Competitive eating is where participants consume enormous amounts of food in an extremely short time period. Competitive eating is on the rise, gaining the most popularity in the United States, Japan and Canada. The sport is getting so big there is actually a governing board— the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE). The IFOCE hosts some 50 eating events spanning through the U.S and Canada every year. Competitive eating started at county fairs with the pie eating contest. However, it was the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest that transformed this weird side show into a sport in the spotlight.
Eating competitions usually last between five and ten minutes. The winner is determined by the most food eaten. Different venues offer different foods. Some competitions involve wings, hot dogs, spaghetti and so on. In 1970, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest began at Coney Island. This was the competition that really helped launch competitive eating. In 2001, Takeru Kobayashi ate 50 hot dogs, smashing the previous record of 25.5. This got worldwide media attention, with ESPN airing the footage every year before the event. The national attention helped popularize the sport. In the early 2000’s, Kobayashi was king. However, his successor would catapult the sport to unseen heights. In 2007, a young gun named Joey Chestnut entered the scene. Chestnut beat Kobayashi that year. Chestnut still holds the record at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest by eating 69 hot dogs in ten minutes in 2013. Kobayashi (the grandfather of competitive eating) holds six Guinness Records for eating hot dogs, meatballs, Twinkies, hamburgers and pizza. Today, though, we may see the torch passed once again. In this year’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, Chestnut, the not-so-young-man anymore, lost to Matt Stonie, a 23 year-old eating machine. Stonie, only 5’ 8” and 125 pounds, is a freak of nature. He also is an accomplished YouTuber with over 600,000 subscribers.
Competitive eating can be a lucrative business for the best of the best. The winner of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest takes home a cool $10,000. Stonie said he made around $100,000 competing in 17 events in 2014. Chesnut, on the other hand, made closer to 230,000 for his wins. Although the sport may be lucrative, it is still dangerous.
A 2007 study titled “Competitive Speed Eating: Truth and Consequences,” published in the American Journal of Roentgenology, concluded: “We speculate that professional speed eaters eventually may develop morbid obesity, profound gastroparesis, intractable nausea and vomiting and even the need for a gastrectomy. Despite its growing popularity, competitive speed eating is a potentially self-destructive form of behavior.” The training of competitive eaters is lacking. There is no real scientific evidence to help them get better at eating. Stonie himself says, “A lot of us don’t know what we’re doing. We’re just experimenting. Sometimes people go a little gung-ho, a little overboard, and hurt themselves.”
So, is competitive eating really a sport? It takes skills, concentration, and dedication, and it has a dangerous element to it. I’ll let you decide.