Eggs, Goldfish, and Nathan’s Hot Dogs–The Twisted Zen of Eating Contests

July 2016 Update:
Joey “Jaws” Chestnut regained the Mustard Yellow International Belt Monday, ousting Matt “The Megatoad” Stonie of the championship title at the annual July Fourth hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island on Monday. Chestnut downed 70 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes — the most hot dogs and buns ever eaten at the competition.

** For some, competitive eating contests are entertainment—maybe even a sport. Others see them as disgusting and possibly harmful.

Cosmic Indigestion

During my college days, I attended two “eating contests.” I’d like to think they were fundraisers for charity, but I’m not sure. I was eighteen and living in an era when TV dinners were big, burgers were just becoming mass produced, and labels on food meant a silly rabbit or a cuckoo Cocoa Puff bird would tell you what to buy. 

A classic movie called Cool Hand Luke had recently moved through the theaters, so somebody decided our small institution of higher learning needed an egg eating contest. The favorite, a big dude who lived in the same dorm I did, sat with four or five others on a stage, and the fun began. We in the crowd cheered and “egged them on,” and it appeared the favorite was a lock for the championship. I think he squeezed in 30 or so, but before he could claim the crown, he bolted for the edge of the stage and “blew lunch.” Disqualification for him; a reason for senseless laughter and chatter for us in the peanut gallery.
The next year we were more sophisticated—a goldfish eating contest. Live fish and another loud spectacle. In this case, the winner was a small town kid who would try nearly anything. He turned it into a comedy routine—you don’t want to know the details. I imagine he still has the trophy in his closet memory box.
I’m not sure Nathan’s Annual Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest has anything to do with these events, but I refuse to watch people stuffing buns and “tube steaks” into their mouths. In a time when obesity, waste, and malnutrition are so prevalent in our conversations about food, these spectacles don’t hit me right. On the other hand, I probably watch plenty of ridiculous things, so I shouldn’t preach. Folks might have a good reason to watch gluttony.
According to the headlines, Joey somebody seems to win whenever a skinny guy from Japan doesn’t. In 2014 Joey evidently used the occasion to propose to his future bride. Maybe she competes too—I should read the articles but I’m afraid I’d have trouble eating a hot dog at the next family barbecue. Joey and his wife will probably be a lovely couple—but I wouldn’t want to get invited to their place for dinner. I’d be afraid the meal would include a stop watch, a mountain of bland hot dogs, and an industrial-sized barf bag. Bon appetit.
For those who do want to read about the 2014 event: Joey Chestnut Inhales 61 Hot Dogs To Win Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Those who want to watch a video: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is a Fourth of July Tradition
by dan gogerty (pic from

Help Support CAST

Your donation to CAST helps support the CAST mission of communicating science to meet the challenge of producing enough food, fiber and fuel for a growing population. Every gift, no matter the size, is appreciated.