A country is defined by what forms of entertainment it seeks. What does it say of a nation when competitive eating contests are celebrated as a serious sport, even as two of every ten Americans are on food stamps, and tens of millions in the Third World starve?
The last days before the fall of Rome come to mind.
What’s even more troubling is that competitive eaters, AKA Gurgitators (Gurgitators vary in size from mammoths like “Hungry” Charles Hardy, at 340 pounds, to the Black Widow, Sonya Thomas, at around 100 pounds) and tens of thousands of their fans are completely oblivious to the inherent perversion in this grotesque sport — even at a time when television airwaves are deluged with weight loss schemes, and obesity in America approaches epidemic proportions. Those who watch us from afar don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
It was through the magic of television that Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest– an innocuous tradition held on July 4, since 1916 at Coney Island — was transformed into the world-class sport of competitive eating. It’s truly popular culture gone mad. The misty memories of county fair pie eating contests are gone for good.
And competitive eaters take themselves and these inane competitions very seriously. Contestants — some well-educated — liken themselves to world-class athletes.
“[Joey] Chestnut, 23,”writes WebMD’s Richard Sine, “a project engineer from San Jose, Calif., says his success results from intensive training..comparing himself to a bodybuilder or a marathoner. Chestnut — ranked No. 1 in the world by the International Federation of Competitive Eating — attributes his accomplishments to hard work, not gluttony”
Sine claims “Chestnut trains about once a week, eating mass quantities of whatever food he’s expected to consume for the next eating contest…The list includes hamburgers, hot wings, oysters, deep-fried asparagus, key lime pie, chicken wings, cheesecake, and lobster”
Then theres Hall Hunt, a 25-year-old structural engineer currently ranked ninth in the world and known for his “academic approach”. Hunt tells WebMD “that he carefully studies each food to maximize edibility. He studies food density to maximize the amount of food that can go down with each contraction of the esophagus.’ And he studies which liquids are best at breaking down which foods. (Want to cut through the grease on those cheese fries, for example? Try lemonade.)”
“Knowing how many people don’t have adequate nutrition, and how many people abuse food and overeat constantly, seeing competitive eating celebrated on TV disturbs me,” nutritionist Milton Stokes tells WebMD. That’s putting it mildly.
Annually, there’s over one hundred “Major League Eating” events worldwide sponsored by The International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) which established eating as a sport in the 1990s. The IFOCE awards hundreds of thousands in prize money and attracts big time corporate sponsors like Alka-Seltzer, Johnsonville Brats and Krystal hamburgers. Competitive eating fans wear Major League Eating T-shirts and flock to online communities like MySpace to worship their hero eating stars. The IFOCE produced a series of 30-minute television shows, “Eats of Strength,” and Spike TV runs a series of one-hour Major League Eating events featuring the top eaters of the IFOCE. The International Federation of Competitive Eating has produced a three-hour elimination tournament on ESPN called the Alka-Seltzer U.S Open of Competitive Eating.
The IFOCE has spawned lesser spin-offs like The Association of Independent Competitive Eaters (AICE), and the Federation of Amateur Eating Contests who preside over restaurant eating challenges where customers eat huge oversized burritos, or giant steaks and hamburgers.
There’s events like the Glutton Bowl, Gut Busters, St. Patrick’s Day Chowdown, and The Big Eat.
Despite the fact that competitive eating could cause contestants to suffer from a host of medical complications ranging from stomach perforations to water intoxication, what does this say about ourselves as a people? We live in nation where 11 million Americans suffer from bulimia and anorexia, with millions more suffering from bouts of binge eating as they seek refuge in the latest fad diet.
The sickening irony is breathtaking.
The pop worship of this sport contest of “staged gluttony”is surly a testament to a fallen world power literally vomiting from its own excesses as in the last days before the fall of Rome.