There’s nothing as quintessentially American as a hot dog eating competition. While the saying goes, “as American as apple pie,” there are lots of places that enjoy apple pie, apple cake, strudel, and countless other pommelicious treats. “As American as sixty-eight hot dogs in ten minutes,” however – that has the ring of truth to it.
Independence Day is a day when freedom lovers in the United States and around the world celebrate the founding of a nation based on the principle of individual rights. John Adams predicted that the day would be celebrated with “pomp and parade, … sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations.” He never predicted the hot dog eating competition but it’s become an institution anyway.
ESPN – yes, this is a nationally televised “sporting” event – reports that this year Joey Chestnut logged his third consecutive win in the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest, defeating his archrival Takeru Kobayashi by scoffing down sixty-eight frankfurters and buns in ten minutes. He improved decisively on last year’s effort, when the competition was decided in “a dramatic five hot dog eat-off.”
Some might moan that this is a trivialisation of an important anniversary. Others (usually not known for their desire to celebrate the principle of individual rights) think it’s an illustration of typical American gluttony. They decry other culinary abominations – like the Domino’s meat pie and French fry pizza in a cheesy puff-pastry box – as obesity-causing examples of American cultural imperialism.
Tough. It’s called Freedom. And the thing about freedom is you can’t tell people what to do with it. If that’s how people want to celebrate their independence, who am I to argue?
America was explicitly founded on the idea of freedom. For two hundred years people have flocked to America and used that freedom to create the most economically productive, technologically advanced, militarily powerful nation on earth. And some of them have used that freedom to stuff their faces with processed meat. So what? They’re still ahead on points.
And to the charge of gluttony? When four percent of the world’s population produces twenty-six percent of the world’s stuff there’s room for some excess.
Freedom is the state most conducive to human flourishing. OK, some people will die early because their arteries are blocked with stringy cheese that came out of an aerosol can, but they’ll probably have enjoyed themselves en route. And no one’s saying that you have to eat that crap. Most people will use their freedom wisely – and flourish.
Humanity comes equipped with a vast range of virtues and vices, and a free society gives latitude to both. But most of the vices are trivial and many of the virtues are grand.
Whether you’re looking for wieners or winners – freedom provides more than you can imagine of both.
* * Read Bernard Darnton's column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *