You can make a competitive sport out of anything

I have written before at my mystification at the appeal of the various food-eating contests where people compete to see who can eat the most of some item in a given time, or variations thereof. There is something off-putting about seeing people cram food into their mouths. But it seems like you can make a competitive sport out of pretty much anything and once you do, it can draw spectators and media attention

The most famous of these contests is the contest sponsored by a company called Nathan’s where, every July 4th, people compete to see who can eat the most of the company’s hot dogs (and buns) in 10 minutes. The record holder on the men’s side is Joey Chestnut. He has won the title (called the Mustard Belt) 16 times with the record being 76 hot dogs and last year won with a mere 62. On the women’s side, the record holder is Miki Sudo (whose husband competes on the men’s side) who has the record of 48.5 and won last year with 39.5.

You can watch last year’s men’s contest, if you can stomach it.

But this year, there has been a controversy. Nathan’s has banned Chestnut from their contest because he has endorsed a plant-based hot dog product.

Chestnut, a former San Jose resident who has placed first in the past eight competitions and has captured 16 hot dog eating crowns overall, was barred after he agreed to endorse a plant-based hot dog manufacturer Impossible Foods.

Chestnut did not immediately respond when reached for comment via his website, but said via Twitter/X that he learned from the media that he would not be allowed to participate, placing the blame on organizing body Major League Eating.

“I do not have a contract with MLE or Nathan’s and they are looking to change the rules from past years as it relates to other partners I can work with. This is apparently the basis on which I’m being banned,” he said via social media.

Nathan’s is clearly disappointed that the biggest star will not be taking part in this year’s tournament.

This has all the trappings of traditional professional sports with Chestnut even having a management team. What also struck me is that there is actually a body called Major League Eating “that oversees professional competitive eating events and television specials” and coordinates events in the US and Canada. There is also the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) started in 1997 that serves “as a sanctioning body to oversee, regulate, and organize events and TV deals.”

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with providing a wider range of competitive activities for people with different skills and talents than those needed in the more traditional competitive sports, and for them to make some money from it. But I am not sure about what effect eating a huge amount of food in a short time has on the human body. I cannot imagine that it is good. One only hopes that it is not too bad and that competitors do not develop gastrointestinal problems later in their lives.


  1. says

    I’m just waiting for the anti-trans mob to start asking, “what if a transwoman enters unfairly in a hot dog eating contest and completely ruins it?” Ugh.

  2. Matt G says

    The very fact that we have eating contests should tell us humanity took a wrong turn somewhere back along the line. At least nobody on the planet experiences hunger or food insecurity….

  3. Holms says

    Oh and could a Japanese speaker let me know what the callouts starting at 3:00 are about?

  4. Holms says

    Durrrr, the above comment refers to my earlier comment which is currently not visible thanks to the number of links I put in it, and refers to the final video.

    [The earlier comment is now visible-Mano]

  5. Katydid says

    An eating contest…is this the most American thing ever? (Yes, I am an American and I can criticize my own country.) I googled eating contests and they always seem to be about garbage foods, too. Having said that, the fake-meat foods are every bit as garbage as the meat versions--and some are more egregiously bad for you than meat.

    I find it appalling that people are starving and red states are fighting against feeding hungry children even if the fed gov’t shoulders the vast majority of the cost…and then there’s people stuffing in 60 hot dogs in one sitting.

  6. seachange says

    Speaking of consumption and competition. The Santa Clara County Fair had table setting competitions during the Fair and also during the Christmas show. They were stunningly beautiful. I loved going to see those. Why it didn’t occur to me earlier just how gay I was I have *no* idea.

    You wouldn’t dare actually. y’know, …eat… at any of them.

  7. John Morales says

    Competitive eating is not just an organised sport; gorging is a thing on Youtube.
    People make a living by eating huge amounts in rapid time.

    (Asian version is ‘mukbang’)

  8. says

    What — he’s joined a team that’s eating PLANT-BASED hot-dogs? THAT’S CHEATING!!! Eating stuff that’s good for him gives him an unfair advantage! THIS IS A CHEATING SCANDAL AS BAD AS STEROIDS IN FOOTBALL!!!

  9. John Morales says

    Better steroids than hemorrhoids in football, I do hereby say in the very same spirit.

    (Or so I imagine)

    Also, actual hot dogs are — perhaps ironically — less highly processed than the plant-based stuff.

    So there’s that.

  10. Katydid says

    Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) featured a black-and-white short film on a day at the county fair that probably dates from the 1940s. One of the events people could compete in was table setting. So that was a thing people did.

  11. anat says

    If anyone saw the Netflix documentary “Hack Your Health: The Secrets of Your Gut”, it is about people with a messed up relationship to food and how they are trying to heal using information about their gut microbiome and their brain’s reaction to food cues. One of the people in the documentary is a Japanese guy who has been a professional competitive eater for some 20 years. The result for him was that he completely lost any sense of hunger, satiety, or disgust regarding food. He sometimes went 3 days without eating without noticing, and when he did eat he shoved the food in as he did for competitions.

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