The Fourth of July annual Festival of Gluttony at Coney Island known as the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is happening once again, virus be damned.
At an undisclosed location. With five instead of fifteen participants. And no fans.
I mentioned before in this space that professional sports contests without fans is, at best, a ludicrous proposition, and at worst, just sad. I see this event shaping up as sort of the same thing.
Joey Chestnut will be on hand to defend his title from last year (and eleven other years), when he scarfed down 71 dogs in ten minutes. Miki Sudo will represent the ladies again this year, having won six other times. Last year, she downed 41 dogs.
I’m wondering if the straw boater showman George Shea will be there to stir up enthusiasm with his carnival barker style and undeniable enthusiasm. I can only hope that he will be. It will be broadcast on ESPN once again, and color commentators will have to work doubly hard to fill in the time pre-show and afterwards. It’s ten minutes of rather disgusting forcing down buns and condiment-less hot dogs, in which the natural inclination is to look away. It’s like the Kentucky Derby without the hats.
For someone who enjoys (okay, relishes) the whole hot dog eating experience, the contest is something of an anomaly – a joyless, intense gorging that does little to support the brand, which is a good one, by the way.
I have enjoyed both Nathan’s and Sabrett hot dogs in Brooklyn, purchased off umbrella push carts, where the vendors used a flat, wooden stick to spread the mustard, before spraying on an onion sauce out of a plastic bottle. You don’t ask for sport peppers and celery salt in New York. And I dare you to ask for a poppyseed bun. At best, the vendor would call YOU a poppyseed and move on to the next customer. At best. At worst, he’d take back the dog because you don’t deserve it, or tell you where to shove it.
But where’s the joy? Where’s the savoring? Six-time Nathan’s winner Takeru Kobayashi would dip his hot dogs in water before eating them. That can’t be pleasant to do, and it’s even more unpleasant to watch.
A big part of the contest has always been the convivial atmosphere – the people sporting hot dog hats and the good will. George Shea always knew how to bring the fun. It’s hard to know what to expect from this year’s offering. Odds are pretty good that
Chestnut and Sudo will each bring home the ten grand and the coveted Mustard Belt, but the whole thing can put you off your feed a little bit. Too many dogs, not enough good stuff on them.
Somebody once said of my Chicago-style dog: “That’s not a hot dog, it’ a salad.”
Fair enough, I told him. I like to eat healthy.
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