Chestnuts Are Roasting, According To Nathan's


It’s a terrific “who’s the underdog?” story for anyone who relishes bad puns.

Headline writers across America are eating it up. So far “Dog Fight!” is in the lead.

I’m speaking of course, about the sudden feud that erupted between Joey Chestnut, the beloved 16-time winner and reigning Mustard Belt Champion of Nathan’s  Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest, coming up on July 4, and a new vegan enemy: the plant-based brand people at Impossible Burger, who allegedly offered Chestnut an endorsement deal.

To prevent this, Nathan’s claims to have offered him a $1.2 million, 4-year deal going forward, and even allowed him “to compete in a rival, unbranded hot dog eating contest on Labor Day.” 

But apparently, the bun stops here. Nathan’s can’t stomach a dalliance with this “rival brand.”



Thus, the Impossible deal that hasn’t yet been formally announced resulted in Major League Eating, the company that runs the contest for Nathan’s, to do the equivalent of ripping off Chestnut’s epaulettes and kicking him out of the competition after 19 years of fierce, intestinal-swelling service.

However, MJE added that the door was still open for Chestnut -- known as “Jaws” -- to ditch the new endorsement deal and enter the competition.

That’s just part of the theatrical flurry of statements coming from both Joey and MJE, each hurt and using the word “gutted” about this turn of events.

The disagreements will no doubt keep a steady boil until Independence Day.

Still, it’s hardly D-Day.

It sounds to me like a clever, classic marketing stunt, whipped up to produce a press frenzy about the hot-button issue of the intrusion of healthy, modern food on traditional holiday eats, and what constitutes a patriotic July 4th.

And the press has bitten.

Some of the takes take Nathan’s side, which I would interpret as: How could we possibly be deprived of the country’s champion competitive eater, with that sweet, edible name of Chestnut, risking his health and intestines to choke down massive amounts of sodium-rich beef parts and hydrolyzed corn protein? After all, he’s doing it for us and the flag!

Or is Joey C. a traitor to all that is godly, flirting with plant food in the form of a hot dog?

For its part, Impossible Foods has remained on the sidelines. "We love Joey and support him in any contest he chooses," a spokesperson said in a press release, keeping the relationship, though seemingly supportive, on the downlow.

It’s certainly an entertaining distraction from the grimness of the news cycle.

For my money, it’s also a comedically genius marketing stunt, done for almost zero dollars, with the fake fight and inflamed statements suggesting the tone of the early days of American advertising.

In the 1840s, “preachers,” some of whom were con men, were known to travel in “medicine shows” promoting “patented” cures. Their fanciful yarns about restoring great health convinced the public to buy unproven tonics. Their riffs were then translated into print ads.

For the record, according to Chestnut’s web site, he’s already strayed into the competitive eating fields of asparagus, boysenberry pie, and “brain tacos.”

As for Nathan’s famous contest, according to Wikipedia, it started as a fight among four recently arrived immigrants about who loved America the most. 

The argument “happened” to take place in 1916 at Nathan’s Famous, a hot dog stand that had just opened on Coney Island.

The stand’s owner, Nathan Handwerker, feared that blood might be drawn, which would be bad for business, so he proposed a contest:

Whoever could chow down the greatest number of all-beef wieners in 12 minutes would be declared the most patriotic of the bunch. James Mullen, an Irish immigrant, won by wolfing 13 dogs, buns included.

Now, we would laugh at that pathetic sum.

In 2021, Chestnut laid waste to an incredibly patriotic 76 dogs, scarfing one every nine seconds.

Imagine that.

The New York Post, which first reported the story, noted that Chestnut had reached a deal to represent the California-based Impossible Foods, which recently introduced beef-substitute hotdogs that it says generate 84% less greenhouse gas emissions than the animal-based alternative.

“It’s OK to experiment with a new dog. Meat eaters shouldn’t have to be exclusive to just one wiener,” Impossible Foods later commented.

This line of thinking also aligns with the brand’s latest ad campaign, which is tongue-in-cheekily targeted to manly men.

George Shea, the famous straw-hatted host and hype master of the contest, said he was “devastated by the separation.”

“It would be like back in the day Michael Jordan coming to Nike, who made his Air Jordans, and saying, ‘I am just going to rep Adidas too,’” Shea told the New York Times. “It just can’t happen.”

Bad analogy. Jordan played basketball, an enormous money-making actual sport, among the top four in the world. It’s also dependent on good shoes. Whereas Chestnut risks intestinal damage and choking when he dips into Nathan’s once a year to participate in a contest he’s helped make famous.

It would make sense for Impossible Burger to have pulled this off. And I wish they’d spill the beans already.

As for what will happen on July 4, say it ain’t so, Joey!

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