It was July 4th a few years ago. I was having lunch with my husband in one of those restaurants that has giant TV screens on every wall so diners can all watch different games and not have to talk each other.
The screen I faced featured hot dogs grilling. I was hungry and the dogs looked good. But when the scene changed from grilling hot dogs to eating hot dogs, I lost my appetite. Actually, “eating” doesn’t begin to describe what was happening. Several men wearing matching T-shirts were cramming hot dogs down their gullets like pelicans at a fish hatchery.
I had a lot of questions at that moment, the main one being why? Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It seems like force feeding yourself hot dogs would make it hard to…uh… relish them. Sorry.
Let me pause here to apologize to anyone who has the wherewithal to make it to the end of this column. Almost nothing lends itself to bad puns more than hot dogs. Except maybe chickens. And I’ll get to those too.
Anyway, $10,000 is why. And a bejeweled mustard-yellow belt and all the hot dogs you can eat. Turns out, I was watching Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest which is so famous I’d never heard of it. Apparently, it’s held annually on the Fourth of July in Coney Island, and thousands of people attend to cheer on behavior they’d find repugnant at their own dinner tables.
Thankfully, the contest is mercifully short. Ten minutes and it was all over but the bellyache. And I did bellyache. I told my husband that if the purpose of the contest is to promote hot dogs, it didn’t work on me. I said it would be a long time before I could even look at a hot dog again, let alone eat one. And I told him watching people stuff themselves with hot dogs is no way to spend Independence Day, though I imagine stuffing yourself with them would be even…wurst.
He said, “nice hit” and clapped for the baseball game on the screen behind me.
That year, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut won after eating 72 hot dogs. He won again last year with 75, and Miki Sudo won the women’s division packing in 48.5 dogs while her competitors played ketchup. You are what you eat though, so everyone’s a wiener. I’m sorry. I can’t stop myself.
I won’t be watching to see if Joey “Jaws” or Miki Sudo compete this year, but you can if you have the stomach for it. The contest is broadcast by ESPN—you know the sports channel. That seems odd. Nobody thinks it’s sport when I have two pieces of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving or eat the “sharing size” of peanut M&Ms all by myself.
There’s NFL, MLB and now MLE, the Major League Eating Federation. I’m not making that up. The MLE hosts around 50 eating contests every year—tamales in Louisville, oysters in New Orleans and wings in Buffalo, to name a few. Their mission, in part, is to “…publicize and execute eating events in a wide variety of food disciplines.” Let me be frank. Discipline isn’t the word that normally comes to my mind when someone eats 75 of anything.
I shouldn’t judge. I engaged in my share of eating competitions with my younger brother when I was growing up, including one every year at our annual July 4th neighborhood picnic. It wasn’t based on winning a cash prize though. We both really loved my mother’s fried chicken, and the drumsticks were our favorites. Even combined, we never ate close to 75 drumsticks though, but only because my mom didn’t fry that many chickens.
And I never won either. My brother had the appetite of a hockey team and he was a much faster eater than I was, so he always got more drumsticks. That still sticks in my craw.
I told you I’d get to chickens.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books, including I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better. Contact [email protected])
All the hot dogs you can eat…