By RICH FOLEY
Any day now, we should start hearing about the annual Nathan’s hot dog eating contest, that is, if the hype hasn’t already begun. The New York City-based food company holds their competition on July 4th every year, the perfect time to get the most publicity possible. And, like a lemming that should know better, here I am, giving them some more free ink.
By holding the event on a national holiday, media outlets who need something besides parades and firework displays to fill their pages and airtime feature an event they would otherwise most likely ignore. If it took place on August 4th, we’d probably hear little or nothing about it, but on a slow day, it’s big news.
Personally, as someone who has always despised hot dogs (I think President Kennedy was still alive the last time I tasted one), I have a hard time seeing the attraction of eating even one, much less the amount the contestants have to choke down to stand a chance of winning the contest. I know I’m in a hot dog-hating minority with that opinion, but I keep coming up with more reasons to despise the devil dog.
I’ve assumed for years that there were odd ingredients in some hot dogs and recently, I saw a list of components either allowed or banned by guidelines published by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). After some study, I don’t think I’ll add hot dogs, which the FAO classifies as “emulsion-type sausages” to my diet.
On the plus side, guidelines call for frankfurters to be “practically free from sinews and gristle and entirely free from ligament, bone and cartilage particles.” That sounds like a good start. But then there’s the bad news.
In lower grade dogs, weasands are an acceptable ingredient. I had to look that up. I learned that weasands are the gullet or throat. Also allowable are giblets (heart, liver or gizzard), tongues, snouts and lips, as long as the sum of these “components” does not exceed 20 percent of the total “sausage formulation.” Are you still hungry? For me, that peanut butter sandwich keeps looking better and better.
For a bunch of fame-seeking gurgitators, as the competitive eaters call themselves, the goal is to win the Nathan’s hot dog contest without becoming a regurgitator. The contest originally was promoted as having started in 1916, but executives at Nathan’s now admit it only dates back to 1972.
The matches were simpler then, as former Nathan’s president Wayne Norbitz told a reporter, “We’d honestly wait for a couple of fat guys to go by and ask them if they wanted to be in a hot dog contest.” The 1972 winner ate a total of 14 hot dogs (with buns) in 12 minutes. That mark won’t even qualify you for a seat at the finals these days as you have to eat at least 30 hot dogs in 10 minutes in a preliminary round to earn a spot.
Last year’s winner, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, ate 70 hot dogs to defeat defending champion Matt “The Megatoad” Stonie by 17 and set a new Nathan’s record. Chestnut, who ate 73-1/2 hot dogs in his qualifier, has now won the main event nine times. Despite that record, he still competes in the shadow of Takeru Kobayashi, six-time champion now banned from the Nathan’s event.
Known simply as Kobayashi, he competed in eating events in Japan since winning a milk chugging event in grade school. At age 23 in 2001, he flew to New York the day before the Nathan’s contest. Despite the fact that he had never before eaten a hot dog, he proceeded to down 50 of them, not only winning the contest, but actually doubling the previous record. Then he won the next five years as well, before losing to Chestnut, 66-63, in 2007 after suffering a jaw injury.
In 2010, Kobayashi was banned from the Nathan’s contest after refusing to sign a contract that would keep him from participating in other events related to eating. Many still consider him the real champion and he’s compiled a long list of other amazing eating feats.
For example, he’s eaten 93 Krystal hamburgers in eight minutes, 159 tacos in 10 minutes, 14 Twinkies in one minute and 13 grilled cheese sandwiches in one minute. And then there’s Kobayashi’s really disgusting record, eating 17.7 pounds of cow brains (a total of 57 brains) in only 15 minutes. I have to admit, that one almost makes a hot dog sound tasty.