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Pigging out for a cause. May 20, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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“El Wingador Says: Wing It On!”

“How many cheesesteaks can he down?”

Silence Dogood here. Apparently May marks the beginning of the competitive eating season, and our area, the Lehigh Valley in scenic PA, is keen to get in on the act. El Wingador, Philadelphia’s champion wing-eater, is challenging would-be competitors to a Wing-Eating Challenge at the historic Buckeye Tavern in Macungie (a restaurant that gets the thumbs-up from yours truly and our friend Ben; check it out at www.buckeyetavern.com). Meanwhile, Dorney Park in Allentown will host a Philly Cheesesteak-Eating Competition this Saturday, May 21 at 1:30, where Pennsylvania residents will have a chance to defend their state’s honor as creator of the cheesesteak against Joey Chestnut, a Californian who holds the world record after wolfing down 19 six-inch cheesesteaks in 10 minutes.

Apparently, these spectacles of conspicuous consumption bear more than a passing resemblance to the World Wrestling Federation. Competitors often bear colorful names—in addition to El Wingador, I saw Eric “Steakbellie” Livingston, Micah “Wing Kong” Collins, Sean “Flash” Gordon, Bob “Notorious B.O.B.” Stoudt, and Brian “Dud Light” Dudzinski mentioned as competitors—and they apparently have catchy bylines (“Wing It On!”) that would give Emeril a run for his money, not to mention appropriately flamboyant costuming.

These are by no means the only pig-out competitions going. Cramming in the most hot dogs, most jalapenos, most pies, most just-about-anything can be a highlight of any fair or festival, as well as (as in these cases) a stand-alone event. Restaurants like the iconic Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas will not only pay for your meal but enroll you in their Wall of Fame and shower you with memorabilia if you’re able to consume their entire mega-meal (a 72-ounce steak, shrimp cocktail, salad, baked potato, and dinner roll) in one hour. (Er, if this sounds tempting, better check it out on their website, www.bigtexan.com. That is one big steak. And if you can’t finish it before the hour is up, you’ll owe them $72, if the price hasn’t gone up.) Guess who holds the world’s record for polishing off the entire steak dinner in less then 9 minutes? Joey “Jaws” Chestnut! No wonder he’s ranked #1 by the International Federation of Competitive Eating. (Another organization, Major League Eating, ranks Chestnut #1 and Shoudt #2.)

These competitions apparently get sporting types’ adrenalin, if not gastric juices, flowing just like any other test of speed, skill and endurance. One witness described accidentally witnessing Chestnut’s consumption of the steak dinner as follows: “A lot of the customers stood up and crowded around the table, so it was difficult to see. After about four minutes, I realized that this was something to witness! I stood up on a chair… It was pure pandemonium… I’ve never seen anything like it! Everyone in the restaurant was on their feet applauding. My friends and I came for a good meal and got to witness history!” 

If the Food Network doesn’t have a competitive eating program, I can’t imagine why not. Guy Fieri would make the perfect host, since it would be challenging to find any contestant, even El Wingador, who’d be more flamboyant than Guy himself. But I can’t see Guy competing. It takes more than attitude or a Wal*Mart-sized stomach—it takes an athlete.

El Wingador spilled the wings (so to speak) in an interview he gave this February before Philadelphia’s annual Wing Bowl, which draws constestants from all over the world and a crowd of 20,000. Wingador, a 5-time champion, is considered the world’s foremost wing-eater. As he told the interviewer, he approaches these competitions like an athlete, which is what he was, a pro softball player before becoming a pro gobbler. To get his jaws in shape for a competition, he chews 10 pounds of Tootsie Rolls a week. (His dentist was probably able to buy a summer home and take early retirement as a result.) To stretch his stomach and get ready to consume 250-300 wings in a matter of minutes, he eats 10-15 pounds of food a day. But, he stressed, he eats salmon, veggies, yogurt and the like to make up those pounds of food, not deep-fried junk, and works out religiously to make sure those pounds don’t glom onto him. And he approaches his competitions with a mental advantage: “I read a lot of books about brain fitness and mind over matter.”

But El Wingador is, at heart, a modest man. He claims that a Japanese competitor, Takeru Kobayashi, is “the best eater in the world.” Kobayashi, a 33-year-old of modest height and weight known as “The Tsunami,” smashed every eating record previously set from his very first appearance, when he burst upon the competitive eating scene in 2001 at a Nathan’s Famous hot dog-eating contest. Typically, he at least doubled the record of whatever-it-was being eaten from all previous winners. For years, he seemed unbeatable. Then came Joey Chestnut.

So who is this Joey “Jaws” Chestnut? He’s a 6-foot-tall, 218-pound engineering major from Vallejo, CA. Though closely shadowed by the 5’8″, 123-pound Kobayashi, Chestnut has an awesome versatility, winning eating competitions from hot dogs, wings and pizza slices to deep-fried asparagus, matzoh balls (!) and, I kid you not, the Pepto-Bismol Bratwurst Eating Championship. To shape up for his competitions, he fasts and stretches his stomach by drinking gallons of water and milk and taking protein supplements.

Why on earth would anyone want to subject themselves to this type of physical torture, to pig out in public, to gorge themselves when a huge percent of the world’s population is starving, even here in the U.S. of A.? Two rather divergent reasons spring to mind.

The proceeds from El Wingador’s wing-off at the Buckeye Tavern are being donated to the Macungie Fire Department, so he and his fellow competitors will at least be stuffing themselves for a worthy cause. As for Joey, the Dorney Park competition will pay $1500 to the person who eats the most cheesesteaks. College, and especially engineering school, is not cheap, and college loans are crippling, often haunting their recipients well into midlife. If Joey takes home a sufficient number of prizes like this, he might be able to pay his way through school and emerge with his advanced engineering degrees not just debt-free, but even a little ahead.

I myself can’t imagine wanting to watch, much less compete in, an activity of this kind. It makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it. But in this case, perhaps the ends really do justify the means.

              ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

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