ONE DAY, somewhere, an American said, "Think I'll try some of this on this." A food vaguely thought to have originated south of the border was ladled on top of another food vaguely thought to have originated in the Old World, and the result was the chili dog, one of the most devastating creations of American cooking. The chili dog, which has since spread far and wide, is a steaming, messy assault on the senses, a dripping affront to human dignity and digestion and a culinary MX missile. With onions and cheese it's even better.

In fact, you might have thought the chili dog was one place in which there was no room for any advancement in the state of the art. If so, you would have been wrong. Hormel, a company that has long experience making both hot dogs and chili, has announced production of a frankfurter that comes already stuffed with chili. "It's never been done before!" say the ads, without fear of challenge. For people who care about the future of the chili dog, now is a time for stock-taking. One inevitable result of this innovation will be expansion into new areas: Chili dogs will be more suitable for taking along on space flights and to war. Fastidious children who have been loath to tackle the intimidating mess of the old-style chili dog can be painlessly introduced to the concept. All the better.

But on the negative side is the matter of the veteran eater's self-esteem. People who eat chili dogs are making a statement, usually one of the following: "I have more important things to worry about than my digestion." "I sneer at your rabbity health foods." "So what do I care if I spill food on my clothes -- I have plenty more where these came from." Will the advent of the surreptitious chili dog take all this bravado out of the act of eating one?

Weigh the pros and cons and pass the onions.