Glory in Gluttony: competitive eating

      Cool Hand Luke image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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This is a world populated by characters like Dave ‘Coondog’ O’Karma (a man who can eat a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts in one minute), Arnie “Chowhound” Chapman (undisputed world pickle eating champion at 3.15 lbs of pickles in five minutes), and ‘Furious’ Pete Czerwinski (multiple record holder in pulled pork, potato latkes, and Reuben sandwiches).

Competitive eating languished for years in county fair obscurity, but has seen a surge in popularity to become one of the nation’s fastest growing spectator sports. That’s right, I said sport.

Competitive eating has all the trappings of a sport. It has the International Federation of Competitive Eating to sanction and supervise events worldwide. There are strategies and training regimens for top competitors, cash prizes that can be upward of $30,000, ESPN televised coverage of its marquee events, and now it’s getting its own Wii game. I’d say it’s at least as much of a sport as Olympics ice dancing.

Top eaters train their minds and their bodies. Through sheer willpower they learn to shut off the brain’s natural response to an overly full stomach (euphemistically referred to as ‘urges contrary to swallowing’), and they stretch their stomach muscles by repeatedly over-filling it.

Since the size of the stomach at rest is of little consequence, there is no particular body type for champion eaters; in fact some competitors believe that less body fat gives the stomach more room to expand. There are the giants like hip hop artist/NYC subway conductor Eric ‘Badlands’ Booker, record holder for onions, corned beef hash, cheesecake, and burritos, weighing in at 420 pounds, and Ed ‘Cookie’ Davis, another 400+ pound New Yorker with records for cannoli, dumplings, and grapes. But currently ranked #2 in the world is the lightweight Takeru ‘the Tsunami’ Kobayashi. A svelte 5’8″ and 128 pounds, Kobayashi stunned the world in his rookie season when he shattered the record at the July 4th Nathan’s Coney Island hot dog-eating contest (topping the old record by 25 dogs). One of the greats, Kobayashi has won premiere events like the Glutton Bowl and the Alka Seltzer U.S. Open, although he was bested by a hot dog-eating bear on the  Fox TV show Man vs. Beast.

Then there are the women. At 5’6″ and a mere 95 pounds, Elizabeth ‘Rubber Gut’ Canady has displayed devastating feats of eating prowess in various pumpkin-based food items. The highest-ranked female competitor, perhaps our country’s greatest hope for a top world ranking, is Sonya ‘the Black Widow’ Thomas. Weighing in at barely 100 pounds, Thomas reigns supreme in oysters (a staggering 46 dozen in 10 minutes), chili cheese fries, chicken wings, and more than a dozen other competitions. She even put Cool Hand Luke to shame by downing 65 hard boiled eggs in under seven minutes.
Learn the tricks of the pros at Competitive Eating Training. The video of Pat Bertolleti’s waffle training is not to be missed.

A calendar of upcoming competitions can be found at All Pro Eating Promotions .

Baked beans (long and short course), Vienna sausage, tiramisu, pigs’ knuckles, birthday cake— if it’s edible, there’s probably a competition. See all the record-holders at the International Federation of Competitive Eating website.

Sooner or later, every competitive eater comes up against Jason ‘Crazy Legs’ Conti.  A serious competitor (Twinkies, corn on the cob)  and tireless self-promoter, he is best known for stunts like naked window washing while consuming a dozen donuts, all in under three minutes. You can order a copy of the Sundance award-winning documentary Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating from his website.


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