Eating and Society category

Lapham’s Quarterly on pie eating contests

Lapham’s Quarterly has an article about the history of pie eating contests.

At the same time pie-eating contests were taking place in working-class saloons and between black performers, the events were also popular with men of means as head-to-head matches. After the turn of the twentieth century, “gourmandizing” competitions became the vogue among the wealthy, expanding beyond pie-eating to a new world of competitive consumption. In one 1909 competition at the Fat Men’s Club in Manhattan, the winner ate two hundred and ten oysters, six pounds of steak, nine rolls, ten cups of coffee, and three large pies. Such extravagant consumption was connected to wealth; it was expensive to be fat at the turn of the century. Food costs were high enough that most middle-class Americans couldn’t afford the foods consumed by most Fat Men’s Club members, who weighed two hundred pounds on average. But as cheap food became more readily available by the 1920s, and as ideas about body image changed, the Fat Men’s Clubs died out.


In Torah Musings, Rabbi Daniel Mann answers the question of whether competitive eating is in compliance with Jewish laws. His conclusion: "objections to such a contest would be based more on philosophical/ethical grounds than halachic ones".
Randy Santel defends competitive eating in a recently added series of answers to commonly asked critical questions about eating contests.

The “eating power” of native British Columbians

There might have been some historical basis to have competitive eating as a demonstration sport in the Vancouver Olympics. has an article from 2004 about the “tsatlsqulalitut” or eating power of the Salish tribe of coastal British Columbia and Washington State:

Powers played an important role in Coast Salish culture. There were many kinds, including, but not limited to, the powers of a shaman, and any adult ought to have one or more. A person with eating power ate normally most of the time. But when challenged or challenging, the same person would eat vast quantities of food without showing the slightest sign of discomfort.

The article retells a story of an old man who ate two sides of beef and washed it down with a barrel of water.


Competitive eating called “male food porn”

Double XX has a column about Man vs. Food which describes the program as male food porn:

As cultural taboos against ungoverned appetites intensify, porn inevitably follows. And thus we have the phenomenon of expert gluttony. One manifestation of this phenomenon is the professional eating contests that take place under the banner of organizations like the International Federation of Competitive Eating and the Association of Independent Competitive Eaters. Another is that brand of television that showcases promiscuous mastication, with Man vs. Food being the current darling of that genre.

New York Magazine’s Grub Street blog has a response to the column which attributes the popularity of competitive eating to the “distaster factor”.

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Mental Floss has a list of 8 possible fields for fantasy leagues which lists competitive eating at #8. The list uses a picture of "Humble" Bob Shoudt by Liz Kellermeyer, but does not mention her 2007 fantasy competitive eating league. (The author was "Humble" Bob's seatmate on a 2006 flight.)

Obama’s Indonesian teacher reports he won an eating contest

The Electric New Paper of Singapore has an interview with Mr. Effendi (no first name listed), who taught Barack Obama when he lived in Indonesia, which begins:

GENDUT loved his keropok. He even won a keropok eating contest.

Gendut or ‘chubby’ is now known all over the world as US president Barack Obama.

His former teacher, Mr Effendi S P D, 64, told The New Paper at his house in Jakarta that Mr Obama was the biggest boy in his class. Mr Obama lived in Indonesia with his mother Ann Dunham and step-father Lolo Soetoro from 1967 to 1971.

are deep fried crackers made from prawns and starch.

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Competitive eating not a candidate for 2016 Olympics

Seven sports (baseball, softball, golf, karate, roller sports, rugby and squash) made their case to be included in the 2016 Olympics. Competitive eating was not among them. Chicago and Tokyo are considered the leading candidates to land the games.

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London Telegram on gluttony

The Telegram of London has a column about gluttony illustrated with a picture of Takeru Kobayashi at the 2003 Nathan’s finals which lists the six types of sinful eating according to St. Thomas Aquinas. The column also reports that the Body Mass Index was developed in the 1840s by the Belgian mathematician Adolphe Quételet and that in 1806, a 728 pound man, Daniel Lambert, charged a schilling to visitors who wanted to chat with him. (Lambert died three years later.)


Spanish food fight to waste 165 tons of tomatoes

The German magazine Der Spiegel has an English article and gallery about La Tomatina, a annual tomato fight that will be held in Buñol, Spain tomorrow. During the event, 150,000 kg (330,000 lb.) of tomatoes are ruined. Despite wasting orders of magnitude more food than any American eating contest, the event does not seem to have drawn the same amount of criticism that competitive eating does.

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Link Buffet: August 20, 2008

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Link Buffet: May 9, 2008

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NPR on hot dogs and Japanese culture

NPR has an article about the effect of American internment and occupation on Japanese and Japanese-American cuisine:

Shousei Hanayama, the priest at the Buddhist Temple in Watsonville, Calif., remembered that after the war, American soldiers in Okinawa brought hot dogs and introduced them into the island culture.

Hanayama noted that hot dogs are still a part of the Japanese culture, pointing to the story of Takeru Kobayashi, who can eat 63 hot dogs in under 12 minutes. The winner of six consecutive Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contests, Kobayashi revolutionized and popularized competitive eating with a technique called “Japanesing,” separating hot dog from bun as he crams to victory.



There is currently a poll on MSNBC asking the question “Are competitive eating contests harmless celebrations of gastronomic greatness or sheer gluttony?”

