Every Independence Day since 1916, Nathan’s Famous has sponsored their International Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island. But don’t for a minute think these contestants are simply a bunch of big dudes who can pack away a lot of food. This is serious business. They call themselves “competitive eaters” (I only thought this referred to trying to get seconds on Thanksgiving before my (at the time) teenaged stepbrothers devoured the whole spread.) Most belong to an organization called Major League Eating, and membership is required if you want to belly up to the barbecue at the Coney Island gorge fest.
Reigning champion is Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, who once packed away sixty-eight hot dogs and buns in ten minutes. He is the perennial favorite in these competitions, and he doesn’t stop with frankfurters: he once ate over nine pounds of deep-fried asparagus spears in ten minutes, among other stomach-churning feats.
This year’s Coney Island culinary sprint, however, is going to be a little different. For the first time, women will have their own division. They claim that men have a competitive advantage by being larger, although some of these women, (including Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas, who once downed thirty-six dogs and buns) are no slouches when it comes to shoving food down their gullets. This gives women an opportunity to earn the competition’s coveted “Mustard Yellow International Belt” and prize money.
While part of me welcomes gender equality in competitions of wretched excess, the other part thinks this is ridiculous, dangerous, and another example of why certain people in certain parts of the world hate us. Especially the ones who are starving, and would probably do many immoral and illegal things for just one of those links. Especially because several of these contestants are from China, a place where a heck of a lot of people don’t get enough to eat. (Then again, maybe a childhood of deprivation is why they compete.)
I don’t think Nathan’s ever intended this contest to be anything more than a fun publicity grab, and don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of fun and don’t want to poop on anyone’s parade. But every year this deal seems to be in poorer and poorer taste. I would love to see the company donate the equivalent of the hot dogs consumed to any number of charities that help the hungry. It can still be fun, and the heavy hitters can earn their prize money (which they would undoubtedly spend on Pepto-Bismol, a sponsor of the League, and a good medical savings account for years down the road when their digestive systems explode.) And, Nathan’s can look like good guys doing it for charity.
Meanwhile, it’s like a seventeen-car pile up on the highway: hard to look at, but impossible to turn away.
(Note: no crotch-tweeting former legislators were gratuitously lampooned in the making of this post, even though the writer desperately wanted to.)