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“Deep Dish” Bertoletti's Competitive Eating Advice

“Deep Dish” Bertoletti's Competitive Eating Advice



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After participating in my first competitive eating event I can say with authority: There is such a thing as too many Doritos. Last Saturday, I faced off with three other people in Washington Square Park, tackling 17 servings of Nacho Cheese Doritos, a whopping 1.23 pounds of Doritos per person.

"A great excuse to have a bag to yourself," you’re thinking. So did I — a week ago. But the 2,550 calories, 136 grams of fat, 289 grams of carbohydrates, and all the chewing and swallowing faster than you can taste, hardly make it a pleasurable snack experience.

I came in a close second to a man so fierce he has allegedly been banned from competitive eating arenas. By the end of the 15-minute challenge, there were just five chips' worth of crumbs standing between me and the win. With that type of defeat there’s one thing to do -- get professional advice. So I called one of the world's undisputed champs, Pat “Deep Dish” Bertoletti.

“I don’t think there’s anything regular about me,” Pat admitted to me. Agreed. Major League Eating ranks this 25-year-old second on their list of 50 "weapons of mass digestion." He has conquered 21 pounds of grits, 38 Mars Bars, 47 slices of pizza, 47 glazed and cream-filled donuts, 275 pickled jalapeños, 10.8 pounds of key lime pie -- all in record-breaking times. And lest we forget, he beat Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi in a televised wing showdown. When we spoke, he was calm and collected considering he was just a day away from his most recent showdown, the 2nd Annual Battle of the Bhut XXX Hot Wing Eating Championship.

Eat Like an Athlete

Preparation varies depending on the event's magnitude. For the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Competition, Pat prepares for months, creating weekly trial runs at home. For the wing challenge, he wasn’t doing anything particularly different from his daily regimen. He has an above average appetite all the time and he said he's “not immune to gaining weight.” Like any good athlete, Pat keeps himself physically and mentally prepared for game day.

Calm in the Face of the Challenge

George Shea, owner of Major League Eating, says, “It is believed by the IFOCE, which is not primarily a scientific organization, that this will be the greatest ever human exposure to pepper in recorded history.” So what’s it like staring down the barrel of a one million Scoville unit gun? “I’ll worry about it tomorrow,” said Pat.

That’s the mentality you need when you’re essentially facing a plate full of “edible” pepper spray.

Getting in the Zone

“Deep Dish” doesn’t really employ food-specific strategies. It’s more about “getting in that zone,” and “muscling through the mechanics” of the food. According to Pat, “the bad contests are when my body’s not cooperating.” And it’s the texture that becomes the most cumbersome. “Usually I don’t taste anything,” he said.

Digesting and Detox

Mr. Shea projects Pat will eat roughly 70 wings. How do you recover from that much scorching heat? He’ll chase the wings with plenty of milkshakes. Where most people might also be committed to the bathroom, or to food-induced bed rest (as I was), he and his friends are “trying to see a midget striptease afterwards.” Just another day at the office.

If I intend to ever compete in another event it's clear that I have a lot to learn, and a lot of practice ahead. In or out of the game, Pat and I have one defining mantra in common: It’s not about the money (or the poorly screen-printed Doritos T-shirt prize in my case), it’s about the glory.

The 2nd Annual Battle of the Bhut XXX Hot Wing Eating Championship starts tonight at 6 p.m. Keep an on eye on Pat. We’re confident he’ll be bringing home another victory.


Competitive eating: fair or foul?

The other night, in a Mexican restaurant, it struck me that the trustiest of George Bernard Shaw's quips has lost its pithy lustre. Britain and America are no longer two countries divided by a common language: we've become the same place.

I was witnessing a burrito-eating competition in aid of the NSPCC at a first-rate joint called Chilango. In shock and awe, I'd gazed agog as contestants chomped, slurped and masticated their tortillas, dribbling juice and guac across their chops, spattering their fronts with rice, gurgling like draining baths and shoving their faces down like labradors in Pedigree Chum. The cameras flashed, the crowd roared.

And I wondered: is this Britain today? Are our village fetes soon to be filled with Wurzelly types gob-shunting lardy cakes to the tick of the clock? Will Glastonbury have hog-eating contests? Have we indeed become the 51st state?

A Briton named Brian Duffield holds the world record for eating a raw onion: 89 terrifying seconds. A group calling itself Competitive Eating UK (strapline: 'Get It Down You, Son') boasts of a recent Walkers crisps record by one Barry McPherson, who munched 29 packets in five minutes at the Railway Club, Bognor Regis. Can you imagine the French ever behaving like this?

Americans - as ever - take it seriously. The International Federation of Competitive Eating runs a so-called 'Major League', distributing $350,000 prize money every year. In 2007, at the Louisiana Downs World Grits Eating Championship (though 'World' seems endearingly optimistic), Patrick 'Deep Dish' Bertoletti ate almost 10 kilos of grits in 10 minutes. The fastest eater in the world is currently Joey Chestnut, a trim Californian, who can dispatch 103 hamburgers in 480 unfastidious seconds.