The choices are: 1) Lighten up, people! They’re a belly-full of innocent fun. 2) With a third of Americans now obese, these contests are in bad taste. 3) I don’t know

The anti-CE voters are currently leading 51% to 44%

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Anti CE column in TCU newspaper

The website for the student newspaper of Texas Christian University has an anti competitive eating editorial:

Anything I can do from the comfort of my own home shouldn’t be considered a sport.

I have fat friends that sit around all day and drink untold amounts of Mountain Dew and suck on Pixie Stixs. Do I tell them to go challenge Joey Chestnut and Sonya Thomas in the glamorous world of public overeating?


I tell them to hit the treadmill like Marion Jones (minus the steroids) so they can live to see 25.

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Regulation proposed for competitive eating

(From So Good Blog)Manuel Lora makes the following proposals in his blog:

Eating contests must be closely watched by a regulatory agency. I propose the following pieces of legislation:

A) Participants must be licensed. If we license automobile drivers, why can’t we license competitive eaters? Some of them often receive monetary and in-kind prices and as such they are employees subject to regulation.

B) Participants must be insured. Because the eaters might have a higher than average incidence of heart burn and other complications, it makes perfect sense of them to have primary and secondary insurance otherwise hospitals will have to bear the cost of the eating fetishists.

C) Competitive eating organizers shall be required to provide to audiences brochures and other instructional material about healthy eating. Children who witness these monstrous spectacles could very well be disturbed, their lives forever changed. Society must do whatever possible to prevent damaging the children.

D) Whether it is pies or hot dogs, organizers must provide nutritional information to eaters and the public. This way everyone can see the insane number of calories that they are consuming. Perhaps a “shock and awe” campaign is what we need to eliminate obesity once and for all.

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Mass. man seeks CE ban

The Eagle Tribune has an article about Andover, MA resident Paul MacInnis, who is on a quest to ban all eating contests.

After he stops the Nathan’s contest, he said he’ll move to ban all professional competitive eating.

He has the option of introducing a bill to the Massachusetts Legislature — which he’d have to do by January. Andover Town Clerk Randy Hanson said it wouldn’t be possible to ban competitive eating locally because the Board of Selectmen would have no authority to uphold such a ruling, even if it were voted in at town meeting.

But one thing’s for sure: MacInnis is one tough cookie, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes.

“I will not be ignored,” he said. “I will become such a pain in the neck to these people. I may be on a fool’s errand here, but I’m not going to let it go.”

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More on U of Iowa corn cancellation

The cancellation of the corn eating contest at the University of Iowa has received more publicity than most eating contests which actually take place:
Des Moines Register
Reason Online

A comment from the Des Moines Register by Calvin Jones follows:

Keep in mind this is the same University that sells triple cheese burgers and french fries in the student union cafeteria not to mention the mass quantities of alcohol they allow the well healed boosters to consume on campus, in open containers, seven hours before a Hawkeye football game. Trust me nothing is scarier than watching a drunk graduate from the class of 32 try to back out their 18 foot long land yacht onto Melrose Ave. The obesity epidemic has nothing to do with binge vegetable eating and everything to do with empty calories and sugar peddled by all of those vending machines on campus. If anything binging on vegetables would both help solve this nation’s weight problem and cripple the laxative industry.

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Anti-CE interview from Fox News on youtube

An interview with MeMe Roth of the National Association Against Obesity conducted by Neil Cavuto on Fox News criticizing competitive eating after the Nathan’s finals can be viewed at

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NY Times on Kobayashi’s impact

The New York Times has an article assessing Kobayashi’s impact on competitive eating.

If Kobayashi loses, the contest runs the risk of losing its marquee star.

“People are attracted to the game by individuals, but then they become more familiar with the game and so there’s a path from being a fan of an individual to being a fan of the sport,” Mandelbaum said. “But I’m not sure if people watch this for the same reason people watch sports.”

Ruth passed the mantle of stardom in baseball to Lou Gehrig, among others, leaving baseball significantly stronger than it was when he started. Time will show whether the interest in hot dog-eating competitions will continue, but having Chestnut around to succeed Kobayashi may be important to keep fans watching.


Newsday column and poll about competitive eating

(From Newsday has a column about competitive eating in which all the sources quoted are anti-C.E. except for Ryan Nerz. A poll about competitive eating is also available.

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Manners of mentioning metabolisms has a column on whether it is advisable to praise a non-overweight woman’s large appetite:

Some women say they like it when people remark on their hearty appetites. Maralee Burgard, a UC Berkeley student blessed with a fast metabolism, eats such large portions that her friends know to schedule extra time when they share a meal with her. “I feel a sense of pride and empowerment that I’m a woman and can eat more than many men,” she says.

But, unfortunately, most women are anxious about their weight, regardless of their body size. Drawing attention to how much your female companion is eating could trigger feelings of insecurity: “Am I eating too much? Is my friend trying to tell me I’m fat?” You never know how confident a woman is in her relationship with food, so you should never comment on how much (or how little, for that matter) she is consuming.


Private KFC eating contest draws ire of New Zealand officials has an article about a Kentucky Fried Chicken Eating contest in New Zealand. Even though the contest was an informal affair not open to the public, it still drew criticism from public officials:

The event drew the ire of Waikato District Health Board officials who said it sent the wrong message at a time when the district and country were facing an obesity epidemic.


“Eat This Blog” – new competitive eating blog

A new blog has been started called “Eat This Blog” at The objective for the blog follows:

This Blog will follow the numerous competitive eating contests throughout America as they happen, and explain how the “sport” and its “athletes” are becoming more popular in pop culture.

The most recent post has 13 instance of competitive eating in popular culture.

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