Like dancing about architecture or crying about double rainbows, writing about competitive eating kind of inevitably falls short of the transcendently queasy experience of actually watching competitive eating. Not to say that CSTB hasn’t hosted some good eating-related writing, but still — it’s hard to put the way that these strange humans put things into their mouths into words.
Which is not to say that there isn’t some admirably gnarly description in William Saletan’s article in Slate decrying both the corporatization and general depravity of Major League Eating and competitive eating, in general and respectively. It’s just that Saletan’s task was pretty much impossible: nothing will put you off
your lunch competitive eating quite as effectively as actually watching competitive eating, at least from my perspective.
Saletan’s main argument is that competitive eating is gross, dangerous, idiotic, gross, bad for our culture and gross, and as befits that argument — and the topic on which he’s delivering his jeremiad — Saletan does not make it with moderation. There might be a more interesting piece to be written about how MLE went from a goofy stunt to a moderately lucrative professional sport, but it’s hard to imagine a more passionately negative one than Saletan’s. To wit:
[New York Mayor and noxious orange billionaire Michael] Bloomberg isn’t alone in glorifying eating contests. Scan the Congressional Record, and you’ll find tributes from Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V.; Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.; and Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. These politicians, like countless others, stand foursquare against pornography, except when it involves deep-throating 68 wieners on ESPN.
If you’ve never seen the Nathan’s contest, you can get your fill of it by watching ESPN’s excerpt, a full-length video, or MLE’s highlights from last year’s show. It’s an orgy of brown drool, flying debris, and masticated mush. You’ll see fists and fingers pushing food down throats. You’ll see contestants twisting their necks and shaking their bellies to make the food go down. “They work on their gag reflex,” one ESPN announcer explains. Another praises a contestant: “He was blessed upon birth with an overactive gall bladder and not four but six first molars. He’s a great eater.” In case the frontal images aren’t graphic enough, ESPN delivers close-ups through its “chew-view cam,” along with a running “dogs per minute” stat…
…The physical risks of this lifestyle are obvious. Three years ago in Slate, Jason Fagone, the author of Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream, recounted strokes, jaw injuries, choking deaths, fatal water intoxications, and other eating-contest tragedies. “Thanks to increasing prize money and media exposure, there’s incentive now for competitive eaters to challenge the physical limits of the body,” Fagone observed. They’re “stretching their stomachs with huge volumes of chugged liquid,” inducing digestive paralysis and risking “gastric rupture.” A study published that year cautioned that “professional speed eaters eventually may develop morbid obesity, profound gastroparesis, intractable nausea and vomiting.” Even MLE warns prospective contestants of the sport’s “inherent dangers and risks.”