Watching Grown Men and Women Gorge Themselves on Hot Dogs is the Community Spectacle We Need

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Photo by Sebastien Cordat

Ah, the hot dog. Such a nebulous food item. On one hand, it’s cheap and, with the appropriate condiments, quite tasty. (Or maybe you like yours with nothing on it…who am I to judge?)

And it’s a versatile “meat” — grill it, boil it, microwave it, fry pan it — the hot dog appeases any type of cooking acumen.

But there’s always that one, lingering question. What’s in a hot dog?

Fear not, this isn’t about hot dog composition. There’s plenty of that available for your perusal. Take the red pill if you dare and discover the truth for yourself (it’s really not that bad).

Instead, this about how stuffing hot dogs into one’s mouth every 4th of July is the community spectacle we need.

Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest

Nathan’s Famous is one of the best known hot dog brands, and its hog dog eating contest is legendary. Held in Coney Island at Nathan’s original restaurant on the corner of Surf and Stillwell, the contest has attracted Major League Eaters for decades.

Yes, Major League Eating is real, and it’s awesome.

Nathan’s contest has been routinely held since the 1970s. It gained increased attention in the early 2000s when Japanese contestant Takeru Kobayashi won six years in a row (2001–2006).

During his dominant stretch, Kobayashi set a mind-blowing record, consuming 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes.

Even harder to comprehend? This record’s since been broken. 

Joey Chestnut, winner of 13 of the last 14 contests, holds the current record for hot dogs consumed in 10 minutes. That number — 75. In fact, he beat his personal best of 74 hot dogs today, earning him his 5th consecutive win. 

In 2011, separate competitions were held for men and women for the very first time. Competitive eater Sonya Thomas held the women’s record of 45 hot dogs until today, when Miki Sudo — who’s now won the last seven competitions — consumed 48.5 hot dogs.

Photo by Peter Secan

A Community Spectacle

Watching these men and women eat gargantuan amounts of food has become a national tradition, and there’s something special about that. 

We are drawn to inexplicable events — both good and bad. There’s nothing logical about consuming 75 hot dogs in the time it would take most to squeeze a line of mustard on their own dog and chomp down a few times.

I know there’s some science behind it, but the competition largely benefits from our lack of understanding for this kind of feat. How is this possible? Why is this possible? What does it feel like after?

We gorge ourselves on these questions while the eaters gorge themselves on hot dogs. The competition is the perfect community affair and, given the supreme struggle of 2020, a welcoming distraction.

There’s a shared experience in watching other human beings perform incredible feats of strength, perseverance, and passion. Because that’s what this is. It’s people doing things that many of us find impossible.

It’s people doing things that many of us would never want to do ourselves.

It’s people that have to be passionate about what they’re doing, right? Why else would one shove tens upon tens of cheap sausages into their stomach?

I don’t ever want to eat more than 3 hot dogs in a sitting, but it’s pretty cool to watch someone eat 25x that amount in record time.

Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest might not be the most flattering thing to watch, but it’s a heck of a good time and sparks one of the few thoughts we can all agree on: How is this possible?

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