When the World Health Organization announced this week that hot dogs cause cancer, I was less interested in hearing from health experts on the merits of giving up the delicious sausages and more interested in hearing from someone who eats mass quantities of them for a living. How was legendary competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi taking the news?
As it turns out, the man who conquered the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest six years in a row—the man who has probably eaten more hot dogs in one sitting this year than I have in my entire life—had some strong feels about the report.
In a phone interview translated by his manager, Maggie James (the Japanese champ speaks little English), Kobayashi told me he was basically over it.
“They have declared lots of things dangerous,” said the 37-year-old. “So what is not dangerous for you? The amount of things they say is dangerous, it’s ridiculous. I need them to say what is perfectly healthy for us.”
What's really unhealthy, he said, is the potential panic the report could incite. Shots fired!
“Overall, I also think that when you make a huge declaration that ‘this is so bad for you, you’re going to get cancer, it’s dangerous dangerous dangerous'—the stress of that is more dangerous for everyone,” he said.
Besides, what’s wrong with a little guilty pleasure now and then? “If people want to drink alcohol once in a while, or if they want to consume something that’s junk food once in a while, that’s also part of being mentally stable and being healthy," he said. "If they don’t do that, that’s more stress for a human being.”
And if there’s someone who knows anything about eating in stressful situations, it’s Kobayashi. After all, he holds multiple Guinness World Records, once downed 337 chicken wings in a half hour, and has faced off against a bear in a hot dog eating competition.
And sure, a competitive hot dog eater's cancer risk will likely be higher—but he has bigger things to worry about. Like not choking while trying to down 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes. “With competitive eating, you could die while you’re eating," he said. "It’s not like 10 years later, after you consume [a certain] amount, there’s the scare of dying as while you’re eating in competition.”
By this logic, given that competitive eaters theoretically risk their lives for the sport, the new report probably won't change the game much.
“I don’t think that it will affect competitive eating at all," Kobayashi said. "There’s nobody out there who is taking part in competitive eating while being worried about stuff like that— otherwise they wouldn’t do it.”
And while Kobayashi works hard to maintain a balanced diet when he's not competing, he doesn’t plan on adjusting his eating habits based on the new guidelines.
“I’m not changing at all," he said. "If I want to eat tons of [hot dogs] in the competition as a sport, I will continue to do that. And if I want to eat it recreationally once in a while when I want a hot dog, I’m going to eat one of those too."
Bold move, Kobayashi! But please, for the love of God, consult a physician if you have any questions about the report's impact on your own health. The hot dog champ is not a doctor.