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A Dog Story

By Dave Moe, Food Processing Consultant - If I look back over the past month (July 2020), I became aware I had overlooked and neglected to celebrate some important food holidays that featured dogs. I am familiar with July 4th but completely forgot about Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. According to the Nathan’s website, their first eating contest took place 104 years (about 15 dog years) ago.

By Dave Moe, Food Processing Consultant

I noted in the food section of our local paper July 29 was National Lasagna Day. Lasagna has nothing to do with dogs, but most people love dogs as well as lasagna. I have learned it is wise to include a teaser that suggests something like dogs may follow later. The answer to - why lasagna day? – was found at nationaltoday.com where it is listed on their national day calendar. I also discovered they publish a yearly calendar listing special days including food and beverage holidays. Each day, week and/or month features an individual food product. My “eureka” moment was the National Today food holiday list could become the bases for a new diet plan. With everyday being a food celebration, the diet can be called the National Today Calendar or NTC diet.

The NTC diet provides variation, moderation and inclusion of many familiar and unfamiliar foods. Healthiness is a key feature as fasting can take place on days where it was decided – “there is no way I am going to eat this, drink this or even feed it to my dog (first dog reference). If the daily holiday food choices do not work out, the backup plan is to follow the longer-range monthly featured foods or randomly pick a food from the list.

National Today introduces their food and beverage holiday by stating, “If you’re in need of an excuse to temporarily cheat on your diet, you might want to consider our lavish selection of food and beverage holidays. In fact, there are over 321 different beverage holidays to choose from.” If the NTC diet is followed, cheating becomes unnecessary as it is folded right into the plan.

The typical or atypical NTC diet starts with National Bloody Mary Day/National Hangover Day on Jan. 1 and ends with National Bacon Day on Dec. 30. Thus, the diet gives one the chance to get off to a great start and finish each year consuming exceptional foods without needing to brag about the other 363 days. The diet can cater to all with days featuring foods including fruitcake, jellybeans, tacos, artichokes, fig newtons, bologna, and other fast, slow, loved and detested foods. There is even a soy food day for processed plant eaters. The diet can be flexible for all and provides an opportunity for “guilt” for those who need it or a chance to try many truly “dog” (negative dog reference) products on the calendar. The take-away is there are “great” food products and “dog” food products within the NTC diet. The keep-away is many of the products would not enhance the life of dogs or some dog owners.

If I look back over the past month (July 2020), I became aware I had overlooked and neglected to celebrate some important food holidays that featured dogs. I am familiar with July 4 but completely forgot about Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. According to the Nathan’s website, their first eating contest took place 104 years (about 15 dog years) ago.

“Legend has it that on July 4, 1916, four immigrants gathered at the very first Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand in Coney Island and made eating contest history. As the story goes, they were competing to see who was the most patriotic. How did they determine the winner? With a hot dog eating contest, of course.”

Hot dogs were considered patriotic. “They were Americanized through their association with public events,” said hot dog scholar Bruce Kraig. “People ate them at baseball games, horse races, fairs and circuses.” Why not be a symbol of patriotism?

The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest has continued on July 4 at Cony Island since the first recorded contest in 1972. I have never witnessed the Nathan’s eating contest but have enjoyed some hot dogs at Nathan’s Coney Island and other locations. In 2020, the contest continued with only 10 eaters at an undisclosed location due to COVID-19 spacing and gathering size limits.

The 2020 results reported in the New York Times noted, “Joey Chestnut (a Major League Eater) broke his own record for hot dog eating by downing 75 hot dogs (with buns) in 10 minutes.” This was his 13th win at the annual contest. “Miki Sudo set a woman’s record, 48.5 hot dogs, to grab her seventh straight Nathan’s win.” To enjoy eating one hot dog in 10 minutes is challenge enough for me.

Hot dog eating contests I have witnessed over the years have had few if any guidelines. Normally the event involves a free t-shirt, the ability to wolf down some hot dogs and judges with technical skills to count and operate a timer.

