Op-Ed: The Hot Dog, An American Metaphor

Posted Jul 4, 2009 by Cristina Quiñones
Today, nothing screams American patriotism more loudly than Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, the man who just won that Nathan's Famous July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Joey Chestnut
Hot Dog eating champion
public immage
Speckles of half-masticated hot dog bun clung to Chestnut's lips and cheeks as he grinned, hoisting a trophy high over his head as the Star Spangled Banner played triumphantly in the background. An American flag was draped over his right shoulder
30,000 fans ecstatically cheered for Chestnut after he defeated Japanese competitive eater Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi, winning the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest after eating 68 hot dogs and eclipsing the old world record by nine.
While watching the event live on ESPN, I found myself both mildly entertained and baffled. How did this stomach-centric sport become a Fourth of July staple? Although it was difficult for me to directly correlate hot dogs and American patriotism at first, everything came together once I did a little research.
Historical records show that the hot dog was invented in the 1800s by a German immigrant named Charles Feltman. The dish was then popularized polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker, who started the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs stand in 1916. Legend has it that the hot dog eating contest began on July 4, 1916 when four immigrants decided to use brute hot dog consumption to settle an argument about who was the most patriotic. The winner of the first Nathan’s hot dog eating challenge was Neer Sehgal, who ate 13 hot dogs in ten minutes.
So what is the connection between mechanically separated and ground pork, beef and chicken trimmings stuffed in cellulose tubing and American patriotism? If the diverse ingredients in the hot dog are viewed as different immigrant groups that have helped shape American culture and identity and the casing is interpreted as the United States of America as a whole, then the hot dog is the perfect American metaphor, representing the U.S. as a melting pot encased within a single national identity.
If American patriotism were measured in hot dogs, then today’s competition shows that patriotism has grown exponentially since the first Nathan’s eating contest. Joey Chestnut’s triumph not only marks a victory for American patriots everywhere, but also showed the entire world the tenacity of the American spirit (and the endurance of American masticator muscles).
The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Challenge represents everything American: traditional American food is eaten in gargantuan portions, live television coverage and, after the event, people around the country celebrate their independence by lighting up the night sky with fiery explosions. Today’s victory is the icing on the cake (or, perhaps more appropriately, the mustard on the dog). Although Japan beat the United States in the World Baseball Classic back in March, the United States has managed to remain the undisputed champion in its other national pastime: eating.