Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Countdown Has Begun

When my six-year-old niece, Maddie, chose to become a vegetarian, the content of a hot dog played no small role in her decision. One afternoon she just tugged at my sister's skirt and said, "Mom, you know chicken?" My sister said, "Yes, I know chicken, what about it?" Maddie continued, "Well, when we eat chicken, are we really eating a CHICKEN?" My sister nodded. Maddie's eyes widened. "And turkey?" she asked, "Is that like really TURKEY?" My sister bit her lip, sorry to have to inform her young child about the horrors of the food chain, but she nodded yes to that as well. "Oh, no!" Maddie replied, her mouth dropping open, "So hot DOGS are really...?"

My sister did try to reassure Maddie that hot dogs didn't come from actual dogs but rather from unidentified animal snout, hoof, hair and lord knows what else. Still, the damage had been done, and meat became verboten in the mouth of my wee niece.

Fortunately for the fans of sport, exactly the opposite was true on the boardwalk of Coney Island yesterday where the 91st installment of the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest took place. It was an especially exciting event this year as four-time world champion Takeru Kobayashi of Japan looked to make history defending his title against top eaters from around the globe.

According to Nathan's own site: "Kobayashi, who secured his fifth straight win on July 4, 2005, by consuming 49 Nathan's Famous hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes, weighs only 144 pounds. His main competition this year is expected to come from Sonya Thomas, a 100-pound, 37-year-old Korean-born resident of Alexandria, VA, and Rich LeFevre, a 135-pound, 60-year-old resident of Henderson, NV."

Let me just say I was in Coney Island yesterday, but arrived too late to see the storied contest. And this is something for which I thanked my lucky stars. A vegetarian I'm not, but the thought of watching people shove dog after dog after dog after dog down their throats kinda--ooh, what's the right turn of phrase?--gags me with a spoon. It ain't just because I learned how hot dogs were processed in 7th grade health class, it's just that encouraging competitive eating is such a raunchy idea, so insulting to let's say the whole third world and so much not what we should encourage in this obese nation of ours, even thinking about it makes me want to barf.

Though they were already taking down the championship bandstand when I got there, evidence of the contest was everywhere apparent nonetheless. When it's a hot and steamy day on the boardwalk, one really gets a chance to see born & naturalized New Yorkers in all their glistening glory. But not only were the patrons of the C.I. gargantuanly fat, the sea gulls were so overfed, they were the size of ostriches. They'd gained so much weight thanks to their surroundings, they were no longer capable of flight. They could barely waddle, and this struck me as dangerous to their health for a host of reasons, not the least of which being that once the dogs were gone, those birds of trash prey could easily find themselves sandwiched between two buns.

But good news, gulls! Thanks to the Nathan's countdown clock we know you only have 364 more days of hiding till the next 4th of July hot dog smackdown. Meantime, bon appetit, birdies!


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