Photo: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Here's the Most American Thing You Can Do This Fourth of July

United States Travel
by Matt Hershberger Jul 4, 2015

WHAT, YOU ASK, IS THE MOST AMERICAN THING you can do on a Fourth of July? Is it drink copious amounts of beer while eating life-threatening amounts of red meat? Is it watching fireworks? Is it waving a flag while firing a gun into the air? No. The single most patriotic, American thing you can do this Fourth of July is watch Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof: First off, hot dogs — processed parts of otherwise unwanted meat jammed into a sausage made of you-don’t-want-to-know — are the most American food there is. Nathan’s Hot Dogs, the Coney Island institution that runs the contest, was founded by immigrant Nathan Handwerker (which is a solid, American name if I’ve ever heard one), who was living out his own American dream by building a hot dog fortune.

The contest started in 1916 when four immigrants got into an argument of who was the most patriotic. As a measuring stick for their patriotism, did they discuss feats of service they had done for their adopted county? No. Did they make bold declarations of how they would lay down their life for their country? No. Did they recite facts about the Founding Fathers and sing the National Anthem? No. They measured their patriotism in a true American manner. They saw who could eat the most hot dogs.

An Irish immigrant named James Mullen won by eating 13 hot dogs in 12 minutes. Now, 99 years later, the champion regularly breaks 60 hot dogs — we’re waiting for the day that someone (probably reigning champ Joey Chestnut, the most American man in America right now) will hit 70 — but that’s the story of the American can-do spirit: only a true American would watch a man eat dozens of hot dogs and think, “I can eat more than that.”

So if you want to be an honest-to-God, mama’s-apple-pie, stars-and-stripes, Hulk-Hogan-real-American, you’ll watch the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, you’ll see someone with a name like Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti or Joey “Jaws” Chestnut eat 70 hot dogs in 10 minutes, and you’ll think, “I can eat more than that.” Happy Fourth of July, America. Start eating.

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