Monday, July 5, 2010

Competitive eating—a labor of love

Why is it so fascinating? Why do we even care? I'll tell you why—because we're Americans, and this stuff is as American as it gets.

Even though the star is Japanese.

Competitive eating has evolved into an actual sport, one worthy of coverage on ESPN. Its figurehead is a slight (130 pounds), muscular man named Takeru Kobayashi, who has prevailed six times in the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island, held annually on July 4. His personal best is 53.5 hot dogs, with buns, shoved down his gullet in ten minutes.

At this year's event, Mr. K was denied entry and arrested when he attempted to storm the stage. Apparently, he wasn't willing to sign an exclusivity contract with Major League Eating, the governing body of the "sport," as he wanted to peddle his skills at non-MLE-sanctioned events.

Kobayashi utilizes what he refers to as "the Solomon Method," where the frankfurter is split in two and swallowed at once, followed by the bun, which is dipped into water, Sprite or 7-Up and crammed into his mouth. He then employs the "Kobayashi shake," his trademark body wiggle, forcing the food to settle more compactly in his stomach.

As I mentioned, this spectacle is tailor-made for the people of the stars and stripes. America loves to eat lots, quickly. My younger daughter and I ate lunch yesterday at the local mall food court. We gazed upon our fellow diners, as most of those seated around us scarfed their fare with laser focus. One guy chomped at a burger, his face mere inches from his plate. One bite, another bite, and a third, smaller bite cut the burger in half before his head bobbed up to reveal his stuffed chipmunk cheeks, churning in circular spasms.

When we Americans eat pizza, we fold it lengthwise for maximum density prior to consumption. Our chicken is served in mouth-sized nugget form. We've got egg rolls and pizza rolls, taquitos and tater tots, And come on, who can't easily pop at least one entire Oreo into his or her mouth?

I'm as guilty as the next guy. Those cup-shaped Tostitos were probably the best thing to happen in my food life, next to the Thirsty-Two Ouncer at 7-11 and the all-you-can-eat-French-Fry paradigm shift at Red Robin. I wept tears of rapture when the five-dollar footlong puts its card down to dance.

I'll conclude this post with an image. It's yet another depiction of my older daughter, but this one is different. I've shown her in many a forum, but this portrayal shows the world that my steadfast fatherly food stewardship has paid dividends in her upbringing. This is my baby, directly following her victory in her high school Slurpee drinking contest.

I'm so proud.

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