Bloomberg cheers on Nathan's hot dog eating hopefuls
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who wants to limit restaurant sales of sugared drinks to 16-ounce cups as part of his anti-obesity campaign, welcomed competitors in Nathan's Famous Inc.'s Fourth of July hot dog-eating contest to a City Hall weigh-in Tuesday.
Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, 28, who in 2009 set a record at the Coney Island boardwalk tube steak emporium for devouring 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, stood 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighed 210 pounds. The female record-holder, Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, 44, who consumed 41 in 2009, tipped the scales at 100 pounds on her 5-foot-5 frame.
Bloomberg, 70, who has sampled the wares of several sidewalk hot dog vendors in his 10 years as mayor, presided at the weigh-in for 29 contestants at an annual ceremony in City Hall Park. On Monday, he touted a nutrition program that would make discounts on fruit and vegetables more available to food stamp recipients. Hot dogs — Nathan's says they contain 297 calories each — are acceptable once in a while, he said.
"Having it occasionally is fine," Bloomberg said Monday of high-calorie fast food. "If you want to eat 65 hot dogs in 10 minutes, that's even fine; just don't do it more than once a year and you won't have a problem. There's nothing wrong about most things in moderation."
In May, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, told President Barack Obama to stop eating hot dogs in front of news cameras, saying "processed meats like hot dogs kill more Americans each year than tobacco does, and they cost taxpayers billions of dollars in health care."
The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, a Washington-based industry group, estimates that Americans eat about 20 billion hot dogs a year, including about 20.5 million that Major League Baseball said were sold in its stadiums last year.
The council is part of the American Meat Institute, a lobbying group created in 1906 after Upton Sinclair wrote "The Jungle," a novel that exposed slaughterhouse practices and brought a wave of U.S. government food-processing regulation, said Janet Riley, the council's director.
The hot dog's historic ancestor, the sausage, traces its origins as far back as ancient Greece, when Homer mentioned it in "The Odyssey," Riley said.
Its roots in the U.S. date to the 19th century, when German and Polish immigrants sold sausages wrapped in bread from carts on city streets, said Bruce Kraig, author of "Hot Dog, A Global History" and president of the Culinary Historians of Chicago. The name hot dog came from people joking about how they didn't know what meat went into them, Kraig said.
Nathan's, founded on Brooklyn's Coney Island boardwalk by Nathan Handwerker in 1916, is part of that mythology, Kraig said.
Nathan's Famous, a public company since 1993, has promoted the hot dog contest as a media event since 1972, according to the Jericho, N.Y.-based company.
The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.