It was all one big stunt. Call it giving the people what they want. They came to see a competitive eating match and got a lot more than that.
The Goodrich blimp was buzzing overhead. Panic! At the Schnitzel was cranking out pop-punk styled patriotic tunes. The usual protestors were there, making loud public outcry, wearing pig snouts and P.I.G. pins. (People In opposition to Gluttony, if you made the mistake of asking.) They had a point. Colossal waste of food while other nations starve? It was ugly, immoral, this celebration of excess.
Fred French, CEO (he preferred Chief Bun-gineer) of Newton’s Famous Franks, had something to say about that. He strode up to the microphone in his mustard-colored blazer to introduce the start to the festivities. First, though, he proudly pointed out his company’s donation of ten thousand wieners to the World Food Bank to feed the needy.
“You expect starving people to eat hot dogs?” Seems they only count as food if you’re wasting them. French wasn’t fazed. “Yes!” he shot back. “I expect everyone to eat hot dogs!” The celebratory mood was restored, loud laughter and applause drowning out the last few whines of the picketers.
A woman in a red, white and blue dress belted out the national anthem. Each contestant got an over-the-top introduction from a barker in a straw hat and seersucker suit. You’d think he would run out of hot dog puns, but he kept them coming.
It was time to get serious if you could call competitive eating that. Newton’s attendants set troughs in front of each contestant, stacks of steamed wieners in buns, large glasses of water. No condiments allowed.
Thirteen contestants were poised and ready. Jimmy Cheeks, a hot dog by his own rights, was easily the favorite to win a fifteenth straight Sauerkraut Belt.
The crowd of thousands counted down the last few seconds. And then it was ten minutes to fame and glory.
“Will you look at that!” Jimmy Cheeks screamed before anyone had a chance to stuff their face. Cameras that were panned back to frame the entire stage zoomed in to the end of his fat finger. “There’s plastic in the hot dog!”
The shard was small enough that it could have easily escaped the attention of a man whose patented eating style was cramming two fistfuls of soggy food into his mouth at once. But there it was, a piece of a water bottle cap, not on top of the dog or inside the bun. It was part of the wiener. There would be no possible way to spin this. Newton’s Famous Franks were about to become infamous.
Give the Chief Bun-gineer credit, he could have disappeared in the crowd, got out of town, possibly out of the business. But no, there he was, striding confidently to the platform.
“Ladies, gentlemen, cats and dogs,” he began. “There is plastic in this hot dog. He held it up, its sunburnt skin gleaming. “And there is plastic in the bun!” The restless crowd grew more restless. “In fact, this is all plastic!” He gestured broadly to the entire tableclothed scene. There were a lot of open mouths, and not surprisingly, most weren’t eating.
Fred French had the undivided attention of the rapt masses. And so, he delivered the message he had intended to from the start.
It was mostly about statistics. The eight million pieces of plastic that find their way to the ocean every day. Four billion tons of plastic sitting in landfills. Those numbers growing exponentially even as he spoke. “We aren’t using less plastic,” French assured his listeners, “And we aren’t recycling nearly enough!” We need to do something about it. What these people do.” He gestured at the thirteen contestants. “Eat the plastic!”
The crowd erupted. Cheers, laughter, beer-scented belches. The P.I.G. people didn’t know what to do. Especially when French concluded with a loud proclamation. “People, I am proud to introduce you to P.I.G!” He showed the pin on his blazer with a flourish. “Plastic Ingestion Gastronomy!”
Of course, he had questions to answer, in between the cheers and chants.
“Are you saying this is the future? Eating plastic?” French shook his head furiously.
“No!” “It is the present!”
“Eating plastic cannot be healthy! This has not been tested!”
“Oh, but it has been,” French assured. “Last year, no fewer than seven hundred and thirteen of my special recipe franks were consumed right here, by these same competitors!” A few of them began to look a little green.
“But they are competitive eaters! Our stomachs can’t handle what theirs do!”
“There’s twenty billion reasons that you’re wrong about that,” said the Chief Bun-gineer. He let it sink in a moment. “Yes! That’s how many of those delicious dogs were eaten this past year in this country! And we’re all doing just fine!” Of course, he couldn’t possibly know that, but he was in Sales, not Research.
The chants began anew. “Eat the plastic! Eat the plastic!” French took one of his own creations off a competitor’s plate and downed it whole, with relish that was not of the Heinz 57 variety. “Delicious!” he proclaimed, and the cheers were long and loud.
“Thanks to all of us,” French concluded, “There are two billion less pounds of plastic garbage in our oceans! It’s a great start! So, I say to you all, thank you, and – – Bun appetit!” At that, an airhorn blasted long and loud. Ten minutes had passed, and the contest was officially over.
Fred French had turned to leave the stage and then thought better of it. “You know,” he told the crowd, as he brushed crumbs from his chin. “I’m the winner by default this year, I suppose!”
That’s when I stood up. I showed my empty plate. “I ate five franks just now. Did I miss something?”
I don’t know where or when I will ever wear my Sauerkraut belt, but believe me, I will.