Friday, July 6, 2012

The Taste of Wackiness

Since 1916, each year on the 4th of July at Nathan’s Famous on New York’s Coney Island an event is held that draws a huge amount of attention. Of course, it’s the famous gorging contest politely given the name ‘competition’ and in which contestants race to stuff the most hot dogs down their throats in a certain amount of time. There doesn’t seem to be a time limit, but rather a stomach or body limit, each contestant eating until he or she can’t force another bite down. The hysteria usually lasts no more than ten or twelve minutes and the winner has for the past several years gobbled down about sixty-nine hot dogs including the buns. This past 4th of July, defending champion Joey Chestnut continued his dominance by eating sixty-eight hot dogs in ten minutes. A few years back Takeru Kobayashi managed sixty-nine.

Even more surprising than the fact that some people want to compete in this and other eating contests is the endorsement the competitions get from a host of sponsors, including an organization (a world body) facetiously called the MLE or Major League Eating. The MLE actually developed competitive eating and serves as the “sport’s” governing body—the International Federation of Competitive Eating—helping to develop, publicize and present world-class eating events involving a variety of foods from birthday cakes to sticks of butter. The organization likes to call this type of eating a ‘discipline.’

With this example is there any wonder that obesity is a major health problem in America?

Believe it or not the MLE’s first consideration is safety, insisting that all sanctioned competitive eating matches take place in a controlled environment with proper safety measures in place. They will not sanction or promote events without the proper safety regulations and have set an age limit at eighteen or older. Rules also state that an emergency medical technician must be present at the competitions. (The operative word here is ‘technician.’) The MLE also strongly opposes and discourages home training, cautioning interested people not to attempt speed eating at home. Well, good for them.

Considering the health effects of the calories, cholesterol and sodium—not to mention the sheer volume of food—that these competitors gorge themselves on, it isn’t hard to see that this is not an activity for those with a weak stomach. One hot dog with the bun is 309 calories. Given that ratio, sixty-nine hot dogs adds up to a gut-busting 21,321 calories—in ten minutes time! That’s more calories than the average person consumes in two weeks of normal eating.

Consider the fat intake of sixty-nine hot dogs: 1,380 grams. Cholesterol? The average person should eat less than 200mg a day. The amount in 69 hot dogs is 2,436, which averaged out over two weeks comes to 180mg per day.

The average stomach can hold between two and four liters of food. But when you’re talking about forcing down a stack of sixty or more hot dogs in ten minutes, it’s fairly obvious that for most of us, something has to give. The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine ran some tests and determined that professional speed eaters are at risk of morbid obesity, profound gastroparesis, intractable nausea and vomiting, and even the need for a gastrectomy, the surgical removal of part or all of the stomach.

Curious? Below are ten of the current world records:

Butter:   Don Lerman managed to eat 7 quarter-pound sticks in 5 minutes.
Mayonnaise:   Oleg Zhornitskly scarfed down 4 32oz bowls in 8 minutes.
Chili:   Joey Chestnut gobbled up 2 gallons in 6 minutes.
Moon Pies:   Patrick Bertoletti wolfed down 60 in 8 minutes.
Chili Spaghetti:   Bob Shoudt slurped up 13.9 pounds in 10 minutes.
Cow Brains:   Takeru Kobayashi munched his way through 57 (17.7 lbs) in 15 minutes.
Jellied Cranberry Sauce:   Juliet Lee inhaled 13.23 pounds in 8 minutes.
Doughnuts:   Eric Booker demolished 49 glazed doughnuts in 8 minutes.
Eggs:   Sonya Thomas chomped up 65 hard boiled eggs in 6 minutes, 40 seconds.
Grits:   Patrick Bertoletti polished off 21 pounds in 10 minutes.


  1. In my humble opinion, gouging like this and calling it "competition" is idiocy..

  2. Briefly seeing the videos on TV of these eating contests always suddenly elicits a gag reflex from me before I can turn away or change the channel. God forbid if these contests become a mainstream sport. I'd rather be sentenced to a life of only being able to watch Curling.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America