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What on earth is Major League Eating? It’s more than a hot dog eating contest

A league for eaters

Hot dogs and cold cuts
Pexels / Pixabay

If you think your chance at being a pro athlete is too farfetched, think again. Major League Eating is a thing, and the gluttonous league is growing in popularity. You probably know of it, thanks to the annual summertime hot dog eating contest, but there’s a lot more to this oddball association.

MLE was founded in 1997 and, like any reputable organization, comes with a catchy logo (featuring a fork in hand). Headquartered in New York City, the league is most widely known for the July hot dog spectacular, a spectacle that’s so intriguing that ESPN provides coverage. Well, the league that brought you Joey Chestnut — the man who once ate 76 hot dogs in a single sitting — has an entire family of events that span the calendar and take place in both the U.S. and Canada.

There’s something for everybody. From a jalapeno pepper eating contest to a burger eating fest, Major League Eating has it all. Minnesota hosts an annual rib-eating contest, while D.C. is home to a donut-eating contest, all sanctioned by the league. But before you switch careers, know that the prize money is not great. Perhaps there are riches to be gained with endorsements, but the purse for many of these contests is just four figures.

Is pro-eating a sport?

Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Flickr/Ashley / Flickr

Is an event like a hot dog eating contest a sport? That’s quite the question. Sure, gatherings like this check some of the boxes, being competitive affairs involving folks who train to win. But there’s no denying how hard it is to compare a MLE member to an NBA player. The debate will go on as to whether or not professional eaters are athletes, but for now, we’ll put them in the same vague category as pro dart throwers and folks looking to break bizarre Guinness World Records.

Major League Eating is popular. The 2014 hot dog eating contest attracted some 2.8 million viewers. That’s good enough for a top-ten finish in the year’s most-watched events on the channel. Society simply can’t look away when there’s a slew of people housing hot dogs to the tune of a running clock.

About 50 members fill out the MLE roster, ranked according to their performances. Next up in terms of events is the grandaddy of them all, the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. The winner will take home $40,000 and a stomach ache. The rib-eating contest commences next in late July before a poutine contest in August in Toronto.

Before you go full MLE, check out our feature on how hot dogs are made. And speaking of food, we’ve got some great summer cocktail recipes as well as pro brisket tips from a Texas icon. Happy eating!

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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