The other week my YouTube feed proposed a channel of intriguing title: Beard meets food. I am not sure why this was presented to me, but because I deliberately turn off Google’s surveillance systems (insofar as I can), Google’s algorithms keep coming up with a default potpourri of wildly irrelevant offerings. This was one of them. And usually I ignore them. But the title seemed intriguing. It was fronted by a quiet-spoken British guy with an enormous beard. So – risking a barrage of similar videos to follow, thanks to Mr Google – I checked out the video, wondering if it was a food commentary or similar.
Turned out he was a ‘competitive eater’ – that is, somebody who competes with others over the speed and quantity of food they can gollop down. The channel consisted of videos of him taking on ‘food challenges’ offered in pubs and eating establishments. And it appears that Mr Beard – clearly a very nice guy, considerate, thoughtful and smart – has gone into the science of nutrition to ensure he doesn’t do himself a mischief longer-term.
Still, ‘competitive eating’ has never appealed to me, either as an activity or as entertainment. To me it’s in the same league as the ‘chunder mile’ of university capping days – students glop down a lukewarm pie and chug half a litre of beer, sprint 400 metres, repeat the pie/beer circus, sprint another 400 metres, and so on, hoping to reach the finish line before they throw up or drop dead of cardiac arrythmia. Both are a serious risk because the vagus nerve, which inter-connects the autonomous nervous system, gets overstimulated by the speed and scale of eating/drinking coupled with the exertion.
What surprises me is the ubiquity of ‘eating challenges’. You don’t have to look far to find them. Up until recently a burger joint right here in NZ offered a ‘Gotham Burger’ – all 2 kg and 8000 calories of it (about three or four days’ worth of food normally). Or there’s this Canadian one involving two giant burgers and a meat-laden poutine.
Then there are competitive eating races. In the US, for instance, there’s the ‘Professional League of Eating Contests‘, whose website tells me that the World Slopper Eating Championship will (a) be held at the Colorado State Fair, and (b) registrations were closed due to ‘capacity’. To me, those things are pretty gross – people stuffing food in without chewing, ending up with the detritus plastered across their faces and all around the table. Not entirely dissimilar to feeding time at a piggery. But obviously a lot of people like them.
Of course all this is a ‘first world’ issue: we’ve solved the historical problem of finding sufficient nutrition and are awash with food. Which is great, but to me, demonstrating an ability to glop down 16,000 calories of loaded fries, mile-high stack burgers and over-sweetened soda faster than 300 other people trying the same thing at the same moment is still incredibly wasteful. The recommended average adult daily calorie intake – daily – is 2,000 to 2,500 which – furthermore – has to be a balanced mix of the right foods.
We also have to remember that western food over-production doesn’t stop a large proportion of the rest of the world being hungry. On average, large parts of Africa, India, Indonesia and northern South America have average daily calorie intakes below 2,390, ie: subsistence or less. Often, less, and made worse by the fact that these same people often have to engage in heavy physical activity. It doesn’t stop people in so-called ‘first world’ nations being hungry either: these days, the extent to which the elites have transferred wealth to themselves is such that even the most prosperous nations have a rising proportion who simply can’t afford to eat properly. For these people, malnutrition amidst our western world of alleged plenty is a very real threat.
So no, I’m not a supporter of ‘competitive eating’ contests. Or ‘chunder miles’. Honestly, people wanting to display a food mega-power would be better to see how many marshmallows they can stuff up their nose (with apologies to The Young Ones).
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2022