VivaVegie Society pickets
Nathan's 2007 Hog Dog Eating Contest
at Coney Island

VivaVegie Society and friends, along with activist Santos Lopez, the famous anti-fur fashion-show demonstrator, and his friends, protested this year's Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4th. We were about 15-strong.

Despite our hefty numbers--as never before--our impact was dwarfed by the sheer size of the event--also big as never before.

We held up large signs and did some provocative street theater to the extent that an activist among us needed a police escort. At one point the mob stole two of our signs sending them into the solidly packed crowd like beach balls at a rock concert. Another sign was similarly taken from us but retrieved, not however before getting mangled irreparably by angry hot-dog lovers.

Santos Lopez
at Nathan's

VivaVegie had Penelo Pea Pod, thank you Andreas Turanski for donning the 7-foot-tall, green, human-pea costume.

Santos stood with fake (plastic) human body parts on a large tray, wrapped like meat bought at the supermarket. Dressed in a white butcher's smock, complete with giant butcher knife (bloody, of course) and employee tag around his neck, Santos topped it all off with a $100 pig-face mask, which apparently is a one-of-a-kind specimen once used in a Hollywood movie.

Since we got there well over two hours before the event started, we had some time to mix with the crowds, get our picture taken by roving media people, and pass out copies of "101 Reasons Why I'm a Vegetarian."

A reporter for The New York Times interviewed us at length, but I have yet to see a story or a blog from it.

As contest time neared, the area where we stood (just behind a barrier to the stage and giant platform of media) began to fill in with spectators, pressing and crowding us. The event became pretty unpleasant by this time. My colleagues, I soon learned, had all caved in to the conditions of intensive confinement--not to mention the taunts and abuse--and had congregated back at the subway station. They beseeched me by cell phone to join them so they could go home.

I dutifully gave in to their request but at the worst possible moment: right when the contest began. To get to them, I had to wend my way back through a tightly knit sea of sweaty people that seemed to go on forever. Let me correct that: a sea of sweaty young guys that seemed to go on forever. The gals are not into this so much; no surprise there.

Santos as Super
Pig on train

Andreas Turanski
home bound.

It's a new day
for the contest.

In any case, I still had my wooden sandwich boards--on. And somehow I also was able to hold on to them as well as two protest signs, large ones like the others. It was no small task, but I finally reached our group, which turned out to be mingling with a friendlier crowd there. Everyone was asking if they could get their picture taken with Penelo Pea Pod. Once we were on our way home we alas were able to enjoy some activist bonding. Admittedly we got a bit raucous, holding court at one end of the subway. Indeed, glee had set in. It felt like an escape. We had a long ride to laugh and relate stories of the day.

Santos had the best: After the three signs were taken and/or mangled, he told us, he sought out the help of some police officers who escorted him back into the teeming crowd. One plowed the way ahead of him, another held up the rear behind. Once Santos got to the crime scene, he looked for that large fat guy who was the perpetrator. But around him all he could see were more large fat guys. Suddenly, he said, they all looked the same. It wasn't worth it, he realized, so he dropped the charge.

The annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island ain't what it used to be.

Of course, the event has always been a sensation, even when it was so small as to fit inside a narrow alleyway between two parts of the food emporium that is Nathan's (famous) food stand at Coney Island.

But these days it's an extravaganza just some notches below that of New Year's Eve in Times Square.

I'd actually say the event is 20 to 25 times bigger than it was just 10 years ago. This year, I'm telling you, the entire vicinity of the restaurant, as far as the eye could see, was packed solid with standing onlookers. They're saying 30,000 people came out for the event this year. It was never like this.

So, what gives? It's the numbers, simple as that.

Last year's record of 59 hot dogs and buns, eaten in 12 minutes, was broken, both by the winner (Joey Chestnut: 66+) and the runner up (Takeru Kobayashi: 63)--though we almost had a reversal of that outcome when Chestnut nearly threw up his last gulp. A recording I later saw on the news showed the gustatory gladiator violently convulsing at that bitter-end moment.

The phenomenon is just too freakish, so everyone feels compelled in some way to be part of this history. These numbers just can't last. They will drop off, no doubt when someone drops dead on stage.

Now, I want to be clear about this, just so everyone knows: We vegans go to this repulsive event merely to hook into the hoards of media that's always there. One year I had a key part in a CNN feature about it. A frequently aired documentary about hot dogs includes me in my sandwich board because I braved this event.

But this year was particularly hard on us activists, I have to say. The sheer numbers of hot-dog enthusiasts made it a hazard for us to be there.

Now I feel like I should wear a little sign on my person throughout the week, that is, like the kind you get after donating blood. Instead of, "Be nice to me today. I gave blood," mine should say, "Be nice to me today, I did vegan outreach at Nathan's."