07/08/2011 03:17 pm ET Updated Sep 07, 2011

Nathan's Contest Leaves Me Unfulfilled

Call me unpatriotic, but after hearing a news item on WINS that the winner of the annual Fourth of July event would consume some 20,000 calories in 10 minutes, the mindlessness of it suddenly sank in.

According to the USRDA, the average recommended caloric intake is 2,000, which means the competitive eaters will be chomping down on 10 days' worth of food (sources vary; I've seen as many as 3,800 calories, but that's usually for elite athletes). That, in itself, is kind of gluttonous. According to "2011 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics" published by, some 925 million people around the world go hungry every day.

I was at a Fourth of July barbecue and the Nathan's contest came up and I expressed my newly-arrived-at opinion. I was met with blank stares. What was I, some sort of communist? One fellow told me he had no problem with it. To paraphrase, he said if he didn't clean his plate, that didn't mean some hungry person would benefit. I didn't know how to respond. (Full disclosure: I usually don't eat much at these get-togethers, partly because I've been a vegetarian for more than a year-and-a-half, which is not part of my objections here.)

I recently finished Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit) the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who, while serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, was shot down during a search and rescue mission. He and another member of his crew survived 47 days on a life raft (a third survivor died after 30-something days), winnowing down to about 80 pounds before they were "rescued" by the Japanese. Zamperini spent the rest of the war as a POW under the most brutal conditions.

The book goes into detail about the hunger the prisoners had to endure, barely subsisting on seaweed and a handful of rice a day, among other things that weren't nearly as appetizing.

Maybe I'm just sensitive after having read the book, but this Nathan's stuff? Another example of American overindulgence. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

FYI: Joey Chestnut downed 62 dogs with buns in the allotted time, while Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas won the first women's competition with 40.

Congratulations, guys. I hope you're relishing your accomplishments.