Point of No Return — Independence Day brings food dependence

Well, the Fourth has come and gone, and seemingly taken away any shred of dignity I had left with it.

What started as a day with images in my head of patriotic bunting, marching bands and red, white and blue fireworks exploding in the heavens above, deteriorated into a festival of ketchup cascading down my shirt and shards of potato chip shrapnel zipping through the air, posing a public health concern to anyone within, well, whatever range a ballistic potato chip carries with it.

Yes, gluttony was on the menu this Independence Day, and I went for the daily special. There were hot dogs and hamburgers and sausages stuffed with cheese, and all of them met a similar fate — joining those who came before them in the afterlife I affectionately call my gut.

It didn’t feel like such a bad idea at the time. There’s just something about a hot dog that screams “America,” and cheeseburgers are the bigger, better-looking cousin of the hot dog. By not eating these patriotic delights, I was, basically, letting the terrorists win.


So, I shoveled in as many as I could, as was my responsibility and duty as a proud American. And, my God, I am an American.

Now, what happened a few hours later felt more like North Korea than America. There was turmoil. There was anguish. And there were sounds escaping my belly that didn’t make much sense to the trained ear, but were boisterous enough that you had to pay attention.

Resigned to an evening of feeling uncomfortable, I made my way into the bedroom, got into a prolonged fistfight with my shoes as I struggled to bend over far enough to take them off and collapsed into bed, putting maximum stress on the springs and perhaps lowering the ground beneath me to below sea level. I mustered up the strength to reach for the remote control, flipped the channel to ESPN and instantly regretted my decision.

They were showing “highlights” of the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island’s famous boardwalk. Joey “Jaws” Chestnut earned his 10th title in the event, polishing off 72 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. That is an average of 7.2 hot dogs a minute, a number that paled in comparison to the nine hot dogs a minute he averaged in the opening minutes.

“I slowed down quite a bit,” said Chestnut. “I was sweating like a mad dog. It was great, but I knew I could do better.”

If I ate one hot dog a minute for 10 minutes, I would balloon to a size that would warrant my own congressman. Joey Chestnut eats 72 of them and looks like he could step off on a 5K run, though I probably wouldn’t want to be running behind him if he did.

The women’s competition saw some impressive (is that the right word?) action, as well. Mikie Sudo, who weighs 126 pounds, according to UPI, won her fourth consecutive women’s title by consuming 41 hot dogs and buns in that same 10-minute window. Michelle Lesco finished second, with a mere 32 hot dogs put down in the competition.

Coney Island wasn’t the only place hosting eating contests over the holiday. Washington D.C.’s Z-Burger hosted its eighth annual Independence Burger Eating Championship on July 3. The winner made it three years in a row, consuming 21 hamburgers in 10 minutes. That was down from last year’s competition, when the winner polished off 28 burgers.

The winner was Molly Schuyler of Sacramento, and she also ate 429 wings in 30 minutes during a competition last year.

“Couple of years ago, someone bet me that I couldn’t eat a five-pound hamburger,” Schuyler told WJLA-TV, per UPI, “and I just did it for the heck of it. And I found out I could make more money doing that than an actual job.”

By the way, UPI reported that Schuyler asked for a double chocolate milkshake only a few minutes after her burger-eating championship. This is akin to asking an elephant to walk on your back for you after being trampled by a stampede of hippos and water buffalo.

These are the most American competitions one could imagine, outside of a race featuring contestants riding bald eagles over Fort McHenry while shooting off semi-automatic rifles into the skies. Eating contests capture our competitive nature, our need to watch other human beings test themselves and our sheer love of gluttony. We are Americans, and we do everything to excess.

We spend big. We eat big. And, well, we are pretty big.

According to a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, childhood obesity is at 12.7 percent, significantly higher than the other 19 most-populated nations in the world. Psychology Today released their own study, stating that approximately 12.7 million American youth (ages 2-19) are obese — a rate of 17 percent.

Of course, there are factors to consider that do not include our children eating 72 hot dogs every 10 minutes — sugary drinks, less physical activity than in generations past and a lack of access to healthy foods, particularly in low-income communities, all were mentioned in that Psychology Today piece.

But what about our animals?

Fear not, fellow Americans, they are fat, too.

A study by Banfield Pet Hospital, per Fox 31 in Denver, states that one-third of American dogs and cats are overweight, and that figure has gone up to the tune of 158 percent for dogs, and 169 percent for cats, over the past 10 years.

So, rest assured, it isn’t your imagination. We’re all getting bigger. And that just screams red, white and blue... and, gravy.