The first lesson for the eater is hot dogs do not slide down like oysters or White Castle burgers. The second lesson is the event is weighted toward producing more losers than winners. A free t-shirt and lunch turn all losers into winners. The actual winner becomes a win-winner. Competitors in the Nathan’s Famous contest is now limited to professional competitive eaters and not those looking for lunch and a t-shirt.

The Nathan’s Famous contest is governed by strict rules. Major League Eating (MLE), sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE), has held the event since 1997. To compete in the contest, entrants must be under contract with MLE. MLE is an organization that organizes competitive eating events and television specials. A professional eater in a hot dog competition can be considered a “hot dog” hot dog eater.

IFOCE also supervises non-dog eating events. Examples of other overeating challenges include jalapeños, hamburgers, buffalo wings, oysters, donut holes, fruit cake and slurping Slurpee’s. The Nathan’s Famous is only one of many events where MLE compete.

James Smoliga, a High Point University physiology and sports medicine specialist, has now brought science to the hot dog eating contest. Most of us are familiar with the, yet, unanswered question – how much wood can a woodchuck chuck? Smoligna through his “gut stretching” research has provided an answer to the unanswered question – how much hot dog can a competitive eater chuck? This “dog chasing” research was published by The Royal Society, Biology Letters in July 2020.

The author has calculated “the theoretical maximal active consumption rate (ACR) for humans, using 39 years of historical data from the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.” If the theoretical maximal ACR is reported in ‘dog units’/10 minutes rather than actual grams/minute, the answer is 83 hot dogs eaten over a 10-minute time frame. It looks like current champions have some room to expand.  My actual hot dog ACR could handle the 83 hot dogs if the consumption time limit expanded to at least two years.

National Hot Dog Day and National Corn Dog Day also appear on the National Today calendar for July. Both products are overshadowed by the Nathan’s Famous event, and few can digest the thought of eating them until after lasagna day. Both deserve a place in the NTC diet plan as they are reduced calorie options to eating as many Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs as possible. In the NTC diet, the target for hot dogs or corn dogs is to eat as few as possible rather than as many as possible or eat a moderate amount.

If I look back to a lifetime of not eating corn dogs, my ARC is probably less than six in a period of 50 years. By comparison, Pronto Pups consumed at the Minnesota State Fair could be as high as three per year when I attended. I have pleasant memories of eating Pronto Pups, but no great memories related to eating corn dogs.

You might ask what makes Pronto Pups unique?  They are coated with a wheat-based (pancake like) batter, while corn dogs use a corn-based batter. Pronto Pops originated in Portland, Oregon, and continue to be a highlight at the Minnesota State Fair, selling around 400,000 each year.

Sausage may have been referenced in Homer’s Odyssey: “As what a man besides a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very quickly roasted.” I am sure wieners, franks, frankfurters or hot dogs were well beyond Homer’s critical thinking. Between the time of Homer and Nathan’s, there has been a long history of processing, eating and overeating sausage.

Homer did have some timely sayings including, “I didn’t lie! I just created fiction with my mouth!” or “Even a fool learns something once it hits him.” Homer Simpson is claimed to have said, “I’d be a vegetarian if bacon grew on trees.”

Let us get back to the dog story.

Some may wonder why hot dogs are called hot dogs. My answer is – why not? Hot dog sounds a lot better than the original name – dachshund sausage. It also fits better than a product called Natural Casing GERMAN BRAND FRANKFURTERS (made in USA) followed by gluten free, no MSG added, fully cooked, no artificial colors or flavors. Most people, including me, still consider this to be a hot dog rather than a “not” dog.

There has been discussion, papers written, books published, speeches given, and myths busted about the who, what, when, where and why a hot dog became a hot dog. Some say a hot dog does not become a hot dog until it is combined with a bun. This is all beyond the scope of this short dog story. I challenge readers to find your own dog story. Here’s to the dog days of August!