Human Nature

Dr. Pepper and Mr. Hot Dog

Michael Bloomberg thinks hot-dog contests are fun, but soda and burgers are shameful.

Hamburger and hotdog.
Hamburger and hotdog.

Photo courtesy of thinkstock/iStockphoto.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the nation’s leader in regulating unhealthy food choices. He has banned trans fats, pressured companies to reduce salt use, and mandated public calorie counts at restaurants. Last month, he announced plans to restrict soda sales to containers of 16 ounces or less.

But Bloomberg has a weakness: a longstanding partnership with the July 4 Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest. Year after year, he has presided at the weighing-in ceremony, congratulated the contestants for gorging themselves, and boasted about the millions of people watching on TV.

Bloomberg announced his soda crackdown a month before this year’s hot-dog contest. That gave him four weeks to reconsider whether he should celebrate gluttony while lecturing New Yorkers about their food habits. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine warned him:

At last year’s contest, winner Joey Chestnut consumed 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes. Sixty-two Nathan’s Famous All-Beef Hot Dogs contain 2,085 mg of cholesterol and more than 1,162 grams of fat. … Studies show that a person who averages a hot dog each day increases his risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent.

On July 2, a day before the weigh-in, Bloomberg held a press conference to tout his “city-wide effort to fight the obesity epidemic.” Reporters asked him about the eating contest. “I like fast food like everybody else,” Bloomberg said. “Having it occasionally is fine. If you want to eat 65 hot dogs in 10 minutes that’s even fine. Just don’t do it more than once a year, and you won’t have a problem.”

Apparently Bloomberg is unfamiliar with the competitive eating circuit he’s promoting. Here’s some of what Chestnut has consumed over the past year in spurts of eight to 12 minutes: 53 tacos on July 29, seven pounds of ribs on Aug. 31, six pounds of chicken wings on Sept. 4, 35 bratwurst on Sept. 17, 38 more bratwurst on Sept. 24, two gallons of Chili on Oct. 9, 390 shrimp wontons on Feb. 11, 20 corned beef sandwiches on March 17, nine pounds of deep-fried asparagus on April 28, 17 cheese steaks on May 19, nearly five pounds of ribs on June 2, and 68 hot dogs with buns on July 4. And that’s not counting all the other exhibitions Chestnut does. Over the last six years, Chestnut has established 20 world records for gorging.

On July 3, Bloomberg ignored his critics and proudly officiated once again at the hot-dog contest weigh-in. Here’s video and an excerpt of his remarks:

How many decades have we been doing this? … It seems like lots of decades, actually. … This is one of my favorite traditions. I relish it so much I insisted that City Hall donate the condiments. … When Nathan’s held the first hot-dog eating contest almost 100 years ago … no one could have imagined … to what heights today’s competitive eaters would raise the bar. Back then, eating 20 hot dogs in 10 minutes was considered an incredible, inedible feat. For many of this year’s contestants, however, that would be considered an appetizer.

The speech was irreverent and loaded with awful puns. At one point, Bloomberg asked, “Who wrote this shit?” He was wry and funny. His implicit message to critics was: Lighten up.

But then, this week, Bloomberg was asked at another press conference about the Million Big Gulp March, a mocking protest against his proposed limit on soda size. Demonstrators carried signs saying “Hands off my bladder.” They wore T-shirts joking, “I Picked Out My Beverage All By Myself.” Video of the press conference (fast forward to minute 35) shows that Bloomberg was not amused:

If you want to kill yourself, I guess you have a right to do it. … There’s a real question as to whether McDonald’s and Coca-Cola should be sponsoring the Olympics, where they are supposed to have only healthy things. We’ve got to do something about this, and they can have a march and make a joke out of it, but there’s a story in the Post today where the hospitals are having to increase the size of their gurneys and strengthen them. They can’t even handle the patients, some of the patients are so heavy. This is going to be worse than smoking ever was. … If somebody wants to have a march, I suppose it’s funny, but it is so tragic what is happening that I will say, the humor kind of escapes me.

One of these days, the Bloomberg who loves to celebrate gorging, promote a hot-dog chain, and yuk it up with competitive eating promoters will meet the Bloomberg who wants to restrict soda size, shame burger chains, and scold people who find humor in his crusade against supersized drinks. Until then, it’s hard to see why anyone should take him seriously.

William Saletan’s latest short takes on the news, via Twitter: