Hot Dogs

7 Jul

To celebrate Independence Day this year, I decided to take advantage of my proximity to Coney Island to witness a truly and uniquely American spectacle: The Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Now, I think enough scoffing and snarky commenting has been done about competitive eating. People always talk about how it’s wasteful, and it’s a display of American’s obnoxious wealth and greed, but I can’t help but have an admiration towards it. People debate as to whether it should be considered a sport, and I say, unequivocally, yes, it’s a sport. A greedy, privileged sport, but a sport, as it meets all the criteria for making one.

Sport is a world where art and science intersect, and it’s no less evident in the hot dog eating contest. There’s a discipline and technique to it. You can’t just eat hot dogs to win at eating hot dogs.  You have to be the better at the eating process itself. First you have to eat the hot dog , and that can have different styles to it: You can eat it whole, you can break it in half to maximize the area you bite and chew, or you can do several at a time. Then there’s the buns. Most opt to wet the buns in a glass of water to make them softer and thus easier to chew and swallow, so there’s a pattern of switching between hot dog and bun to make sure everything goes down quickly and smoothly.

The winner of this year’s contest, Joey Chestnut, has a very eye-catching, captivating technique. He would get several hot dogs in his mouth, and then use his whole body to get them down, contorting himself in sort of a half-spasm, half-sensual shimmy, and shake his head in a way that was very reminiscent of a pelican eating a live fish. The fact that it was so animal in nature made me wonder “What separates this man, who emulates the pelican, the sea’s great gulper, from the kung fu masters of old who would study the movements of the snake or the tiger? They both work to unlock nature’s secrets to make man an even more formidable beast.” Joey Chestnut isn’t just some sideshow glutton, he’s the first Grand Master of Pelican Fist.

The real moment when I realized how much of a sport competitive eating is was at the very end of the contest. After 10 minutes, Joey Chestnut emerged victorious after eating 62 hot dogs. He did not look happy when it was done. Even though I saw it in person, there was a screen set up for people observing from farther away that allowed me to see a close-up of his face, and his was the face of a man who had been reminded of his own mortality. Having shoved far more food than a man ever should in one sitting, he attempted to scoff at the limits God had built into him, and he had been smitten for his hubris. He had been broken.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what a sport does, it takes something that people like to do, and removes all the joy from it.

“Hey, do you like walking around outside? Okay, how about we get some other people to walk with you? Now it’s even better, right? Okay, now you have to walk faster than everybody else and get to a specific point. Basically you have to run. Run really hard. Like, so hard you have to vomit. If you DON’T run faster than everyone else, everyone else gets a medal except you because you suck.” ”

“Hey, do you like playing catch with your friend? It’s nice bonding, right? How about you play catch, only you now try to actively keep the ball away from each other, and end up smashing each other in the mouths with your elbows just to make sure the other guy doesn’t get it?”

“Also, in all these situations, if you don’t win, there’s a coach shouting at you about how you’re embarrassing him.  Recreation at it’s finest!”

What is a more viscerally enjoyable experience than eating? It’s one of the only times you’re engaging all five of your senses at once, and you’re fulfilling a very primal need for survival. So to introduce the element of competition and make that a purely joyless and probably both physically and emotionally painful experience isn’t American gluttony, it’s really the apogee of sport. The only thing that could possibly top it is if somehow someone turned sex into a competitive sport with rules and regulations, except it already IS so, it’s just that the only ones who know what the rules are are women.

So when someone tries to throw some doom and gloom at me about how America is failing and is no longer the world’s number one superpower, I will remind them we will always be number 1 at one thing: making things not fun. Although, the Chinese are catching up to us on that, too. They’ve already perfected the completely funless childhood. Just ask my girlfriend.

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One Response to “Hot Dogs”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. More About Food « Gay Muslim Abortion - 09/02/2011

    […] episode of “Man vs. Food Nation,” and, reflecting on that, as well as my visit to the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest in July, makes me wonder if this feeling has become a societal thing, and might be a psychological […]

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