Joey Chestnut

What drives a man to guzzle 69 hotdogs in 10 minutes? At what point in Joey Chestnut’s life did he silently say to himself that he wanted to be known the world over for shoving vast amounts of food down his gullet in short amounts of time? When you think about it Joey Chestnut, who just won his 7th “Nathan’s Famous” hot dog eating contest (and $10,000), is the perfect American paradox. He is an individual who has allowed his heart to take him to great heights, even if those “heights” would be considered embarrassing lows for many others.

Here’s what the construction-manager-by-day said of his second profession to Vanity Fair:

Mr. Chestnut—who was nicknamed “Jaws” by Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas, holder of the world record for eating hard-boiled eggs (65 in six minutes 40 seconds)—is the son of a homemaker and a middle-school music teacher. “My mom and dad are good people,” he told me unself-consciously. “I love them. Mom only gets angry when I don’t visit her enough. She raised six kids to be 100 percent independent and work for everything we achieve. I mean, we don’t expect anything for free.”

“What does your dad say about your fame as an eater?”

“He says what he always says to me: ‘Joey, don’t be an asshole! Be like you are with me.’ My dad’s an awesome dude.” …

“There’s nothing pretty about competitive eating […] It might be uncouth. But it is fun and it is lighthearted.” …

There are critics of competitive eating who protest that it sets a bad example for the obese population of America. But Joey doesn’t see the connection—any more than he sees one between car-racing events and the oil crisis.

“When you narrow it down, how many real pleasures are there in life?” he asked me unexpectedly. “There’s only four the way I count it. There’s eating, there’s laughing, there’s making love, and there’s the accomplishment of achievement and feeling proud. Maybe in America there’s more of an emphasis on food than there should be. But when I look out at the audience during a competition, some people are shocked, but most people are smiling.”

At the end of the day Joey Chestnut seems to be a good person who works hard at whatever he does (construction or competitive eating), doesn’t expect anything from anyone else, and who wants to bring a smile to a few faces each Independence Day.

Here’s what Mr. Chestnut says about his training regime:

His training regime for the Nathan’s hot-dog contest is a strict one of fasting, running, consuming protein supplements, drinking gallons of water to push his body to the limit, and performing full-scale eating workouts during which he simulates the actual tournament.

Come July 4, he will be down to his fighting weight of around 205 pounds. “But, Joey,” I said, “I’m beginning to worry about your health.”

No worries there! His medical checkups have always been excellent. “I think my body was built to eat 68 hot dogs,” he explained. “It’s natural.”

“It is?”

“Well, it’s more natural to me than running a 26-mile marathon. I think that’s insane!”

Joey makes a good point: How is it any more strange for him to be the world’s best “guy who eats tubed meat” than it is to be the best “guy who runs really, really far”? To do what Chestnut does — at the level he does it — takes a kind of discipline that most people today, sadly, do not possess. Indeed, most of the obese Americans out there would not be obese if they honed the kind of disciplinary skills displayed by Mr Chestnut.

The cynical part of us always wonders what the world be like if the Joey Chestnuts of the world put more time and energy into curing cancer than chowing down on hot dogs, but a better question might be: “What would the world look like if we were all scientists?” It would probably be a very clean, very healthy and very boring place that would make sane people want to die.

Part of what makes life special is all the wonderfully weird stuff that goes on. A man whose root motivation is to push his body to its limits and make a few people laugh along the way is a good man — and a good American — in my book.

‘Merica.

Joey Chestnut

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

8 comments

    1. Jim, let’s look at the actual science: The CDC says the average American ages 2 and up consumes 3,400 mg of sodium daily. That’s roughly 1.2 million mg of sodium yearly. So because Joey Chestnut downs a bunch of hotdogs each Independence Day he’ll need kidney dialysis? Wrong. He’ll simply retain water, get thirsty, and drink more water to expel the extra sodium from his body.

      That aside, Joey Chestnut is a productive member of society. He is a construction manager who seems to have a healthy personal life — who exercises and fasts during the course of the year on top of that. His doctors say he’s perfectly fine.

      Given all that, if he wants to be a competitive eater I’m not sure why you’d call him a fool. He’s not hurting you in any way, shape or form. He’s simply not into whatever it is you’re into (e.g., poetry). And that’s fine. You do your thing, he’ll do his. Isn’t that what America is all about? That’s why I called him the “perfect paradox.”

      Team Chestnut, all the way.

    2. At least he has a job and is a functioning member of society. Plus, Chestnut makes more at his hobby than you do in a year. How do you like them hotdogs?

    3. While I disagree quite a bit with Jim’s characterization of Joey Chestnut as a “fool” and a “razamajazz huckster” (I’m not sure how that’s even possible or what sort of snake oil Chestnut is supposedly selling), I think your repeated attempts to downplay the work Jim does on his family farm severely undercuts whatever point you’re trying to make. I wouldn’t go there…

    4. Not sure how working on a farm during the summer between poetry grad school semesters puts the self-described “layabout” on equal footing with someone earning an honest living, winning big at a hobby he loves, and taking care of his family, but I could be wrong…

      Anyhoo… I really liked the post. Great writing and interesting viewpoint.

  1. I feel a little weird saying this but this might be one of my favorite posts on here. I greatly emphasize with Chestnut’s philosophy on life after learning about it in this article. I’d even dare saying he might be a good role model. That, and he’s a better hot dog feaster than me – I couldn’t eat 69 in a day to save my life, let alone in ten minutes.

    1. Thanks for the read and the comment, Mark! Yes, he does seem to have a great outlook on life. I’d definitely put him in the role model camp if the Vanity Fair piece is remotely close to being an accurate description of the man.

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