By: Josh Baruch
The extreme sports craze of the 1990s brought many events to American television that much of the public had never heard of. Motocross, BASE jumping, and wakeboarding were just a few of the events which were featured on new cable channels devoted to extreme sports. But one “sport” stood out above the rest, if nothing else in its sheer audacity: competitive eating.
Competitive eating originated with the pie- and hotdog-eating contests which have long been staples of American county fairs. As the events grew in popularity, governing bodies cropped up to regulate them. Eventually the craze crossed the Pacific, and today competitive eating is at least as popular in Japan as it is in the US. There are currently two major international competitive eating organizations, and the popularity of the “sport” continues to grow.
The fact that the sport is inherently dangerous is no concern of mine; nobody is forced into competitive eating. If a person wishes to destroy their digestive system, it is their own choice to make. However, I do have two major objections to competitive eating, and both are rooted in the deep symbolism of the sport.
Since the advent of satellite television, American programming has been broadcast throughout the developing world. What satellite television cannot provide, however, is food. The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of the world is starving, and another third is underfed. That leaves only one-third of the world’s population which is properly fed. Access to television programming is another matter, however. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is ranked highest Global Hunger Index, one in ten people own a television. With statistics like that, the odds seem pretty good that some starving person somewhere is going to turn on their television and see a competitive eating contest. And, although it’s not as if the event organizers could simply solve global hunger by shipping their hotdogs to the world’s starving people, I still can’t think of a single greater “f—k you” to the developing world than a televised contest to see who can shove the most food into their already-gorged stomachs without vomiting.
My second issue with competitive eating is a domestic one. America is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. In 2007, over 25% of Americans were obese, with another 50% overweight. In the last 20 years, obesity in children has tripled. While American obesity is a complex issue, and much of it stems from the relative inexpensiveness of junk food, glorifying gluttony in such an overt manner as televised competitive eating certainly can’t help, and almost certainly contributes to the problem.
Sadly, I don’t have an immediate solution to the problem. I would never advocate any sort of censorship, and as long as the demand for competitive eating exists, networks will continue to broadcast it. It will take a complete shift in Americans’ worldview and their attitudes toward food before this disgusting practice disappears.