Yesterday, Joey Chestnut downed 76 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes at Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island. Again setting a world record, he beat last year by one hot dog. The women though did not fare quite so well. Because the 2020 champ who is pregnant did not compete, this year’s top female won with just 30 3/4 hot dogs and buns. Last year, at 48 1/2, Miki Sudo out-guzzled most of the men.
You might enjoy a look at some of this year’s festivities before we see their economic side:
Competitive Eating Techniques
Our story starts in Japan with Takeru Kobayashi (Kobi) who became a competitive eater to earn some money while he was in college. After winning his first contest by out thinking the other eaters, he realized he could consume food faster by doing it his way. As an economics major, he was already rather analytic. So, he experimented, videoed himself, and timed each idea. One result was the “Solomon Method.” Whereas King Solomon suggested (in the Bible) slicing a baby in half to solve a maternity dispute, Kobi divided each of his hot dogs. Also, he soaked the buns in water because wet smushed buns glide down your throat and the hot water could expand your stomach. Add the “Kobayashi Shake” to all of this and you get an eating world king.
When he entered Nathan’s competition in 2001, the record was 25 1/8 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. Winning with 50, he shocked all of us. Kobi went on to win five years in a row until a contract dispute prevented his participation.
Meanwhile, observing the Kobi strategy, Joey Chestnut proceeded to strengthen his esophagus and stretch his stomach. When he saw Kobi lose to a very hungry grizzly bear, he knew he could beat him. The rest of the story is history. Having won the Nathan’s competition 14 times, Joey Chestnut has been compared to the greatest athletes:
Our Bottom Line: Productivity
Kobi revolutionized competitive hot dog eating by asking a new question. Instead of asking how to get more into his stomach the usual way, Kobi focused on making it easier. As economists, we can say that he was looking at competitive hot dog eating through a productivity lens. Whether it’s competitive eating or any other time we combine land, labor, and capital to produce goods and services, we want more out of our inputs. Called total factor productivity (TFP), we are just getting more output from our input. Through new techniques and technology, Kobi increased his total factor productivity.
As a result, he could double typical “output” from 25 to 50 hotdogs in 12 minutes:
And, you can see how the pandemic pulled down total factor productivity:
But, let’s end where we began. Especially because Henry Ford invented the moving assembly line, TFP for the Model T soared. It was rather like the impact of the water soaked hot dog bun and the Solomon Method.
My sources and more: Freakonomics had the entire Kobi story. Then, we had more on Joey Chestnut in past econlife posts. Finally, ESPN had some good videos, here and here, that I could not locate on YouTube. And, if you are still hungry for more, this competitive eating documentary from ESPN is a possibility.