Friday, January 31, 2014

The Church of Om Nom Nom

I'm a girl. I think this should come as no shock to anybody that I love food more than anything else in the whole world, including the necessary self-love. Heck, I have the ability to throw food into 2AM phone conversations. I think I might have a serious problem.

Food. Yummy.
Food can be a luxury, and for others it can be a rarity.
In general, food is a necessity.

With everything I've mentioned in the past month on this blog, every single little thing can be made into a game. If life itself is a game, then it's possible to make a sport out of just about anything that requires physical activity. Some of these sports can actually fit the description in a rather accurate fashion, while others could be completely asinine. This one just might make you sick to your stomach. I'm not just saying this, either. It actually could.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the world of competitive eating. Gluttony and an iron jaw are the rulers of this kingdom, and it definitely isn't for the faint of heart.

Every Friday before the Super Bowl, my hometown of Philadelphia is in a total frenzy--a frenzy for food. For over 20 years, the Wing Bowl has been a mainstay and a well-known event for locals and those who are total suckers for chicken wings. Guys like Bill "El Wingador" Simmons (who I believe is now in jail for stupid reasons) have become Philly legends thanks to this event. For the most part, you will see many local guys and girls competing in this event; however, it has become so immense, that legendary competitive eaters like Joey Chestnut have come through and destroyed this competition. Heck, even women have beaten the big guys in this competition, including this year.
[Personal aside: Honestly, the competition isn't a completely "family-friendly" event, but it has gotten slightly better over the years as it's trying to get national exposure (no pun intended). Yes, in the beginning there were a lot of sponsorships from strip clubs and other adult-related businesses. True story.]

The most popular and mainstream competitive eating contests held in the United States are Wing Bowl (which I mentioned above) and the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Contest held every July 4th at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. If you aren't familiar with any other eating contests, you may have heard of this one at some point in your life. An event that started over 40 years ago (wasn't annual at first), this was one of the first major displays of how many people can eat a specific food at one time. While the time limits were shorter (some good 6-7 minutes shorter), winners were wolfing about 10 hot dogs in the contest. The trend grew, and now it's a big televised competition that has become small talk at functions on the Fourth of July.

Is it as easy as it seems? Don't lie--you at one point thought that you could make a killing at a food-eating contest after the massacre you caused at the closest all-you-can-eat Chinese fusion buffet. It really isn't that easy at all. In fact, it's one of the most physically difficult things to pull off. Firstly, there are specific things you need to train your digestive system to do, considering the time and amount of the consumption of food during a competition could kill a small child. Competitive eaters will consume different proteins, such as dietary supplements or milk, in order to expand the stomach to prepare it for excessive storage. Others will resort to fasting and copious amounts of exercise in order to keep a speedy metabolism and prevent any other health problems to creep up while training. A running theory is that the slimmer and more fit the body, the more room a stomach can expand since it would be walled in by excessive fat deposits. With that said, it throws the philosophy that a really big fat dude could win every single contest possible out the window.

You have Takeru Kobayashi and Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas to thank for the theory backed by science.

If you aren't sick to your stomach just yet, there are still two things I should bring up to you: the kinds of eating contests that exist and how people are not the biggest fans of this "sport."

The two biggest contests I mentioned involve rather "American" foods: chicken wings and hot dogs. Seems pretty safe, right? There is also one called the Krystal Square Off that involves burgers. Okay, maybe I'm being too safe here. Wait, it gets worse. There are ones for jalapeno peppers, bratwurst, pumpkin pies, cheesesteaks, pizzas, water Italian ice, mayonnaise, soba noodles, tacos, and various cultural cuisines like Carribbean food. In 2002, a FOX-televised event called the Glutton Bowl even had contestants eating Rocky Mountain oysters and cow brains in the final round. On that note, feel free to put down whatever you're eating. This hurt to even type.

There are also a lot of people that oppose this kind of contest. Why? It's common sense when you really think about it. When you live in a country that is in good standing when it comes to food and resources, the exploitation of that and the way the food is consumed is enough to spur a discussion on why this goes on. Some will throw the cliched: "There are starving people in China." It's an exposition of gluttony and the waste of food that other people could eat to survive. The average human would just flick a hand and go "pfft" to this, but it's really a serious thing to ponder on.

While it has it's own organized league in Major League Eating, this sport isn't exactly the cup of tea for a lot of other people, myself included. Don't get me wrong, I love food just as much as the next person, and the training process for this interests me, but this is a little too extreme, and the means of the events are against some of the things I value in life. There, I said it. A writer should never throw too much philosophy into a piece like this, but c'mon, how can I not? People can do what they want, and they can display their talents in whichever way they want; thing is, I just wouldn't do this myself, is all.

It is a feat to do just about anything that involves consumption of something and being able to function afterward. Plus, these kinds of contests could actually kill you if one is not conditioned to do this activity. Then again, there are a lot of things out there that can kill you. Oh well.

While I'm not a huge advocate of it, this is a sport, and it's going to be around until our world's food supply says no more. Welcome to the era of The Church of Om Nom Nom.


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