Ever heard of a guy named Joey Chestnut? Sure you have. It’s one of those names that sounds vaguely familiar, though you can’t quite place it. With a name like Chestnut, you’d think he was a Christmas-themed character ”“ Santa Claus’ head elf, perhaps, or the guy who’s illegally sheltering Frosty the Snowman so he doesn’t get deported. But no, our pal Joey is a different kind of oddity.

He’s a competitive eater. Currently, he’s got a contract with an entity called Major League Eating. And yes, that’s an actual thing.

Starting to ring a bell? If not, here’s the final piece of the puzzle: Chestnut is the eight-time defending champion of Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, held annually in Brooklyn’s Coney Island. In 2013, while devouring his way to a seventh straight title, Chestnut crammed down a world-record 69 hot dogs ”“ with buns ”“ in a hair over 10 minutes, which is pretty astounding in a retch-inducing, hand-me-the-nearest-bucket kind of way. During a single event, he downed more wieners than I ever have in my life, all in the time it takes to watch one-and-a-half Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Frankly, I’d rather watch the cartoons. Seeing Elmer Fudd get a pie in the face has never resulted in my clutching a toilet bowl and sobbing.

There are a few things that are disturbing about this whole competitive eating business. The first and most obvious is that it’s gross. Just for giggles, let’s assume that a single hot dog constitutes a standard lunch. Actually, strike that ”“ this is America. Let’s assume two hot dogs constitute a lunch. That means, during his 2013 run, Chestnut choked down over a month’s worth of meals in an astoundingly tiny window. Since I’m feeling generous, I’ll go ahead and call that an accomplishment; after all, some sort of training or preparation had to take place in order for him to set that particular record. What that training entailed, exactly, I’m not quite sure. Whatever it was, I’m hoping it involved a lobster bib and a candy dish filled to overflowing with high-strength antacid tablets.

Worse than the ick-factor, though, is the overwhelming waste of it all.

I’m about to say something trite. Ready for it? Here it comes: People around the world are starving. It’s one of those statements that induces eye-rolling and groans of “Oh, please,” but it also happens to be true. We have the luxury of swatting away that assertion like a fly because, all told, we lead fairly cushy lives; even those of us on the bottom fringes of a dwindling middle class have a near-guarantee of cheap eats at the local supermarket, providing we don’t spend our grocery budget on malt liquor and Twizzlers. (Which is easier said than done, granted.) We’re able to ignore hunger because it would take a catastrophe for us to experience it ourselves.

Yet the reality of it persists. Statistics reported by the World Hunger Education Service indicate that, from 2012 to 2014, 23.8 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa was undernourished. I’m no math whiz, but that’s close to a quarter of all men, women and children. And while you might expect numbers like that from a region so impoverished, southern Asia isn’t that far behind, at nearly 16 percent. Not to be depressing or anything, but for the love of Garfield, that’s an awful lot of people.

Meanwhile, there’s Joey Chestnut, tossing ballpark food down his throat not for nourishment, but for a blue ribbon and a handshake on ESPN. Something’s wrong here.

The problem is partly one of money ”“ specifically, advertising dollars. Feeding hungry people doesn’t generate revenue because it’s not a source of entertainment. But a hot dog eating contest? Boy howdy. That’s the kind of thing Budweiser execs salivate over, because nothing washes down a dog (or 70) like an ice cold beer ”“ rendering Nathan’s audience particularly vulnerable to subliminal messaging. Both Nathan’s and their advertisers can practically hear the ka-ching of the cash register, which wouldn’t be the case if the oodles of hot dogs prepared for the contest were delivered instead to, say, Namibia ”“ where poor nutrition causes roughly half of the deaths of all children under 5.

That’s not the whole story, though. Largely, it’s about a culture of excess.

I was at a friend’s house for a cookout a few weeks ago. It was a glorious summer evening, the grill fires were burning, and the meat was overflowing ”“ literally. Walking an enormous pile of food to his backyard picnic tables, our host looked like he was about to bestow an expansive feast upon the knights of King Arthur’s Round Table, with juice from the beef practically dripping over the sides of his tray. There were at least two burgers and hot dogs per person, plus a bevy of sides that, if dropped to the ground from a helicopter, would cause a crater the size of an Algerian nudist colony. We didn’t come close to finishing everything. We ate until we were barely able to walk, then slipped into semi-lucid food comas while the remaining grub went cold and neglected. Did the residual meat up as leftovers? One only hopes. It would be a shame to think it all went to our grillmaster’s dog, who gets quite enough nutrients from his regular diet of Alpo and rodent droppings.

But that’s the American way. Too much is never enough.

It’s frustrating to consider that, while one nation feasts, another is mired in famine. The arithmetic is lopsided. Fortunately, most of us don’t eat competitively, so the best way to assuage any guilt over cultural gluttony is to simply eat one’s fill, and no more. It won’t earn us any highlights on SportsCenter, but then again, we weren’t exactly headed there to begin with, were we?

Apologies for not being enthralled with your dubious legacy, Mr. Chestnut. But next time someone brings me a wheelbarrow full of hot dogs, I’m stopping at one.

— Jeff Lagasse is an extremely hungry columnist and Assistant Editor at the Journal Tribune who really needs to stop scribbling rants about food right before lunch. He can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 319 or [email protected]