Thursday, July 2, 2009


There are people walking among us who stuff themselves with a food whose consumption should probably be avoided entirely or sampled rarely at baseball games with a cold beer.

But instead, franks are wolfed down by these grandstanding hotdoggers in staggering numbers.

The best place in the world for binging on hot dogs is Nathan's Famous on Coney Island. In 1916, Nathan Handwerker borrowed $300 from two famous friends, Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor, to open a hot dog stand and unknowingly set the stage for a lasting Independence Day ritual.

The frankfurter tradition supposedly began on July 4th of that same year when four immigrants decided to have a hot dog eating contest at Nathan's.

The story goes that they were trying to settle an argument over who was the most patriotic. A determined Neer Sengal won in dramatic fashion. In a bizarre twist of reasoning, Neer proved his loyalty to America by downing 13 franks.

Now, every Fourth of July, Nathan's has a contest to celebrate our holiday. And what better way to commemorate our nation's freedom than to show grown-ups scarfing down red hots as rapidly as possible.

It's difficult to grasp why contestants would be motivated to test their stomach-expanding skills and pummel their digestive systems as if they belonged to people they couldn't stand and needed to punish.

Training for such an event is brutal and the disciplines vary. Some of the contenders don't eat for days. Some drink a lot of water prior to the gorging. Others feast on cabbage, a training technique that expands my diaphragm just thinking about it.

There was talk of one enterprising adversary who tried to reach his pinnacle of gluttony by engaging in eating races with his dogs.

Some 45,000 people attend this annual spectacle and over a million have watched it on ESPN television. I guess because of the training involved, the physical effort, and the crowds it attracts, ESPN considers it to be some kind of sporting event.

Although roughly twenty people compete, two main showoffs have emerged.

A fiercely competitive and surprisingly slim contender from Japan named “Tsunami” Kobayashi–who will apparently travel a long way for a bloated abdomen and a wicked case of indigestion–first appeared at Nathan's on July 4th in 2001 and owned the hot dog eating record for six consecutive years.

You might want to add to these impressive credentials that he also won both the Alka-Seltzer Open and the highly respected Glutton Bowl.

Then in 2007 a professional overeater showed up named Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, who took away Tsunami's beloved and bejeweled Mustard Belt by eating 66 hot dogs and an equal amount of watered-down buns in just 12 minutes.

Joey, who won again in 2008, is also well-known for devouring enormous portions of deep-fried asparagus, chicken wings, pretzels, waffles, burgers, pizzas, and matzo balls.

Another serious rival of both Joey's and Tsunami's–and one to keep your eye on–is Pat “Deep Dish” Bertoletti, a chef from Chicago. So it looks like this year's “smack down” on Coney will be more dog-eat-dog than ever.

In the interest of a healthier and safer Fourth of July, I hereby propose that somebody sponsor a Broccoli & Cauliflower Eat-Off.

While this veggie concoction won't be as tasty or patriotic as the good old American hot dog, it will certainly be more nutritious and no doubt prevent people from eating to excess.

Note: People who enjoyed this post also read War and Peace, Moby Dick, Ulysses, The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, Lolita, The Sun Also Rises, Lord Jim, Great Expectations, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and Goodnight Moon.


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