Food for thought this Fourth of July


By Barb Arland-Fye

Hot dogs are on the menu of many Independence Day celebrations and the centerpiece of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island, New York. This year’s upcoming competition has generated media hype because organizers banned reigning champ Joey Chestnut from competing after he signed a contract with a competitor, National Public Radio reported (June 12, 2024). Shouldn’t we focus instead on the 44 million children and adults in our country experiencing food insecurity? Or the millions of children and adults experiencing acute food insecurity in Gaza and Haiti? Christ instructed us to feed the hungry, not to stuff ourselves.

Food-eating contests have been around for centuries, NPR reported in another article (July 4, 2023). However, in a society that loves to supersize food orders and hungers for competition, we have elevated food-eating competitions to the major league level. Seriously. “Major League Eating is the world body that oversees all professional eating contests,” NPR reported in the June 12, 2024 article.

“The organization, which developed competitive eating and includes the sport’s governing body, the International Federation of Competitive Eating, helps sponsors to develop, publicize and execute world-class eating events in all varieties of food disciplines,” Major League Eating states on its website



Major League Eating “holds approximately 70 events annually, including the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island,” its website states. Among the league’s other sponsors are Hostess, Hooters, Heinz Ketchup, Pizza Hut, Old Navy, ESPN, Taco Bell, Jimmy John’s and (of course) Pepto Bismol. The league also states that its promotions generate “billions of consumer impressions annually.” Media outlets enthusiastically cover Major League Eating’s events.

The Catholic Messenger sent an email to Major League Eating co-founders George Shea and his brother, Richard, expressing concern about eating as a sport when so many in the world, including in Iowa, do not have enough to eat. The Messenger asked:

“How do you reconcile providing dramatic audience entertainment and offering an unparalleled platform for media exposure when so many millions of people go hungry? What are your thoughts about the food that contestants consume in food-eating competitions being given instead to food pantries or meal sites for people in need? What does MLE contribute/donate to food pantries, meal sites or charitable organizations that feed the hungry? Or to food rescue operations?” The email pointed out that 44 million people in the U.S. face hunger, including 1 in 5 children, and people in Haiti and Gaza are facing or experiencing acute food insecurity.

Shea Communications LLC of New York City responded promptly. “We contribute every year and monthly to the Food Bank of NY, and Nathan’s contributes 100,000 hot dogs to the food bank each July 4. We have always done this. Thanks.”

However, a follow-up question about how much it contributes financially to the Food Bank of NY went unanswered. It is heartening to learn that Shea Communications makes a connection with the hungry. Feeding the hungry is the first “foot” in what the late Msgr. Marvin Mottet long ago labeled the Two Feet of Social Action — charity being one foot and justice (addressing the causes of hunger) as the second foot. So, let us walk with the Two Feet of Social Action toward food as a human right and not as a sport.

For starters:

  • Visit Food Bank of Iowa ( to donate, learn about how to volunteer or get involved.
  • Visit the Iowa Catholic Conference website ( ICC, which is the public policy voice of Iowa’s bishops, provides insights about legislation and its application to Church teaching and the well-being of Iowans.
  • Ask U.S. Senators Joni Ernst ( and Charles Grassley (, who serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee, to fully fund and support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the 2024 Farm Bill. “We urge Congress to strengthen and protect programs that feed hungry individuals and families,” our U.S. bishops said in a May 22 letter. “As the nation’s largest anti-hunger program, SNAP is a critical component of the Farm Bill.” That program helps 44.2 million people nationwide in the U.S. put food on the table. More than 280,000 of them live in Iowa (
  • As you enjoy your hot dogs, brats and burgers this Fourth of July, take a moment to pray for the hungry people who are not at your picnics. Pray that Major League Eating moves its focus away from promoting hot-dog and other food eating contests to promoting multiple ways to ensure that everyone has enough to eat.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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