As the current holder of the infamous Pink Mustard Belt, Michelle Lesco is ready to defend her title at the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4, 2022. While she ate 30 ¾ hot dogs last year, Lesco, aka the Cardboard Shell, is set to tackle the infamous competitive eating event again. Only time will tell if she raises her hand in victory or has to surrender her belt to another competitor.
Recently, Michelle Lesco spoke to FoodSided about this year’s Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, the world of competitive eating and why she pairs charity with her athletic pursuits. Although many people look in awe of competitive eating, it is more than just scarfing down copious amounts of a particular food. These athletes train, just like any sport.
When asked about what draws her to the competitive food eating world, Lesco said, “I LOVE food — wings, ribs, oysters, gyoza, crawfish — there’s just so many delicious foods we get to eat each year, but the big contest every year is the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Contest. I love it the most, and it scares me the most. There’s just no words for how it feels to be in front of that crowd on America’s birthday, and fight for victory.”
Last year, Lesco won the Pink Mustard Belt. After finishing behind Miki Soto in previous years, Lesco was victorious, but there was an asterisk to this win. Soto did not compete in 2021.
As she prepares for the 2022 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, Lesco shared, “Miki is incredibly good at this contest, but a lot of times, it comes down to who adapts better to the conditions. 90% of the work is done before we get to the table. On the 4th, I will definitely need to stay focused and adapt my techniques and strategies based on the dogs, the weather, and my body. She’s definitely going to make me fight out there.”
Although Lesco trains for this competition and others, it is more than just earning another title. Having been named MLE’s Humanitarian of the Year, Lesco looks to bring awareness to charitable causes. While chefs often say that food is the universal language and the table serves as a place to bring people together, Lesco believes that she has a platform to be a voice to help others.
Lesco said, “One thing I always tell people is that whatever skills you have, whatever you’re passionate about, you can find a way to use it to help others. For me, it was easy to find the connection between my trainings and the mission of an organization like Charity: Water.”
“When I get clean water from my sink to dunk hot dog buns in, it’s hard for me to not think about the millions of people in the world who don’t have access to clean water at all. And I think that being able to point out a disparity like that (albeit in a crazy context) helps other people recognize the things they often take for granted in their own lives (like clean tap water, 24/7), and feel called to give back and help others gain that access, too.”
While she might have fans cheering her on in each competition, Lesco appreciates that she is an example for others. Having been a teacher, she believes that there are lessons that can be learned in any competition.
Lesco said, “When it comes down to it, competitive eating brings with it the same lessons as any other sport. Perseverance, focus, hard work, believing in yourself, and staying humble. I hope the next generation of eaters keeps the last one. Because the best things about this sport are the people you meet and the places you see along the way. From other eaters, to event organizers in small town America, to competitive eating super fans, to the little girl with a marker and a t-shirt – the memories you can create with others (and for others) are what last forever; so stay humble, and enjoy the ride.”
As many people watch Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating contest on July 4th, Michelle Lesco will be scarfing down as many hot dogs as possible to retain her title. But, one question had to be asked. Does she eat hot dogs outside of competition and what is her preferred hot dog condiment.
Lesco shared, “I legitimately love Nathan’s Famous (natural casing) hot dogs. I would eat them any day of the year. And on any day other than the 4th, I’m putting their crazy-good sautéed onions and deli mustard on it.”
Tune into ESPN on Monday, July 4th at 1 p.m. EST to watch all the action. As competitive eating fans appreciate, the real holiday fireworks happen long before the sun sets.