But it's 31 year-old Takeru Kobayashi, a Nagano resident who once ate 57 cow brains in less time than it takes to boil a packet of pasta, that inspires the most fervid devotion. Kobayashi has competed against a Kodiak bear, and when he took part in the annual (nationally televised) Nathan's Hot Dog Contest in 2004, an ESPN commentator giddily overstated: "He's arguably the best competitor practising any sport today". The man's stomach definition is Olympian, and he dissolves with finality the myth that speed-eaters are necessarily obese.

Now, of course this is all revolting. And of course it's dangerous. One 'gurgitator', Don Lerman, has confessed that training will 'stretch my stomach until it causes internal bleeding'. A 2007 study into speed-eating conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that another participant, Tim Janus, is now incapable of feeling full: he is endlessly, torturously hungry. After Janus devoured 36 hot dogs in ten minutes, the doctors wrote, his belly "protruded enough to create the distinct impression of a developing intrauterine pregnancy". And last October, a 23 year-old Taiwanese student choked to death on a piece of bread in an eating competition. Winner's prize: around £50.

But I thought that in the interests of research, and since it was for charity, after all, I'd better have a go. So I took my place at the burrito-eating table with butterflies in my stomach. What ensued was unquestionably the worst gastronomic experience of my life: a choking, chaotic, panicky, painful and - in both senses - tasteless ordeal, messily, hideously divorced from all the pleasure of eating. It took me 86 hellish seconds to finish that fat, bloated log, though I was still miles off the winning time. When it was over, I felt as though I'd eaten about a kilo of butter - the record for doing so, incidentally, is five minutes.

I came away thinking that this isn't a sport. It isn't even a leisure activity. It's an eating disorder. It saps the meaning and importance and fun of food and vomits it - or 'has a Roman incident' as they say in the trade - into a spluttering, gluttonous mess. But what do you think? Are these competitors athletes who deserve our respect? Is it all a bit of fun? Or is the frantic scoffing of hot dog and burger hard to swallow in an era of ballooning obesity? Let's take our time, ruminate, and chew it over together.


Competitive eating: fair or foul?

The other night, in a Mexican restaurant, it struck me that the trustiest of George Bernard Shaw's quips has lost its pithy lustre. Britain and America are no longer two countries divided by a common language: we've become the same place.

I was witnessing a burrito-eating competition in aid of the NSPCC at a first-rate joint called Chilango. In shock and awe, I'd gazed agog as contestants chomped, slurped and masticated their tortillas, dribbling juice and guac across their chops, spattering their fronts with rice, gurgling like draining baths and shoving their faces down like labradors in Pedigree Chum. The cameras flashed, the crowd roared.

And I wondered: is this Britain today? Are our village fetes soon to be filled with Wurzelly types gob-shunting lardy cakes to the tick of the clock? Will Glastonbury have hog-eating contests? Have we indeed become the 51st state?

A Briton named Brian Duffield holds the world record for eating a raw onion: 89 terrifying seconds. A group calling itself Competitive Eating UK (strapline: 'Get It Down You, Son') boasts of a recent Walkers crisps record by one Barry McPherson, who munched 29 packets in five minutes at the Railway Club, Bognor Regis. Can you imagine the French ever behaving like this?

Americans - as ever - take it seriously. The International Federation of Competitive Eating runs a so-called 'Major League', distributing $350,000 prize money every year. In 2007, at the Louisiana Downs World Grits Eating Championship (though 'World' seems endearingly optimistic), Patrick 'Deep Dish' Bertoletti ate almost 10 kilos of grits in 10 minutes. The fastest eater in the world is currently Joey Chestnut, a trim Californian, who can dispatch 103 hamburgers in 480 unfastidious seconds.

But it's 31 year-old Takeru Kobayashi, a Nagano resident who once ate 57 cow brains in less time than it takes to boil a packet of pasta, that inspires the most fervid devotion. Kobayashi has competed against a Kodiak bear, and when he took part in the annual (nationally televised) Nathan's Hot Dog Contest in 2004, an ESPN commentator giddily overstated: "He's arguably the best competitor practising any sport today". The man's stomach definition is Olympian, and he dissolves with finality the myth that speed-eaters are necessarily obese.

Now, of course this is all revolting. And of course it's dangerous. One 'gurgitator', Don Lerman, has confessed that training will 'stretch my stomach until it causes internal bleeding'. A 2007 study into speed-eating conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that another participant, Tim Janus, is now incapable of feeling full: he is endlessly, torturously hungry. After Janus devoured 36 hot dogs in ten minutes, the doctors wrote, his belly "protruded enough to create the distinct impression of a developing intrauterine pregnancy". And last October, a 23 year-old Taiwanese student choked to death on a piece of bread in an eating competition. Winner's prize: around £50.

