If there was any indication as to how fat America is getting, it would have been on the Fourth of July.
As I was eating lunch on Wednesday, channel-surfing between several patriotic parades, I stumbled across a live event on ESPN that happened to curb my appetite - the 92nd Nathan's International Hot Dog Eating Contest.
In 1916, Jim Mullen won the first contest by inhaling 13 hot dogs. Well, 91 years and 53 more hot dogs later, a new champion was crowned - Joey Chestnut.
Obviously, the contest isn't why we celebrate Independence Day; the event has nothing to do with how America declared its independence from Great Britain.
But you wouldn't necessarily assume it after seeing the 31,000-plus in attendance that traveled to Coney Island, N.Y., to watch the spectacle. (The crowd was so big you'd think the people were waiting in line for an iPhone.)
The basic rules regarding the all-you-can-eat, 12-minute contest states that entrants must be 18 or older, hot dog and bun (HDBs) must be consumed and dunking HDBs in water - which helps slide down easier - may not exceed five seconds.
Not only does the winner receive the Nathan's Mustard Belt and current bragging rights, but the champ gets $10,000 and a year's supply of hot dogs. Needless to say, there was a lot at steak, or stake.
On Wednesday, 17 contestants took the stage, with each competitor's body weight ranging from approximately 100 to 300 pounds. But the competition is more of "mind over stomach" rather than anything else.
Entering the contest, the primary focus was on Japan's six-time defending champion and top-ranked competitive eater, Takeru Kobayashi, and whether or not he could defend his title. The 154-pound Kobayashi has dominated in this event, and if anyone was going to have the stomach to dethrone him, it was going to be 23-year-old Joey Chestnut, a Civil Engineering major from San Jose State University.
During the qualifier last month, Chestnut broke the world record by consuming 59.5 hot dogs. Naturally, this sparked national attention much like a heralded boxing match would between two heavyweight contenders. Except this time it was Chestnut vs. Kobayashi - the Battle of the Bulge.
What made for an even more compelling story was whether or not Kobayashi could even compete this year, since he was still recovering from a jaw injury due to a pulled wisdom tooth. One announcer described the surgery as "a pain like a Peyton Manning cell phone commercial."
But not even that could stop the 27-year-old nicknamed "Tsunami" from taking his seat on the raised platform next to Chestnut.
Despite sitting next to the Michael Jordan of competitive eating, Chestnut was not intimidated by Kobayashi. Prior to the competition, Chestnut had been training for months, and he hadn't eaten a standard meal since June 26, consuming only protein supplements, milk and water. (Sounds completely appetizing, right?)
As a result, Chestnut inhaled a record-breaking 66 hot dogs in just 12 minutes - a rate of one hot dog every 10.91 seconds. (Just typing that sentence makes me want to hurl.)
Records are meant to be broken - it's one of the greatest aspects regarding sports. When I think of significant records, Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak comes to mind. It's perhaps the only record in a major sport that will not be broken during my lifetime because of the increasing amount of pitchers batters face each game.
However, Chestnut annihilated the previous Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest by 12.25 franks.
I suppose there are worse things than inhaling 66 hot dogs, such as being crowned the SPAM eating champion of the world like contestant Rich LeFevre. But on this particular Fourth of July, Chestnut was king.
For a much broader perspective on how impressive and disgusting this feat truly was, Chestnut consumed 12,540 calories in less time that it takes to watch half an episode of "Seinfeld." (There are approximately 80 calories in each bun and 110 calories in each hot dog.) Basically, it would require 18 straight hours of running to burn off all of those calories.
But the contest in itself was simply amazing, and actually somewhat educational. Honestly, what other sporting event can offer you terms like chipmunking (stuffing your mouth), clearing and the reversal of fortune? Or the distinct technique behind the "Chestnut Shake" - the procedure orchestrated by America's new champion that allowed him to cram more hot dogs in his stomach than the infamous Oscar Mayer Wienermobile can carry.
As I was hopelessly watching the competitors stuff themselves, captivated by the sheer notion that what they were doing was more disgusting than any horror movie I had ever seen, I simply could not change the channel.
To keep it viewer-friendly, ESPN strategically placed a "hot dog counter" in the top corner of the screen, which kept track of HDBs eaten, current place and time remaining. The table made it more exciting and intense, especially for those not wanting to be anywhere near the juice-spraying eaters.
In the end, the gorge-fest ended in a photo finish between Kobayashi and Chestnut, causing the judges actually to look at the instant replay - but not before leaving everyone hanging on the edge of their seats while the network cut to a commercial break.
Once the second place winner was finally announced, the crowd erupted and began chanting "JOEY! JOEY! JOEY!" And after an American flag was draped over the shoulders of Chestnut as he waved to the massive crowd with a stomach-churning expression, all I could mustard - I mean, muster - was, "please don't throw up on Old Glory."
However, the event would not have been nearly as mesmerizing had it not been for one of the announcers, Richard Shea.
Not knowing anything about him or whether or not he even covers the annual event, Shea managed to bring just the right amount of enthusiasm and humor to hold my attention, as well as millions of others watching at home. The funniest line was spoken at the five minute and 40 second mark, when Kobayashi was trailing by two hot dogs. Shea quipped, "If he can hang on, you Google American hero tomorrow and you're going to get Abe Lincoln, possibly Neil Armstrong, Taylor Hicks and then this man, of course, Joey Chestnut."
Fortunately, after a quick Google search early Thursday morning, Chestnut did not appear on the first page. Instead, real American heroes like Harriet Tubman and a tribute to U.S. soldiers did. (Nevertheless, Shea deserves some kind of Emmy or something for such spontaneous creativity.)
My personal favorite came toward the end of the contest, when the two major competitors were neck-and-neck with the lead changing back and forth. Shea screamed emphatically, "This would be the greatest moment in the history of American sports if Chestnut can bring the belt home to Coney Island."
As I was attempting to control my laughter, I thought it was I who was going to lose his lunch. Oh, and what was it I just so happened to be eating prior to stumbling across the contest?
To be frank, it was a hot dog. But I don't think I'll be eating another one anytime soon.