Yesterday, just as Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island was about to begin, torrential rains, thunder, and lightning struck. No one was sure whether the day was canceled or delayed. Two hours later, they decided to proceed.
Perhaps because of the weather delay, no records were set. In his 16th win, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut gobbled only 62 hot dogs (and buns) in 10 minutes, 14 fewer then his 2021 record. Meanwhile, on the women’s side, at 39.5, world champ Miki Sudo was 9 hot dogs below her max (caused by, as she explained, “…a big burp early on.”)
For some smiles and a bit of nausea, do take a look at this year’s contest:
Competitive Eating Techniques
Our story starts in Japan where an economics student became a competitive eater. At the time, Takeru Kobayashi (Kobi) won his first contest by out thinking the other eaters. 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.
Our Bottom Line: Productivity
As economists, we can say that Kobi was looking at competitive hot dog eating through a productivity lens. Whether it’s eaters or factory workers, we are always trying to get more from our land, labor, and capital. Called total factor productivity (TFP), we just want more output from our three factor inputs. Through new techniques and technology, Kobi increased his total factor productivity.
Then, for Joey Chestnut, the Kobi strategy becomes a springboard. Adding to Kobi’s innovations, he also strengthened his human and physical capital with stomach stretching and esophagus management. After Kobi doubled typical “output” from 25 to 50 hotdogs in 12 minutes, Chestnut elevated the record to a whopping 76.
My sources and more: Freakonomics had the entire Kobi story while the NY Times has the 2023 competition facts and the science that explains competitive eating. Next, this website has Nathan’s competition history and here, you can see other competitive eating records. But if you read only one article, do go to this Wired description of how Chestnut trains. It even involves strengthening his neck muscles!
Please note that several of Today’s sentences were in a past econlife post.