But I thought that in the interests of research, and since it was for charity, after all, I'd better have a go. So I took my place at the burrito-eating table with butterflies in my stomach. What ensued was unquestionably the worst gastronomic experience of my life: a choking, chaotic, panicky, painful and - in both senses - tasteless ordeal, messily, hideously divorced from all the pleasure of eating. It took me 86 hellish seconds to finish that fat, bloated log, though I was still miles off the winning time. When it was over, I felt as though I'd eaten about a kilo of butter - the record for doing so, incidentally, is five minutes.

I came away thinking that this isn't a sport. It isn't even a leisure activity. It's an eating disorder. It saps the meaning and importance and fun of food and vomits it - or 'has a Roman incident' as they say in the trade - into a spluttering, gluttonous mess. But what do you think? Are these competitors athletes who deserve our respect? Is it all a bit of fun? Or is the frantic scoffing of hot dog and burger hard to swallow in an era of ballooning obesity? Let's take our time, ruminate, and chew it over together.


Competitive eating: fair or foul?

The other night, in a Mexican restaurant, it struck me that the trustiest of George Bernard Shaw's quips has lost its pithy lustre. Britain and America are no longer two countries divided by a common language: we've become the same place.

I was witnessing a burrito-eating competition in aid of the NSPCC at a first-rate joint called Chilango. In shock and awe, I'd gazed agog as contestants chomped, slurped and masticated their tortillas, dribbling juice and guac across their chops, spattering their fronts with rice, gurgling like draining baths and shoving their faces down like labradors in Pedigree Chum. The cameras flashed, the crowd roared.

And I wondered: is this Britain today? Are our village fetes soon to be filled with Wurzelly types gob-shunting lardy cakes to the tick of the clock? Will Glastonbury have hog-eating contests? Have we indeed become the 51st state?

A Briton named Brian Duffield holds the world record for eating a raw onion: 89 terrifying seconds. A group calling itself Competitive Eating UK (strapline: 'Get It Down You, Son') boasts of a recent Walkers crisps record by one Barry McPherson, who munched 29 packets in five minutes at the Railway Club, Bognor Regis. Can you imagine the French ever behaving like this?

Americans - as ever - take it seriously. The International Federation of Competitive Eating runs a so-called 'Major League', distributing $350,000 prize money every year. In 2007, at the Louisiana Downs World Grits Eating Championship (though 'World' seems endearingly optimistic), Patrick 'Deep Dish' Bertoletti ate almost 10 kilos of grits in 10 minutes. The fastest eater in the world is currently Joey Chestnut, a trim Californian, who can dispatch 103 hamburgers in 480 unfastidious seconds.

But it's 31 year-old Takeru Kobayashi, a Nagano resident who once ate 57 cow brains in less time than it takes to boil a packet of pasta, that inspires the most fervid devotion. Kobayashi has competed against a Kodiak bear, and when he took part in the annual (nationally televised) Nathan's Hot Dog Contest in 2004, an ESPN commentator giddily overstated: "He's arguably the best competitor practising any sport today". The man's stomach definition is Olympian, and he dissolves with finality the myth that speed-eaters are necessarily obese.

Now, of course this is all revolting. And of course it's dangerous. One 'gurgitator', Don Lerman, has confessed that training will 'stretch my stomach until it causes internal bleeding'. A 2007 study into speed-eating conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that another participant, Tim Janus, is now incapable of feeling full: he is endlessly, torturously hungry. After Janus devoured 36 hot dogs in ten minutes, the doctors wrote, his belly "protruded enough to create the distinct impression of a developing intrauterine pregnancy". And last October, a 23 year-old Taiwanese student choked to death on a piece of bread in an eating competition. Winner's prize: around £50.

But I thought that in the interests of research, and since it was for charity, after all, I'd better have a go. So I took my place at the burrito-eating table with butterflies in my stomach. What ensued was unquestionably the worst gastronomic experience of my life: a choking, chaotic, panicky, painful and - in both senses - tasteless ordeal, messily, hideously divorced from all the pleasure of eating. It took me 86 hellish seconds to finish that fat, bloated log, though I was still miles off the winning time. When it was over, I felt as though I'd eaten about a kilo of butter - the record for doing so, incidentally, is five minutes.

I came away thinking that this isn't a sport. It isn't even a leisure activity. It's an eating disorder. It saps the meaning and importance and fun of food and vomits it - or 'has a Roman incident' as they say in the trade - into a spluttering, gluttonous mess. But what do you think? Are these competitors athletes who deserve our respect? Is it all a bit of fun? Or is the frantic scoffing of hot dog and burger hard to swallow in an era of ballooning obesity? Let's take our time, ruminate, and chew it over together.


Competitive eating: fair or foul?

The other night, in a Mexican restaurant, it struck me that the trustiest of George Bernard Shaw's quips has lost its pithy lustre. Britain and America are no longer two countries divided by a common language: we've become the same place.

I was witnessing a burrito-eating competition in aid of the NSPCC at a first-rate joint called Chilango. In shock and awe, I'd gazed agog as contestants chomped, slurped and masticated their tortillas, dribbling juice and guac across their chops, spattering their fronts with rice, gurgling like draining baths and shoving their faces down like labradors in Pedigree Chum. The cameras flashed, the crowd roared.

And I wondered: is this Britain today? Are our village fetes soon to be filled with Wurzelly types gob-shunting lardy cakes to the tick of the clock? Will Glastonbury have hog-eating contests? Have we indeed become the 51st state?

A Briton named Brian Duffield holds the world record for eating a raw onion: 89 terrifying seconds. A group calling itself Competitive Eating UK (strapline: 'Get It Down You, Son') boasts of a recent Walkers crisps record by one Barry McPherson, who munched 29 packets in five minutes at the Railway Club, Bognor Regis. Can you imagine the French ever behaving like this?

Americans - as ever - take it seriously. The International Federation of Competitive Eating runs a so-called 'Major League', distributing $350,000 prize money every year. In 2007, at the Louisiana Downs World Grits Eating Championship (though 'World' seems endearingly optimistic), Patrick 'Deep Dish' Bertoletti ate almost 10 kilos of grits in 10 minutes. The fastest eater in the world is currently Joey Chestnut, a trim Californian, who can dispatch 103 hamburgers in 480 unfastidious seconds.

But it's 31 year-old Takeru Kobayashi, a Nagano resident who once ate 57 cow brains in less time than it takes to boil a packet of pasta, that inspires the most fervid devotion. Kobayashi has competed against a Kodiak bear, and when he took part in the annual (nationally televised) Nathan's Hot Dog Contest in 2004, an ESPN commentator giddily overstated: "He's arguably the best competitor practising any sport today". The man's stomach definition is Olympian, and he dissolves with finality the myth that speed-eaters are necessarily obese.

Now, of course this is all revolting. And of course it's dangerous. One 'gurgitator', Don Lerman, has confessed that training will 'stretch my stomach until it causes internal bleeding'. A 2007 study into speed-eating conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that another participant, Tim Janus, is now incapable of feeling full: he is endlessly, torturously hungry. After Janus devoured 36 hot dogs in ten minutes, the doctors wrote, his belly "protruded enough to create the distinct impression of a developing intrauterine pregnancy". And last October, a 23 year-old Taiwanese student choked to death on a piece of bread in an eating competition. Winner's prize: around £50.

But I thought that in the interests of research, and since it was for charity, after all, I'd better have a go. So I took my place at the burrito-eating table with butterflies in my stomach. What ensued was unquestionably the worst gastronomic experience of my life: a choking, chaotic, panicky, painful and - in both senses - tasteless ordeal, messily, hideously divorced from all the pleasure of eating. It took me 86 hellish seconds to finish that fat, bloated log, though I was still miles off the winning time. When it was over, I felt as though I'd eaten about a kilo of butter - the record for doing so, incidentally, is five minutes.

I came away thinking that this isn't a sport. It isn't even a leisure activity. It's an eating disorder. It saps the meaning and importance and fun of food and vomits it - or 'has a Roman incident' as they say in the trade - into a spluttering, gluttonous mess. But what do you think? Are these competitors athletes who deserve our respect? Is it all a bit of fun? Or is the frantic scoffing of hot dog and burger hard to swallow in an era of ballooning obesity? Let's take our time, ruminate, and chew it over together.


Competitive eating: fair or foul?

The other night, in a Mexican restaurant, it struck me that the trustiest of George Bernard Shaw's quips has lost its pithy lustre. Britain and America are no longer two countries divided by a common language: we've become the same place.

I was witnessing a burrito-eating competition in aid of the NSPCC at a first-rate joint called Chilango. In shock and awe, I'd gazed agog as contestants chomped, slurped and masticated their tortillas, dribbling juice and guac across their chops, spattering their fronts with rice, gurgling like draining baths and shoving their faces down like labradors in Pedigree Chum. The cameras flashed, the crowd roared.

And I wondered: is this Britain today? Are our village fetes soon to be filled with Wurzelly types gob-shunting lardy cakes to the tick of the clock? Will Glastonbury have hog-eating contests? Have we indeed become the 51st state?

A Briton named Brian Duffield holds the world record for eating a raw onion: 89 terrifying seconds. A group calling itself Competitive Eating UK (strapline: 'Get It Down You, Son') boasts of a recent Walkers crisps record by one Barry McPherson, who munched 29 packets in five minutes at the Railway Club, Bognor Regis. Can you imagine the French ever behaving like this?

Americans - as ever - take it seriously. The International Federation of Competitive Eating runs a so-called 'Major League', distributing $350,000 prize money every year. In 2007, at the Louisiana Downs World Grits Eating Championship (though 'World' seems endearingly optimistic), Patrick 'Deep Dish' Bertoletti ate almost 10 kilos of grits in 10 minutes. The fastest eater in the world is currently Joey Chestnut, a trim Californian, who can dispatch 103 hamburgers in 480 unfastidious seconds.

But it's 31 year-old Takeru Kobayashi, a Nagano resident who once ate 57 cow brains in less time than it takes to boil a packet of pasta, that inspires the most fervid devotion. Kobayashi has competed against a Kodiak bear, and when he took part in the annual (nationally televised) Nathan's Hot Dog Contest in 2004, an ESPN commentator giddily overstated: "He's arguably the best competitor practising any sport today". The man's stomach definition is Olympian, and he dissolves with finality the myth that speed-eaters are necessarily obese.

Now, of course this is all revolting. And of course it's dangerous. One 'gurgitator', Don Lerman, has confessed that training will 'stretch my stomach until it causes internal bleeding'. A 2007 study into speed-eating conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that another participant, Tim Janus, is now incapable of feeling full: he is endlessly, torturously hungry. After Janus devoured 36 hot dogs in ten minutes, the doctors wrote, his belly "protruded enough to create the distinct impression of a developing intrauterine pregnancy". And last October, a 23 year-old Taiwanese student choked to death on a piece of bread in an eating competition. Winner's prize: around £50.

But I thought that in the interests of research, and since it was for charity, after all, I'd better have a go. So I took my place at the burrito-eating table with butterflies in my stomach. What ensued was unquestionably the worst gastronomic experience of my life: a choking, chaotic, panicky, painful and - in both senses - tasteless ordeal, messily, hideously divorced from all the pleasure of eating. It took me 86 hellish seconds to finish that fat, bloated log, though I was still miles off the winning time. When it was over, I felt as though I'd eaten about a kilo of butter - the record for doing so, incidentally, is five minutes.

I came away thinking that this isn't a sport. It isn't even a leisure activity. It's an eating disorder. It saps the meaning and importance and fun of food and vomits it - or 'has a Roman incident' as they say in the trade - into a spluttering, gluttonous mess. But what do you think? Are these competitors athletes who deserve our respect? Is it all a bit of fun? Or is the frantic scoffing of hot dog and burger hard to swallow in an era of ballooning obesity? Let's take our time, ruminate, and chew it over together.


Competitive eating: fair or foul?

The other night, in a Mexican restaurant, it struck me that the trustiest of George Bernard Shaw's quips has lost its pithy lustre. Britain and America are no longer two countries divided by a common language: we've become the same place.

I was witnessing a burrito-eating competition in aid of the NSPCC at a first-rate joint called Chilango. In shock and awe, I'd gazed agog as contestants chomped, slurped and masticated their tortillas, dribbling juice and guac across their chops, spattering their fronts with rice, gurgling like draining baths and shoving their faces down like labradors in Pedigree Chum. The cameras flashed, the crowd roared.

And I wondered: is this Britain today? Are our village fetes soon to be filled with Wurzelly types gob-shunting lardy cakes to the tick of the clock? Will Glastonbury have hog-eating contests? Have we indeed become the 51st state?

A Briton named Brian Duffield holds the world record for eating a raw onion: 89 terrifying seconds. A group calling itself Competitive Eating UK (strapline: 'Get It Down You, Son') boasts of a recent Walkers crisps record by one Barry McPherson, who munched 29 packets in five minutes at the Railway Club, Bognor Regis. Can you imagine the French ever behaving like this?

Americans - as ever - take it seriously. The International Federation of Competitive Eating runs a so-called 'Major League', distributing $350,000 prize money every year. In 2007, at the Louisiana Downs World Grits Eating Championship (though 'World' seems endearingly optimistic), Patrick 'Deep Dish' Bertoletti ate almost 10 kilos of grits in 10 minutes. The fastest eater in the world is currently Joey Chestnut, a trim Californian, who can dispatch 103 hamburgers in 480 unfastidious seconds.

But it's 31 year-old Takeru Kobayashi, a Nagano resident who once ate 57 cow brains in less time than it takes to boil a packet of pasta, that inspires the most fervid devotion. Kobayashi has competed against a Kodiak bear, and when he took part in the annual (nationally televised) Nathan's Hot Dog Contest in 2004, an ESPN commentator giddily overstated: "He's arguably the best competitor practising any sport today". The man's stomach definition is Olympian, and he dissolves with finality the myth that speed-eaters are necessarily obese.

Now, of course this is all revolting. And of course it's dangerous. One 'gurgitator', Don Lerman, has confessed that training will 'stretch my stomach until it causes internal bleeding'. A 2007 study into speed-eating conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that another participant, Tim Janus, is now incapable of feeling full: he is endlessly, torturously hungry. After Janus devoured 36 hot dogs in ten minutes, the doctors wrote, his belly "protruded enough to create the distinct impression of a developing intrauterine pregnancy". And last October, a 23 year-old Taiwanese student choked to death on a piece of bread in an eating competition. Winner's prize: around £50.

But I thought that in the interests of research, and since it was for charity, after all, I'd better have a go. So I took my place at the burrito-eating table with butterflies in my stomach. What ensued was unquestionably the worst gastronomic experience of my life: a choking, chaotic, panicky, painful and - in both senses - tasteless ordeal, messily, hideously divorced from all the pleasure of eating. It took me 86 hellish seconds to finish that fat, bloated log, though I was still miles off the winning time. When it was over, I felt as though I'd eaten about a kilo of butter - the record for doing so, incidentally, is five minutes.

