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US hot dog contest can't stomach champ's vegan deal

Joey seen stuffing his face with hot dogs at the 2023 Nathan's contest
[Getty Images]

Competitive eating star Joey "Jaws" Chestnut has been told he cannot join America's premiere hot dog contest after striking a deal with a vegan brand.

His removal from next month's Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest in New York came after he agreed sponsorship from Impossible Foods, a vegan hot dog maker in competition with the Nathan's brand.

"We are devastated to learn that Joey Chestnut has chosen to represent a rival brand that sells plant-based hot dogs rather than competing in the 2024 Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest," Major League Eating (MLE) said on Tuesday.

MLE added that Mr Chestnut was welcome to rejoin the competition, but only if he dropped his vegan sponsorship.

"Joey Chestnut is an American hero. We would love nothing more than to have him at the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest," the statement said.

"We hope he returns when he is not representing a rival brand."

Mr Chestnut has won the Nathan's contest, which is televised in the US, 16 times.

The rules of the contest, which is attended by some 40,000 people annually, require competitors to eat as many hot dogs (and buns) as they can in the span of 10 minutes.

Mr Chestnut, 40, holds the world record for hot dog eating, having scoffed a whopping 76 at the 2021 contest.

He also holds a variety of other eating records, including downing 141 hard-boiled eggs in eight minutes, 23 meat pies in 10 minutes, 182 chicken wings in 30 minutes, and 25.5 ice cream sandwiches, also known as choc ices, in six minutes.

Mr Chestnut said on social media he was "gutted", when he learned of the ban, adding he had "been training to defend [his] title".

"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," he said.

MLE said it and Nathan's "went to great lengths" to accommodate Joey, but that it seemed he and his managers "prioritised a new partnership".

The Fourth of July competition has taken place every year since Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker opened his stand on Coney Island in 1916.

The story goes that on 4 July 1916 - the year Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs was founded - four European immigrants were arguing about who among them was more American. They decided to settle it with a hot dog eating contest.

However, the true origins of the contest remain shrouded in mystery.