Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Gagging on the July 4th: A Hot Dog Eating Competition

I'm pretty much of a live- and let-live kind of guy. When I see people doing something I don't approve of, I usually shrug my shoulders or shake my head and move on. If it seems silly or stupid, I suppress my chuckles until they can no longer be heard, and I file away a memory of the occurrence to include in some funny story to tell to friends.

Live and let live, I say. Respect, or at least don't disrespect, choices that you would not make, as long as the choices don't inflict harm on others.

However, on the morning of July 4th (Pacific Daylight Time), my tolerance of the stupid behavior of others was severely challenged when I accidentally tuned ESPN's telecast of "Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog" contest. The few minutes I watched of this "Major League Eating" contest were a revelation of the depth of idiocy afoot. If you want to test the fortitude of your stomach when confronted with gag-inducing sights (and the limits of your live-and-let-live tolerance), click on this video:

The "Food Athletes" begin the hot-dog eating competition. Note the four rules of the contest.

I had not planned to watch television that morning, but as I waited on a 11-year-old boy to eat breakfast and get dressed to go to see a parade, I decided to check out which baseball games were going to be telecast that day. The television was tuned to ESPN, and the announcer was breathlessly introducing the contestants for what was described as a momentous "professional eating" event. The commentator was explaining that Joey Chestnut had won the event the two previous years, and a third win would be a historic achievement.

I had not heard of "professional eating" events, nor was I aware of the International Federation of Competitive Eating (aka, Major League Eating), which sanctions 80 competitive eating events each year. An event is won by the person who eats the most of a particular food within a specified time. Among the foods featured in upcoming competitions are: pastrami, fish tacos, kimchi, buffalo wings, oysters, and gyoza. Cash prizes are awarded to the winners. The website for this International Federation is: . (Note: I would like to think that the IFOCE is a satire of the NFL, MLB, and NBA and the obscenely wealthy people involved in the professional sports industries who have turned kid's games into fortunes. However, the federation is likely just another organization to market products.)

As I watched, the event started, and within a couple of minutes, I was yelling at the television, "Stop, please stop." Both I and the mother of the lagging eleven-year-old were watching, bug-eyed, the most awful thing I have seen on television. We could not keep our eyes on the television for more than a few seconds without wincing and turning away, but just as you HAVE to look when you pass the scene of a car wreck, we kept peeking back at the screen and saying things such as "yuk," "sick," "I can't believe this," "make it stop," and "I can't stand it."
At 2 minutes and 49 seconds into the contest, Joey Chestnut enjoys his 27th hot dog  

Truthfully, there is nothing enjoyable about watching sweating, grimacing men dunking a hot dog and a bun in water (no more than 5 seconds allowed) and forcing it, with a few cursory chews, down their gullets. From their expressions, it is clear that they are not savoring the gustatory experience. The event seems to have more to do with sword swallowing that eating.

At last, after a couple of minutes, we could no long stand to watch what was happening. I turned off the television, not learning if Joey Chestnut had forced enough partially eaten hot dogs down his throat to achieve a historic third victory. (The IFOCE website informs readers that Chestnut not only won the event, but set a new world record by eating 69 hot dogs in ten minutes. That is 6.9 hot dogs per minute, less than ten seconds per hot dog.)

After watching this ESPN event, my customary tolerance was strained. I had to wonder how low a network has fallen to air such a sickening spectacle, which has, best I can determine, no redeeming value. I had to wonder about a society in which such events are popular enough to be aired on television.

With the television off and the contest a bad memory, I drove with the 11-year-old boy and his mother to the Blaine July 4th celebration. The boy decided that he wanted to have lunch before the parade started at noon, so we found a booth selling old fashion American food. Of course, the boy chose to eat a hot dog for lunch. When I saw that, I almost had a "reversal of fortune," which would have broken the fourth rule of  hot dog eating competition.

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