I came away thinking that this isn't a sport. It isn't even a leisure activity. It's an eating disorder. It saps the meaning and importance and fun of food and vomits it - or 'has a Roman incident' as they say in the trade - into a spluttering, gluttonous mess. But what do you think? Are these competitors athletes who deserve our respect? Is it all a bit of fun? Or is the frantic scoffing of hot dog and burger hard to swallow in an era of ballooning obesity? Let's take our time, ruminate, and chew it over together.


Competitive eating: fair or foul?

The other night, in a Mexican restaurant, it struck me that the trustiest of George Bernard Shaw's quips has lost its pithy lustre. Britain and America are no longer two countries divided by a common language: we've become the same place.

I was witnessing a burrito-eating competition in aid of the NSPCC at a first-rate joint called Chilango. In shock and awe, I'd gazed agog as contestants chomped, slurped and masticated their tortillas, dribbling juice and guac across their chops, spattering their fronts with rice, gurgling like draining baths and shoving their faces down like labradors in Pedigree Chum. The cameras flashed, the crowd roared.

And I wondered: is this Britain today? Are our village fetes soon to be filled with Wurzelly types gob-shunting lardy cakes to the tick of the clock? Will Glastonbury have hog-eating contests? Have we indeed become the 51st state?

A Briton named Brian Duffield holds the world record for eating a raw onion: 89 terrifying seconds. A group calling itself Competitive Eating UK (strapline: 'Get It Down You, Son') boasts of a recent Walkers crisps record by one Barry McPherson, who munched 29 packets in five minutes at the Railway Club, Bognor Regis. Can you imagine the French ever behaving like this?

Americans - as ever - take it seriously. The International Federation of Competitive Eating runs a so-called 'Major League', distributing $350,000 prize money every year. In 2007, at the Louisiana Downs World Grits Eating Championship (though 'World' seems endearingly optimistic), Patrick 'Deep Dish' Bertoletti ate almost 10 kilos of grits in 10 minutes. The fastest eater in the world is currently Joey Chestnut, a trim Californian, who can dispatch 103 hamburgers in 480 unfastidious seconds.

But it's 31 year-old Takeru Kobayashi, a Nagano resident who once ate 57 cow brains in less time than it takes to boil a packet of pasta, that inspires the most fervid devotion. Kobayashi has competed against a Kodiak bear, and when he took part in the annual (nationally televised) Nathan's Hot Dog Contest in 2004, an ESPN commentator giddily overstated: "He's arguably the best competitor practising any sport today". The man's stomach definition is Olympian, and he dissolves with finality the myth that speed-eaters are necessarily obese.

Now, of course this is all revolting. And of course it's dangerous. One 'gurgitator', Don Lerman, has confessed that training will 'stretch my stomach until it causes internal bleeding'. A 2007 study into speed-eating conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that another participant, Tim Janus, is now incapable of feeling full: he is endlessly, torturously hungry. After Janus devoured 36 hot dogs in ten minutes, the doctors wrote, his belly "protruded enough to create the distinct impression of a developing intrauterine pregnancy". And last October, a 23 year-old Taiwanese student choked to death on a piece of bread in an eating competition. Winner's prize: around £50.

But I thought that in the interests of research, and since it was for charity, after all, I'd better have a go. So I took my place at the burrito-eating table with butterflies in my stomach. What ensued was unquestionably the worst gastronomic experience of my life: a choking, chaotic, panicky, painful and - in both senses - tasteless ordeal, messily, hideously divorced from all the pleasure of eating. It took me 86 hellish seconds to finish that fat, bloated log, though I was still miles off the winning time. When it was over, I felt as though I'd eaten about a kilo of butter - the record for doing so, incidentally, is five minutes.

I came away thinking that this isn't a sport. It isn't even a leisure activity. It's an eating disorder. It saps the meaning and importance and fun of food and vomits it - or 'has a Roman incident' as they say in the trade - into a spluttering, gluttonous mess. But what do you think? Are these competitors athletes who deserve our respect? Is it all a bit of fun? Or is the frantic scoffing of hot dog and burger hard to swallow in an era of ballooning obesity? Let's take our time, ruminate, and chew it over together.


Competitive eating: fair or foul?

The other night, in a Mexican restaurant, it struck me that the trustiest of George Bernard Shaw's quips has lost its pithy lustre. Britain and America are no longer two countries divided by a common language: we've become the same place.

I was witnessing a burrito-eating competition in aid of the NSPCC at a first-rate joint called Chilango. In shock and awe, I'd gazed agog as contestants chomped, slurped and masticated their tortillas, dribbling juice and guac across their chops, spattering their fronts with rice, gurgling like draining baths and shoving their faces down like labradors in Pedigree Chum. The cameras flashed, the crowd roared.

And I wondered: is this Britain today? Are our village fetes soon to be filled with Wurzelly types gob-shunting lardy cakes to the tick of the clock? Will Glastonbury have hog-eating contests? Have we indeed become the 51st state?

