Monday, July 11, 2011

Why eating contests bother me

I like summer. It stays light really late. We grill on the patio for dinner several times per week. Everything is lush and green and blooming, and everyone has a relaxed vibe. It's like even though most of us are working full-time just like the rest of the year, we still have somewhat of a summer break attitude. Plus it's the time for beach vacations, hikes in the mountains, and BBQ parties.

But it seems like it's also always summertime when I hear about something that really grosses me out--eating contests. Pie-eating and hot dog-eating seem to be the two most prevalent kinds. Maybe it's because these things often happen at county fairs, which tend to be a summertime event? Or maybe it's because of that relaxed, "hey, we're on vacation!" summer attitude I was describing. Either way, eating contests seem to happen in the summer. And I think they're gross.

I partly think they're gross because the physical act of stuffing as much food as possible down your throat in the shortest possible amount of time seems inherently icky. I have never observed an eating contest, and I have no desire to change that, but from what I hear from people who have seen them, it's gag-inducing to watch. And I'm not surprised. It sounds sickening, and not just for the participants.

But that's not actually what bothers me about eating contests, really. I mean, lots of people do things that I find boring or unappealing, so I don't partake, they do, and we all move on with our lives, you know? But I guess what bothers me most is the wastefulness involved.

Let me be clear: I'm not a member of the clean plate club. I'll never tell Callum that he has to finish his dinner because children in Ethiopia are starving. Him being more full than he wants to be, or choking down something he's not interested in, won't change the plight of starving children anywhere. To me, they're separate things.

But I draw the line between someone not finishing the food on their plate, food which presumably was a reasonable portion to begin with, and people making a game out of wasting food on a massive scale. Eating more than 60 hot dogs within 10 minutes? That's excessive. It's not healthy. It's not nutritious. It's not even an enjoyable indulgence. It's a miserable, gross, vomit-inducing experience done only for bragging rights. And I think it's horrifying.

I know we waste food on a massive scale in a million other ways. And those bother me too. Food supply issues are fascinating and complex, and I know very little about them, really. But something about eating contests in particular really highlights this issue for me. Leaving aside the fact that competitive eating can actually be dangerous for participants, I guess it's the way it's a pure media spectacle. It almost feels like mockery--that we have such an abundance of food that people can jam 62 hot dogs down their throat for sport--while other people, right in this country and all around the world, don't even have one hot dog, or anything else, to eat for dinner. And we're showing that off for news outlets to share with the entire country as though this were just a silly, harmless little tradition.

It just feels disrespectful. And I don't think it's harmless at all.


  1. I agree, watching someone shove food into their mouths is sickening and I've never seen that around where we live.

    But I do have to say that if I were given the opportunity to sit down with about 50 grilled hotdogs and I had all night to consume them, I could so do it. Man, I love me some grilled hot dogs.

  2. I have never thought about the wastefulness aspect, but I do agree that they are gross. I can't imagine wanting to watch someone shove 62 hot dogs down their throat.

  3. I couldn't agree with you more. To me, it is the ultimate spectacle of our country's thoughtless over-indulgence and a callus disregard (and determined ignorance of) for those who don't even have enough to eat.

  4. I don't think I've ever seriously considered the wasteful factor, but I think it's pretty gross. And in a country where so many people are suffering from overeating I think making it entertainment is dangerous and also in poor taste.

    Goodness, what will archaeologists think of us in 10,000 years when they discover (and magically can view) footage of stuff like that. Yipes.


  5. I happen to think that hot dogs are gross anyway (although does that stop me from serving and/or eating them? No, NOT AT ALL), but pie-eating contests actually make me sad. All that yummy pie, and nobody to savor it.

    The wastefulness aspect does bother me, although less than it might--I think of it as a display and its wastefulness as more symbolic than actual (probably as much food or more is wasted in other ways during the average summer fair event that an eating contest is part of, for example).

    What I'd really like to see, though, is a resurgence in whole foods eating--where the whole of an animal/ vegetable/ etc. is developed into food or product. I buy a whole chicken from the grocery, and at least half of it goes to waste, even in my own kitchen--and that's not counting the head, the feet, the innards and the feathers that were removed before I got it.

    Obviously this is something that COULD begin at home. But when I think of trying to figure out a way to eat chicken feet, or even excess chicken fat, I can't go on.

  6. Yeah, it grosses me out. Our priest mentioned being sickened by "Man vs. Food" one time and it changed my perspective on competitive eating (though I'm not sure I had a perspective before). It seems a little shameful in light of the fact that people worldwide need food and probably couldn't even comprehend eating for sport.

    Reminds me of some New Zealanders I knew who were taken to a local BBQ place where the food is brought to the table on a giant platter - the size of a trashcan lid. They thought it was for the whole table, and when they learned it wasn't were horrified. They couldn't comprehend the excess.

    I mean, not that New Zealand is some undeveloped country... but we Americans have some *very* messed up attitudes about food.

  7. Oh yes, I totally agree. Not only is it gag-inducing, but for me it's that it glorifies overeating. As someone who CONSTANTLY struggles with overeating, I don't get this type of thing at all.

  8. This kind of excess and throwaway culture bothers me too, but eating contests are mostly just gross. I feel the same way about all-you-can-eat buffets (and buffets in general).

    Melospiza, you might like a "head to tail" dinner (also "snout to tail" or "nose to tail"). It's been the food rage in San Francisco for a year or so (like classes on butchering whole carcasses), but Chris Cosentino is the acknowledged master. I'm sure there are similar dinners and chefs across the country and/or around the world.