This Competitive Hot Dog Eater Endorsed Impossible Foods – Now He’s Kicked Out of Nathan’s Famous Contest

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Competitive eater Joey Chestnut has been banned from participating in this year’s hot dog eating contest by Nathan’s Famous over a commercial deal with plant-based meat maker Impossible Foods.

Joey Chestnut, who has won 16 of the last 17 Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest titles, will not be defending his title this year after making a sponsorship deal with Impossible Foods and its newly launched plant-based beef franks.

First reported by the New York Post, Major League Eating (MLE) – which runs the competition on behalf of Nathan’s Famous – confirmed that the 40-year-old won’t be allowed to participate in the competition after he chose to represent a “rival brand”.

Chestnut was paid $200,000 to appear in the contest last year, and was offered a four-year contract worth $1.4M going forward. But a partnership with one of the biggest plant-based meat companies in the US, which is rolling out its beef hot dogs nationwide as we speak, was enough for Nathan’s Famous to block him from participating.

But for a competitive eating champion who has made a living by eating hot dogs to now endorse vegan versions is a major shift, and a nod to Americans’ increasing focus on health in the food they eat.

MLE & Nathan’s ‘changed past rules’

Writing on X/Twitter, Chestnut said: “I was gutted to learn from the media that after 19 years I’m banned from the Nathan’s July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest. I love competing in that event, I love celebrating America with my fans all over this great country on the 4th and I have been training to defend my title.”

The MLE said in a statement that it was “devastated to learn that Joey Chestnut has chosen to represent a rival brand that sells plant-based hot dogs” instead of competing in the contest. “MLE and Nathan’s went to great lengths to accommodate Joey and his management team, agreeing to the appearance fee and allowing Joey to compete in a rival, unbranded hot dog eating contest on Labor Day,” it said.

The organiser added that it has operated under the same “hot dog exclusivity provisions” for nearly two decades. Prior to the 2010 event, it banned Japanese former competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi over a contract exclusivity dispute as well, which meant the six-time champion never competed in the Nathan’s Famous contest again.

nathan's hot dog eating contest
Courtesy: Kena Betancur/Getty Images

“To set the record straight, I do not have a contract with MLE or Nathans and they are looking to change the rules from past years as it relates to other partners I can work with,” Chestnut said.

“This is apparently the basis on which I’m being banned, and it doesn’t impact the July 4th event. Sadly, this is the decision Nathan’s and Major League Eating are making, and it will deprive the great fans of the holiday’s usual joy and entertainment.”

Speaking to CNBC, MLE president Richard Shea called Chestnut “a great champion and a friend”. “I hope he’s there on July 4th as we celebrate Independence Day and he changes his choice to promote a veggie hot dog rather than ours,” he said.

In response, Impossible Foods said: “We love Joey and support him in any contest he chooses. It’s OK to experiment with a new dog. Meat eaters shouldn’t have to be exclusive to just one wiener.”

Hot dogs are no longer hot

joey chestnut impossible foods
Courtesy: Impossible Foods

The Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest has been a Fourth of July tradition in Coney Island, New York since the 1970s (though unofficially, the competition dates back to the 1910s). It is broadcast nationwide on ESPN and is a marketing strategy for Nathan’s Famous, which is dealing with the continued decline of hot dogs.

While links are a quintessential American food, concerns around their ill health impacts are driving away consumers. Hot dogs are the epitome of processed food, and processed meats like these are categorised as a Class 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO). It means there’s “convincing evidence” that these foods cause cancer.

Last year, research published in The Lancet (and sponsored by WHO) revealed that while ultra-processed foods are linked with a greater risk of multimorbidity (when someone has two life-threatening diseases concurrently) of cancer and metabolic diseases, this is associated mostly with animal-derived foods and artificially sweetened or sugary beverages.

Despite misinformation efforts suggesting the contrary, the above study suggested that plant-based meats were not associated with this risk – thanks to the high fibre content and lower amount of saturated fat, sugar and calories than conventional meat.

Impossible Foods’ beef hot dogs contain 50% less total and saturated fat than “a leading animal-based hot dog served in restaurants”, 12g of protein (vs 6g), and zero cholesterol. The company’s research has also found that 71% of taste-testers agree its links taste like their conventional counterparts.

A win for the plant-based industry?

impossible hot dogs
Courtesy: Impossible Foods

1,022-person survey last year found that health is the major reason Americans eat vegan or vegetarian diets, with six in 10 choosing it. Previous versions of this poll were part of a larger review outlining that 74% of Americans find plant proteins healthy, a number that drops sharply to 39% for animal protein. But while the adoption of plant-rich diets doubled between 2012 and 2022, this still only accounts for a quarter of the US population.

This is why brands like Impossible Foods are hoping to entice meat-eaters to try vegan analogues, which are also far better for the environment. Even Oscar Mayer, a brand synonymous with hot dogs, is launching a plant-based offering.

Chestnut has recognised this shift, and for a celebrated meat-eater to endorse plant-based meat is a big step forward for the alternative proteins sector. Nathan’s Finest banning him only punctuates this point further.

Even Kobayashi has felt the ill effects of eating hot dogs. In the Netflix documentary Hack Your Health: The Secrets of Your Gut, he announced his retirement from the sport after losing his appetite and feeling of fullness. At the end of the film, he expressed a desire to create a healthier hot dog.

“I see this as a win for the plant-based meat industry,” Arun Sundaram, VP and senior equity analyst at CFRA Research, told MarketWatch. “The fact that the industry was able to sponsor one of the greatest hot-dog eaters in the world about a month before the famous hot-dog eating competition makes for some great headlines.”


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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