it would be a perfect spot, out of the heat, to have a snack. I snuck back to the bathroom, ripped open the lid, poured the juice down the drain, and turned towards the front of the RV.  There to meet me was a fuming Nic Robertson.

For a good two minutes, CNN's well-respected senior international correspondent ripped into me about pouring that liquid down the drain. This was a work location/sleep spot for a lot of people and now it was going to smell like Vienna Sausages thanks to me.

I may be 6'5" tall, but at that moment, I felt as tall as one of those sausages.  I sheepishly walked out the RV and made it a point to stay away from him the remaining time he was in New Orleans. Subconsciously, I also hid my liking of the canned wieners for many years.

There's been many a time on a road assignment that I've bought a can or two out of view of my producer and correspondent. When the moment was right and they weren't around, I'd quickly inhale my stash. It's as if I'm some kind of junkie ashamed of my problem.

Well, the first step in healing is admitting your addiction. So here I am, telling everyone that I love Vienna sausages and I am proud to say so. I'm sure I'm not alone in my affection for the canned meat links. In fact, I imagine there are many folks afraid to admit they enjoy other food products frowned upon by much of society. Someone out there has to be eating pork rinds, potted meat and pickled chicken feet.

So here's your chance to let it out. What's your favorite gastro guilty pleasure folks might say, "Ugh, really?"

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Filed under: Buzz • Food in the Field • Hot Messes • Obsessions

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  1. MrWizardKnows

    When you ride long distances on a bicycle, you become an eating machine. Food is pretty much all you think about. Food, and how much your *ss hurts.

    Once, while on a multi-day 400 mile bicycle trip down the coast of California, my group small group of riders broke camp early one morning, with empty stomachs but minds filled with a vision of the buttermilk pancakes we would soon be eating, after a brief 8-mile pre-breakfast ride to the next town on our route.

    But when we arrived at what was to be our breakfast spot, we discovered it had closed. No, I don't mean the restaurant was closed. I mean the entire town was closed! Boarded up and gone.

    With the next town too distant to even consider riding to with empty bellies, we surveyed our emergency rations. I was the only one who had any food: Just a single small can of Vienna Sausages that I'd bought on impulse the day before, at a gas station. (Please, no sacrilegious puns on the word 'gas'.)

    Anyway, as I popped the lid open, the group let out a collective moan of "That's not FOOD." You know. You've heard it all before.

    Ah, but here's the best part: When somebody whined "Who would eat THAT stuff?", I smiled and replied "me"! And, what do you know, as I wrestled to extricate that first glorious glob of (unknown) tubular substance from the can, I started hearing quiet grudging requests: "OK, I'll take one of those things..."

    And I will swear - on a stack of canned meat-products - that on the power contained in just ONE Vienna Sausage each, we all managed to ride 75 miles to the first open restaurant we could find.

    Though, nobody ordered the sausage sandwich. :-)

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    I'm amazed at how "culturally programmed" these behaviors are. Eating stuff that would kill most wildlife after a single 'dose'. Doesn't matter if it's canned meat or 12 year shelf life twinkies. We might chalk it up to individual ignorance or corporate greed or both. So what!
    The main point about this (as most) media articles, is that the media providers hold themselves up as 'oracles of knowledge' yet disavow any responsibility to act upon that knowledge. They have a moral responsibility to show leadership, not simply be passive observers, especially about themselves.
    This guy should lead by example and work on improving his diet and physical fitness, not merely wallow in his 'guilty' pleasure.

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  8. Kristen

    So you don't feel so bad..I just went shopping bought all organic food and then got home and ate the ONE can of Vienna Sausages I bought. I love them too!! I only eat them a few times a year. If they are all meat product regardless of the part of the animal they would be okay...I think it's the process they take to make them...maybe bleaching the meat or something who knows. A few cans a year won't give you cancer.

    May 4, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
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  12. SandyfeetsinFla

    Fried Spam sandwich with mustard.... good memories. As a kid, in a military family of 5, we ate a lot of VS and potted meat for lunch during the summers. Since then, I've eaten Vienna Sausages while backpacking, camping and after a hurricane. You eat what you can when you have no refrigeration. I leave buy a few cans in June as part of the annual hurricane kit and know that by November, if I am a lucky Floridian, I can pop open the can for some memories of childhood, rather than praying that the utility company gets the power lines restrung.
    Those of you that turn your nose up at them, might as well pass by that next hot dog or sausage also. Same ingredients, same process. I've eaten "worse" things..... fried crickets in Japan. Not horribly awful, but once was enough. Just pass the sushi please.

    December 19, 2011 at 7:44 am |
  13. Marie

    When I worked in rural eastern north carolina (not the pretty, beachy part, the flat, swampy, hog-farm part), people called them Vy-EEna sausages. It took me months to figure out what they were saying.

    December 15, 2011 at 11:49 am |
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