Happy birthday, America, and try not to kill yourself today. We knew the inherent dangers of errant fireworks and binge drinking, two hallmarks of this annual birthday rite. Now we learn this week that another summer tradition — the hot-dog chugging race — can also result in near-death experiences, if not outright patriotic martyrdom.
Enter the case of Brian Read, age 19, who's playing for a team called the Seacoast Mavericks in a New England collegiate summer league. During the seventh-inning stretch of Sunday's game, he joined a contest to see who could eat one hot dog and bun the fastest without any water. Seacoast Online has the harrowing tale of how this innocent celebration of our land of plenty turned into an occasion for surgery and horror.
The whole nightmare's worth a read, but if you must have the aggregated version, it's that the poor fellow fell behind in the contest, and as a true competitor is wont to do, forewent the chewing function that four out of five doctors recommend. Sure enough, he not only finished last, he immediately felt the urge to throw up. (Competitive eaters know this action as "a reversal.") He found he could neither eat nor drink, and when the good folks at the local hospital dangled a camera down his throat, they espied an unchewed log of tube steak wedged sideways in his esophagus. A sawbones then sliced Read open and removed the offending 'furter.
Far from some random accident! If it could happen to Brian Read, it could happen to any red-blooded, baseball-playing, overzealous hot-dog nosher. In the name of public service I sent the story to the most expert eater I know, a man-giant named Joe LaRue, a professional eater for the past decade and three-time qualifier for the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. (I tagged along with him to Coney Island in '04, when he finished 10th.) Here's what Joe ascertained:
I don't know if it was the contestant doing something wrong, but the problem I do see is people making up the rules for contests without any idea of safety. Having a contest without something wet to go with the hot dogs is asking for trouble.
It's a small wonder he was the only person having problems. Food needs lubrication to help peristalsis. Think of it like going down a dry slide in a Speedo.
With that image in mind, please, chew, swallow and have a sip of something cold. All men are created equal, freedom isn't free, and food needs lubrication to help peristalsis. These words we hold dear on this day.
Mavericks pitcher undergoes surgery after hot dog eating contest [seacoastonline.com]
Photo credit of hungry scamps in 1960: Getty