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Suck Down Dogs

The Day the Meat Wars Came for Joey Chestnut

Banning a guy from a hotdog-eating competition just because he signed a deal with a company that makes vegan meat substitutes is weird.

Joey Chestnut raises his hands as an announcer clasps his wrist.
Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images
Defending champion Joey Chestnut cheers after finishing in first place in the 2023 Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island, Brooklyn, on July 4, 2023.

Every year on the Fourth of July, millions of Americans tune in to watch the world’s top competitive eaters scarf down an ungodly number of hot dogs on Coney Island. Since 2015, that contest has been dominated by one man. Joey Chestnut has won the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest a total of 16 times, hitting a world record in 2021 when he sucked down 76 dogs in the competition’s customary 10-minute duration. This year, Chestnut has been banned from participating in the contest by the body that oversees it, Major League Eating, or MLE.

The reason is because Chestnut accepted a sponsorship deal with Impossible Foods, the California-based purveyor of plant-based, meat-like products (including, as of a few months ago, hot dogs). MLE cited its “hot dog exclusivity provisions,” presumably with Nathan’s, blaming Chestnut and his managers for having “prioritized a new partnership with a different hot dog brand over our long-time relationship.” Chestnut, notably, is not an employee of either MLE or Nathan’s but a freelance competitive eater selling his labor power to sponsors and contest hosts. Chestnut wrote on X that he was “gutted” to learn of the ban on Tuesday. Fans have pledged to boycott Nathan’s. The ban has also courted outrage from the likes of Barstool Sports, including one commentator for the site who called the decision “UNAMERICAN.”

This all comes as politicians including Florida Ron DeSantis and Senator John Fetterman are trying to gin up a culture war over meat alternatives. Impossible Foods’ products are plant-based. Its trademark ingredient is a genetically engineered protein called heme, which adds a meaty flavor to Impossible products’ plant matter. Other companies in the alt-protein ecosystem are seeking to produce meat alternatives derived from animal cells and cultivated into sausages, hamburgers, and other familiar products. “Florida is fighting back against the global elite’s plan to force the world to eat meat grown in a petri dish or bugs,” DeSantis said in signing a statewide ban on “lab-grown” meat, which has so far only been made available to consumers in the United States through limited pop-ups at a small handful of restaurants in New York and San Francisco. Alabama has enacted a similar policy.

This is loser behavior, and America’s competitive eating enthusiasts seem to agree. As the blowback to Chestnut’s ban has shown, red-blooded Americans aren’t especially concerned with what kind of hot dogs someone wants to eat, so long as they can suck a winning number of glizzies—meat by-products industrially processed into goo, then stuffed into casing—down their throat.

“It’s a hot dog–eating contest. If this vegan hot dog–eating guy wants to eat your hot dogs, why don’t you use this as an opportunity to remind people that your hot dogs are better than other hot dogs?” ESPN’s Pat McAfee asked, angrily recounting the news. “Why are you scared that the greatest hot dog sucker in the history of hot dog sucking down might do better than your people because he’s a vegan hot dog guy? Let the guy suck down dogs!”