Hot-dog eating contest a disgrace to gluttons

Written By BY RICK TELANDER | @ricktelander Posted: 07/06/2014, 02:33am

Nothing is more American than the hot dog, right?

What’s close? Gatling guns, doo-wop, Fords, boob jobs, linebackers, gangster rap, corn?

But we’ll take hot dogs right now in the wake of the results Friday from Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island.

Veteran professional eater Joey Chestnut jammed 61 hot dogs and buns down his gullet in just 10 minutes there by the New York beach, earning his eighth consecutive ‘‘Mustard Belt.’’

Good for him. Chestnut is a pro, and he has eaten 121 Twinkies in six minutes, 182 chicken wings in a half-hour, 390 shrimp wontons in eight minutes and 24 pounds of poutine (fries, gravy and cheese curds) in 10 minutes.

Barf. Exactly.

See, here’s my problem: Chestnut and his ilk — runner-up Matt ‘‘Megatoad’’ Stonie, Tim ‘‘Eater X’’ Janus and famed rebel Takeru ‘‘The Tsunami’’ Kobayashi — don’t really eat, as we generally think of it. They scarf and then, after a certain amount of time, literally barf their guts out.

You don’t want to see the mess backstage at the Nathan’s wingding. I did a couple of years ago, and it’s a nasty, pinkish sight.

The eaters only have to hold the gorp down for a couple of minutes, then they are free to have a ‘‘reversal of fortune,’’ as those in the business coyly describe it.

In other words, they all jam their stretched stomachs to the near-bursting point and then — after smiling at the crowd and maybe choking out an interview or two — projectile-vomit into garbage cans or whatever.

Why am I offended by these members of the gorging group known as Major League Eating, the pros who show up for the many sanctioned eating contests, including the annual Nathan’s wiener war, which is broadcast by ESPN and will be until at least 2024?

Because they’re trifling with and besmirching something I hold very dear: the great American hot dog.

I love hot dogs. I think this is well-known in my small sportswriting group and to readers who follow this column. I ate 12 a couple of years ago in the press box at U.S. Cellular Field between the third and ninth innings. (There was a rain delay, as I recall.)

But speed wasn’t really part of the gluttony. Hunger, desire, momentum and, yeah, a little bit of showing off were. The first eight were just extraordinarily good. (I hadn’t eaten lunch.) The next two were nice toppers. No. 11 was because I could. No. 12, with no mustard, ketchup, relish, onions or anything, likely wasn’t needed. It was difficult, but it was a firm cork in the barrel.

Along the way, I drank, I want to say, six 12-ounce Cokes. Again, just good-tasting. Now, this food stayed down. I might have had some digestive issues the next day, and there was so much salt in those wieners and buns and garnish that I drank fluids like a man in the desert, but I owned what I ate.

Not so these professional eaters. As I’ve said before, they’re actually professional bulimics.

People marvel that the best ‘‘eaters’’ aren’t hugely fat. Indeed, star female eater Michelle Lesco is 5-4 and 115 pounds. Chestnut isn’t too big at 205 pounds. And ‘‘Megatoad’’ weighs only 135 pounds.

The better thing to marvel at would be the health of the chow-downers’ esophagi, their teeth enamel (from the gastric acid) and the prevalence of hiatal hernias.

But eating the food, the way we normal humans do, would be impossible. According to an analysis of Chestnut’s 61-hot-dog payload, he ingested 23,790 calories, 1,189.5 grams of fat and 60,390 milligrams of sodium. The nearly 24,000 calories is enough to keep someone alive and full for more than a week. The sodium is more than 25 times the recommended amount for a human for a day. And the 2.6 pounds of pure animal fat speaks for itself.

Here are my pro-eating rules: Chow down, then go sit in a room with a toilet for the next eight hours. A judge will have to be there. (Heck, they have people who watch Olympic athletes pee, so this isn’t new ground.) If anything comes out of the top part of the competitor during that time, he or she is disqualified.

Medals will be awarded at a light breakfast the next morning. Gastroenterologists and heart doctors will be on hand.

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