A Briton named Brian Duffield holds the world record for eating a raw onion: 89 terrifying seconds. A group calling itself Competitive Eating UK (strapline: 'Get It Down You, Son') boasts of a recent Walkers crisps record by one Barry McPherson, who munched 29 packets in five minutes at the Railway Club, Bognor Regis. Can you imagine the French ever behaving like this?

Americans - as ever - take it seriously. The International Federation of Competitive Eating runs a so-called 'Major League', distributing $350,000 prize money every year. In 2007, at the Louisiana Downs World Grits Eating Championship (though 'World' seems endearingly optimistic), Patrick 'Deep Dish' Bertoletti ate almost 10 kilos of grits in 10 minutes. The fastest eater in the world is currently Joey Chestnut, a trim Californian, who can dispatch 103 hamburgers in 480 unfastidious seconds.

But it's 31 year-old Takeru Kobayashi, a Nagano resident who once ate 57 cow brains in less time than it takes to boil a packet of pasta, that inspires the most fervid devotion. Kobayashi has competed against a Kodiak bear, and when he took part in the annual (nationally televised) Nathan's Hot Dog Contest in 2004, an ESPN commentator giddily overstated: "He's arguably the best competitor practising any sport today". The man's stomach definition is Olympian, and he dissolves with finality the myth that speed-eaters are necessarily obese.

Now, of course this is all revolting. And of course it's dangerous. One 'gurgitator', Don Lerman, has confessed that training will 'stretch my stomach until it causes internal bleeding'. A 2007 study into speed-eating conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that another participant, Tim Janus, is now incapable of feeling full: he is endlessly, torturously hungry. After Janus devoured 36 hot dogs in ten minutes, the doctors wrote, his belly "protruded enough to create the distinct impression of a developing intrauterine pregnancy". And last October, a 23 year-old Taiwanese student choked to death on a piece of bread in an eating competition. Winner's prize: around £50.

But I thought that in the interests of research, and since it was for charity, after all, I'd better have a go. So I took my place at the burrito-eating table with butterflies in my stomach. What ensued was unquestionably the worst gastronomic experience of my life: a choking, chaotic, panicky, painful and - in both senses - tasteless ordeal, messily, hideously divorced from all the pleasure of eating. It took me 86 hellish seconds to finish that fat, bloated log, though I was still miles off the winning time. When it was over, I felt as though I'd eaten about a kilo of butter - the record for doing so, incidentally, is five minutes.

I came away thinking that this isn't a sport. It isn't even a leisure activity. It's an eating disorder. It saps the meaning and importance and fun of food and vomits it - or 'has a Roman incident' as they say in the trade - into a spluttering, gluttonous mess. But what do you think? Are these competitors athletes who deserve our respect? Is it all a bit of fun? Or is the frantic scoffing of hot dog and burger hard to swallow in an era of ballooning obesity? Let's take our time, ruminate, and chew it over together.


Competitive eating: fair or foul?

The other night, in a Mexican restaurant, it struck me that the trustiest of George Bernard Shaw's quips has lost its pithy lustre. Britain and America are no longer two countries divided by a common language: we've become the same place.

I was witnessing a burrito-eating competition in aid of the NSPCC at a first-rate joint called Chilango. In shock and awe, I'd gazed agog as contestants chomped, slurped and masticated their tortillas, dribbling juice and guac across their chops, spattering their fronts with rice, gurgling like draining baths and shoving their faces down like labradors in Pedigree Chum. The cameras flashed, the crowd roared.

And I wondered: is this Britain today? Are our village fetes soon to be filled with Wurzelly types gob-shunting lardy cakes to the tick of the clock? Will Glastonbury have hog-eating contests? Have we indeed become the 51st state?

A Briton named Brian Duffield holds the world record for eating a raw onion: 89 terrifying seconds. A group calling itself Competitive Eating UK (strapline: 'Get It Down You, Son') boasts of a recent Walkers crisps record by one Barry McPherson, who munched 29 packets in five minutes at the Railway Club, Bognor Regis. Can you imagine the French ever behaving like this?

Americans - as ever - take it seriously. The International Federation of Competitive Eating runs a so-called 'Major League', distributing $350,000 prize money every year. In 2007, at the Louisiana Downs World Grits Eating Championship (though 'World' seems endearingly optimistic), Patrick 'Deep Dish' Bertoletti ate almost 10 kilos of grits in 10 minutes. The fastest eater in the world is currently Joey Chestnut, a trim Californian, who can dispatch 103 hamburgers in 480 unfastidious seconds.

But it's 31 year-old Takeru Kobayashi, a Nagano resident who once ate 57 cow brains in less time than it takes to boil a packet of pasta, that inspires the most fervid devotion. Kobayashi has competed against a Kodiak bear, and when he took part in the annual (nationally televised) Nathan's Hot Dog Contest in 2004, an ESPN commentator giddily overstated: "He's arguably the best competitor practising any sport today". The man's stomach definition is Olympian, and he dissolves with finality the myth that speed-eaters are necessarily obese.

