Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Competitive Gluttony: Why Eating Contests Need to End

One of the best scenes in the classic film Stand By Me is the story of a pie-eating contest that young Gordie tells around the campfire. Gordie describes to his friends the tale of Davie Lardass Hogan, the fat kid in town. (It's not his fault, though, it's his glands.) After years of verbal abuse from everybody in town, Davie plots revenge.

You probably know the rest of the story. Davie enters the pie-eating contest. The crowd chants "boom baba boom baba" as he walks across the stage. The contest begins, the contestants stuff their faces, and eventually Davie, who had chugged castor oil and a raw egg before the contest, starts spewing vomit all over the mayor, which leads to everybody in the crowd following suit and barfing everywhere.

Sometimes, revenge is a dish best served...spewed.

So that's a cool story. Everyone got what they deserved. In fact, I think anyone who attends or competes in an eating contest deserves to get barfed on. Repeatedly.

Maybe that's harsh, but maybe not. Definitely not. The main narrative of Stand by Me takes place in 1959. Why the hell are we still having competitive eating contests in 2017? Are they really that exciting? No. Nobody ever really enjoyed an eating competition. Except Homer Simpson.

Worse than the inherent lameness of competitive eating contests is the fact that they contribute to the food waste epidemic. In 2014, the United States alone disposed of more than 38 million tons of food waste. The food waste issue is especially rage-inducing considering about 18 million people in America alone are "food insecure."

Maybe we could use all that food waste in a competitive eating competition between starving families? Air that sucker on prime time. "How many rotten bananas can Sherman and his kids eat? Will the Carlsons move on to the next round, or will 7 year old Bobby's malnutrition prevent them from advancing? Stay tuned to find out!" That would eliminate a few problems at once! We need to think outside the box people!

Obviously that solution is absurd. As absurd as, I don't know, a city government asking non-profit organizations to donate money to the city. Ok, maybe not that absurd, but pretty absurd.

I realize that eliminating competitive eating contests probably won't make much of a dent in that 38 million tons of food waste. It probably won't feed 18 million people. I'd argue that every little bit helps, but it's absolutely true that much more needs to be done. Still, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, holding eating contests with nearly 20 million people struggling to eat is not a good look, America. Same goes for you, Europe.

On the other end of the pyramid of food waste, we also stuff our face like it's a competition on a regular basis, so there's no real need to make it an actual competition. We are fat. We eat a shitload of food and we waste a shitload of food. These are arguably the worst aspects of American/capitalist/consumer culture, and yet, we have turned them into sport. There's a major league of competitive eating, creatively titled Major League Eating, that sanctions professional competitive eating contests. Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest at Coney Island is broadcast live on ESPN. Joey Chestnut is a household name. The guy eats fucking hot dogs for a living!

What the hell people?

I somewhat understand the existence of competitive eating contests back in the 50s when the only alternative for entertainment was pushing a hoop with a stick or kicking cans, but we have PlayStation 4s now! We have iphones! Why the hell do we need to watch people shoving tubed meat or breakfast foods down their gullets? Do we simply enjoy gluttony that much?

Again, maybe I'm being too harsh and these contests are simply harmless, ridiculous events that stimulate a sense of community and have no real effect on our food waste or obesity issues.

Maybe. But recently, the "harmless and ridiculous" proved to be very harmful at a pancake eating contest at Sacred Heart University. It remained ridiculous, though, which actually serves to make this tragedy all the more devastating.

A young female student in the competition choked and eventually died. The tragedy, compounded by the ridiculous circumstances, was further compounded by the fact that her father was a Port Authority officer who had been killed in the 9/11 attacks. How does a family handle losing two people in such tragic ways? At least with her father, he died trying to help others. It's possible to find some meaning in that, I would guess. How do you find meaning in choking on a pancake at an eating contest?

Please understand, I'm not knocking the young woman at all. A 20 year old losing her life (especially one who, by all accounts, was sweet, caring, and giving) is always tragic. She just wanted to show school spirit and do something fun with her friends. It's horrible and surreal and not at all her fault.

I just can't help but feel that this could have been avoided. I understand students wanting to participate in a group activity (college students will do literally anything if enough of their friends are doing it, or if there's a chance to win free stuff, or if there are free pancakes) but can't we find something less harmful to people and the environment? At the very least, something less tacky?

Maybe we can all take a step back and reflect on the entire premise of food eating competitions now that someone lost her life. I'm sure we won't, but it's just a thought. Hell, we didn't learn from that episode of The Simpsons. We saw Homer winning the steak eating contest and we thought it looked fun and we completely forgot that the guy he was competing against DIED ON THE SCENE.

The Simpsons keep trying to warn us, and we keep refusing to listen.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed.

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