What message does competitive eating send?

August 25, 2009

What message does competitive eating send?

The competitive eating done by Joey Chestnut and Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti - the nation’s top two leaders at this ‘sport’ - looks like gluttony to spectators, who nevertheless root them on, seek autographs, and might be tempted to emulate these reasonably sized guys who pack it in for thousands in potential prize money per event.

It is to us at SupermarketGuru.com a perversion of sensible eating - which the nation needs role models for with rampant obesity, diabetes, and severe economic stresses demanding greater energy and fortitude to withstand.  Fortunately, we haven’t seen supermarkets or many major food brands get behind this, because such support might be perceived as celebrating behavior that even the International Federation of Competitive Eaters cautions against. 

The IFOCE website says it is “against at-home training of any kind. The IFOCE strongly discourages younger individuals from eating for speed or quantity under any circumstance….Do not try speed-eating home….Speed-eating is only suitable for those 18 years of age or older and only in a controlled environment with appropriate rules and with an emergency medical technician present.”

Frat-boy enthusiasm for these events could lead people to think it’s a lark - when there are actually significant training and eating strategies involved to keep safe from stuffing foods like burgers, pizza, hot wings, baked beans, pies, burritos or cheese steaks at unnatural rates.  Mr. Chestnut told WebMD, for instance, that he stops eating solid foods in favor of protein supplements in the days before and after events. He also drinks up to a gallon of milk at a time to train his stomach to expand.

His preparation, and different steps taken by others, aren’t obvious when crowds gather at the likes of Pepe’s Soft Taco Eating Challenge, the Valley Fair World Funnel Cake Eating Championship, the Buffalo Buffet Bowl, or when viewers watch the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on ESPN2 each summer.

For the record, medical sources told WebMD of some of the potential health risks of competitive eating: gastroparesis (stomach paralysis), stomach perforations, pneumonia from food in the lungs brought on by vomiting, water intoxication. Want more info? Read a study called Competitive Speed Eating: Truth and Consequences by University of Pennsylvania radiologist Marc Levine, which ran in the September 2007 issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology.

Competitive eating events represent another notch on America’s gustatory belt that is stretching too far to accommodate excess. Where food brands could expand themselves with many great initiatives, competitive eating is sophomoric. It saps energies that could be redirected toward better purpose. The events invite attention, but we’re not sure what message they’re selling.