Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

July 13, 2014

Nathan Payne: Time for cherries to hit the big league

There’s no way I could survive on the competitive eating circuit ... unless someone created a cherry-chowing competition.

Tuesday night, while rolling home from an errand along M-37 on Old Mission Peninsula, I spotted a roadside stand where a young woman hawked cherries to passers-by. I blew past in my pickup truck, trying to focus on my destination, but the cherries kept calling.

I may look like I could pack away a few dozen hot dogs or a 10-pound bowl of Ramen noodles, but I’m far from the big leagues.

I tried most of the sophomoric food challenges during my misspent youth like choking down a stack of dry saltine crackers or chugging a half-gallon of milk. I succeeded only at packing my sinuses with salt-coated bits of cracker and shooting a few cups of 2-percent milk out my nose while my friends laughed.

I can’t fathom what it takes to reach the level of Joey “Jaws” Chestnut. Every kid who once tried to munch down a whole 12-pack of hot dogs or gulp an entire 2-liter bottle of pop should say Chestnut’s name with reverence. The guy loads a half-dozen Frankfurters into his gullet at once, like it’s a conveyor belt to his distended gut.

Chestnut, a relatively-skinny guy from San Jose, made Americans proud seven years ago when he laid his gluttony on the line to win the Mustard Belt, one of the most coveted titles in competitive eating. The pro eater hoisted his eighth consecutive belt last weekend after gnashing down 61 Nathan’s hot dogs and buns in Brooklyn, N.Y.

It was a triumphant moment for a country built on all-you-can-eat buffets and super-sized value menus.

Chestnut ate 13.76 pounds of pork ribs in 12 minutes during one competition to set a world record. At another one last year he consumed a gut-busting 141 hard boiled eggs in eight minutes for another record.

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