Gluttony: Never Too Late To Hate

Valentine's Day and Whole Foods can make for fiery rants, but is competitive eating worst of all?

pierson_competitive eating_2-19.jpg


It was Valentine's Day, so of course I started thinking about who I hate. (As a sidebar, I recently told my literary agent I would like to write a book listing all the people in the world who have been mean to me, crossed me, betrayed me ... and he said he didn't think it was a book people would actually want to read. But wouldn't you want to?) I was also thinking about what I hate.

I hate my agent. I hate those predictable lists of edible aphrodisiacs—oysters, chocolate, avocados, blah blah. I am starting to hate Amanda Hesser, the trendy tweeting uber-brand: "When Jenny doesn't have all the ingredients to make the Flirtini, she goes rogue."

And just when you think it can't get more disgusting and unhealthy in every way, you find out that there is now a competitive eating game for the Wii.

Of course I hate the International Luge Foundation at the Olympics for writing some long-winded thing about how it was that poor Georgian luger's fault and how it wasn't the course. I would hate my ex if I cared enough. And on the culinary front, I hate the butcher at Whole Foods who really did butcher a leg of lamb and gave me unusable bony fatty cubes for my "No-Fail" Marcella Hazan Lamb Stew with Green Beans. (How do the Top Chef contestants find good butchers there? I would like to point out that you never see them shopping at my Whole Foods in the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle.) The same Whole Foods where the pointer-guide once said to me, "this Whole Foods is the worst in New York. Customers just can't seem to figure out the lines." Which, p.s., have changed about 10 times in the last six months. Okay, so actually go ahead and put me down for hating Whole Foods.

But here's what I really, truly hate and find horrifying: competitive eating. Just Google it and you'll read unbelievable things like, "Competitive eating has gone from county fair exhibition to mainstream spectator sport."

What's the next big spectator sport? Serial killing?

Of course you have to get in fighting shape. There are training guides that offer insight only someone who could stuff their mouths with butter (world record: seven quarter-pound sticks of salted butter, five minutes) could share:

"As of just a few years ago, this was really just some small event that people would almost associate as a freak show. They'd come and gawk at people stuffing their mouths with hot dogs and other types of foods. It has grown into a respectable sport, where each participant is considered an athlete ... It takes a lot work and a lot practice to get to the position of a world-class athlete."

Dangerous? Oh, that's what they said about the luge track! Arnie Chapman of Oceanside, New York—who is head of the Association of Independent Competitive Eaters, one of two main groups that organize speed-eating events in the United States—acknowledges that, well, vomiting happens. But he doesn't see that as a big problem. "Vomiting is a healthy way to say you've gone over your limit," he said.

And thank God for the IFOCE—the International Federation of Competitive Eaters—which "supervises and regulates eating contests." Its site is currently touting "the first-ever Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich Eating Championship in honor of Elvis's 75th Birthday." "Few," the IFOCE adds, "will forget Floridian Hall 'Hoover' Hunt claiming his first MLE title in 2009 after eating 33 ears of corn to beat out 2006 champ Jammin' Joe LaRue and world record holder Crazy Legs Conti. Can he repeat?" OMG.

I left out the part that just about every one of these sponsored contests gives a cash prize to the winner. And just when you think it can't get more disgusting and unhealthy in every way, you find out that there is now a competitive eating game for the Wii. And just when you think that the idea of turning a freak show into a freak game would be horrifying to anyone with half a brain, the site Yumsugar gushes, "Interested in competitive eating, but can't quite stomach the thought of eating a bajillion hot dogs in one sitting? I read about it the other day and have been dreaming of the craziness ever since. The game will use the Wii controller extensively in order to 'simulate a variety of eating techniques'—I can't wait."


I just got back from India, where driving through the slums of Mumbai left me feeling sick. The picture of homeless Haitians begging for food is as awful as anything I have ever seen. I wrote a book a few years ago about teenage body image issues and know how devastating disordered eating and eating disorders can be. Then there are the statistics: 34 percent of all Americans are obese. Every year, 80 million Americans go on a diet. Nearly 15 percent of American households don't get enough to eat. Oh, and this one: an "athlete" named Tim Janus recently shattered the tamale record, taking down 71 in 12 minutes.

You know what I really hate? This plea now on the IFOCE website, smack between the announcements of the $10K Corned Beef Sandwich Showdown and the Rhythm City Casino Catfish Eating Championship:

Haiti Relief You can help those suffering in Haiti also. Simply visit or text HAITI to 501 to make a $10 contribution or text YELE to 501 to make a $5 contribution.

[Curator's note: If you really would like to help Haiti, click here to read a story by our own Jennifer Ward and learn about ways to donate.]