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July 4, 2014

NASH: What’s most American

Many people will spend American Independence Day by gathering together with friends and family and celebrating a day off from work. They may grill out steaks or burgers or throw some ribs or chicken in the smoker.  When it gets dark outside they may light things on fire and watch them fly in to the sky where they explode in a beautiful array of colors and designs.

In terms of what is the most “American” thing, several years ago some Madison Avenue firm made a list of  what they considered. Baseball, America’s pastime made the list at the time the commercial jingle was written. Over the years it has taken a back seat as other sports have grown in popularity, but it is still the quintessential American sport.  Our attention spans have gotten a little short for a game with such little action, but is there anything better than going to see a live baseball game.

Ticket prices for a Major League baseball game have gotten prohibitive over the last several years. Once you add to that the over inflated prices at the concession stand, the average American has been priced out of seeing a big league game. We are lucky to live in the Louisville metro area where we are able to see more modestly priced games with the Louisville Bats, the minor league affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.

The next thing that made the list was the hot dog. Without doing a little research I couldn’t tell you why the hot dogs were so American. Other parts of the world have been making “meat” products similar to hot dogs long before Americans did. The hot dog was once commonly referred to as a “frankfurter” which is named for a town in Germany. Maybe its popularity as an American food came from being so readily available at baseball games.

Nothing is more American than gluttony so some people celebrate Independence Day by seeing how many hot dogs they can scarf down. Over the last several years the Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest, a competitive eating event held at Coney Island in Brooklyn, N.Y., has grown in popularity. ESPN has seen growing ratings for its broadcast each year on the July 4th holiday and have just renewed the contract for the next 10 years.

For many years the contest was dominated by Japanese contestants who developed new methods and training to dominate competitive eating. As proud citizens we could not sit by while a truly American pastime was being taken over by foreigners. Over the last few years American Joey Chestnut has dominated the contest. Former six time champ Takura Kobayashi has not been able to compete in recent years due to a conflict with “Major League Eating”—  the organization that sanctions the event. 

If you have never seen the Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest, it may be something you want to set your DVR for this year. The event has grow into a spectacle in recent year’s with many of the contestants turning into characters similar to those seen  in professional wrestling. Some of the techniques used including dipping the hot dogs in water to help them go down easier and jumping up and down to allow gravity to assist the process really show American ingenuity.  

Nothing is said to be more American than apple pie. Yet another item that made the list that was big in Europe before it came to America. As the apple became more abundant as a fruit in the New World, it became a sign of American prosperity. In the latter part of the last century it become even more popular especially among cartoon bears in Jellystone Park.

Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. The American car company in the 1970s gave us the jingle that expressed to Americans what we hold dear. Around 40 years ago anybody who owned a television set had this little ditty stuck in their heads. The auto maker knew what they were doing. At the time they were seeing an increase in the importing of cheaper, more fuel efficient smaller cars and they wanted us to associate their name with the things that were most patriotic, what is more American than that.   

Matthew Nash can be reached by email

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