Now, of course this is all revolting. And of course it's dangerous. One 'gurgitator', Don Lerman, has confessed that training will 'stretch my stomach until it causes internal bleeding'. A 2007 study into speed-eating conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that another participant, Tim Janus, is now incapable of feeling full: he is endlessly, torturously hungry. After Janus devoured 36 hot dogs in ten minutes, the doctors wrote, his belly "protruded enough to create the distinct impression of a developing intrauterine pregnancy". And last October, a 23 year-old Taiwanese student choked to death on a piece of bread in an eating competition. Winner's prize: around £50.

But I thought that in the interests of research, and since it was for charity, after all, I'd better have a go. So I took my place at the burrito-eating table with butterflies in my stomach. What ensued was unquestionably the worst gastronomic experience of my life: a choking, chaotic, panicky, painful and - in both senses - tasteless ordeal, messily, hideously divorced from all the pleasure of eating. It took me 86 hellish seconds to finish that fat, bloated log, though I was still miles off the winning time. When it was over, I felt as though I'd eaten about a kilo of butter - the record for doing so, incidentally, is five minutes.

I came away thinking that this isn't a sport. It isn't even a leisure activity. It's an eating disorder. It saps the meaning and importance and fun of food and vomits it - or 'has a Roman incident' as they say in the trade - into a spluttering, gluttonous mess. But what do you think? Are these competitors athletes who deserve our respect? Is it all a bit of fun? Or is the frantic scoffing of hot dog and burger hard to swallow in an era of ballooning obesity? Let's take our time, ruminate, and chew it over together.


Competitive eating: fair or foul?

The other night, in a Mexican restaurant, it struck me that the trustiest of George Bernard Shaw's quips has lost its pithy lustre. Britain and America are no longer two countries divided by a common language: we've become the same place.

I was witnessing a burrito-eating competition in aid of the NSPCC at a first-rate joint called Chilango. In shock and awe, I'd gazed agog as contestants chomped, slurped and masticated their tortillas, dribbling juice and guac across their chops, spattering their fronts with rice, gurgling like draining baths and shoving their faces down like labradors in Pedigree Chum. The cameras flashed, the crowd roared.

And I wondered: is this Britain today? Are our village fetes soon to be filled with Wurzelly types gob-shunting lardy cakes to the tick of the clock? Will Glastonbury have hog-eating contests? Have we indeed become the 51st state?

A Briton named Brian Duffield holds the world record for eating a raw onion: 89 terrifying seconds. A group calling itself Competitive Eating UK (strapline: 'Get It Down You, Son') boasts of a recent Walkers crisps record by one Barry McPherson, who munched 29 packets in five minutes at the Railway Club, Bognor Regis. Can you imagine the French ever behaving like this?

Americans - as ever - take it seriously. The International Federation of Competitive Eating runs a so-called 'Major League', distributing $350,000 prize money every year. In 2007, at the Louisiana Downs World Grits Eating Championship (though 'World' seems endearingly optimistic), Patrick 'Deep Dish' Bertoletti ate almost 10 kilos of grits in 10 minutes. The fastest eater in the world is currently Joey Chestnut, a trim Californian, who can dispatch 103 hamburgers in 480 unfastidious seconds.

But it's 31 year-old Takeru Kobayashi, a Nagano resident who once ate 57 cow brains in less time than it takes to boil a packet of pasta, that inspires the most fervid devotion. Kobayashi has competed against a Kodiak bear, and when he took part in the annual (nationally televised) Nathan's Hot Dog Contest in 2004, an ESPN commentator giddily overstated: "He's arguably the best competitor practising any sport today". The man's stomach definition is Olympian, and he dissolves with finality the myth that speed-eaters are necessarily obese.

Now, of course this is all revolting. And of course it's dangerous. One 'gurgitator', Don Lerman, has confessed that training will 'stretch my stomach until it causes internal bleeding'. A 2007 study into speed-eating conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that another participant, Tim Janus, is now incapable of feeling full: he is endlessly, torturously hungry. After Janus devoured 36 hot dogs in ten minutes, the doctors wrote, his belly "protruded enough to create the distinct impression of a developing intrauterine pregnancy". And last October, a 23 year-old Taiwanese student choked to death on a piece of bread in an eating competition. Winner's prize: around £50.

But I thought that in the interests of research, and since it was for charity, after all, I'd better have a go. So I took my place at the burrito-eating table with butterflies in my stomach. What ensued was unquestionably the worst gastronomic experience of my life: a choking, chaotic, panicky, painful and - in both senses - tasteless ordeal, messily, hideously divorced from all the pleasure of eating. It took me 86 hellish seconds to finish that fat, bloated log, though I was still miles off the winning time. When it was over, I felt as though I'd eaten about a kilo of butter - the record for doing so, incidentally, is five minutes.

I came away thinking that this isn't a sport. It isn't even a leisure activity. It's an eating disorder. It saps the meaning and importance and fun of food and vomits it - or 'has a Roman incident' as they say in the trade - into a spluttering, gluttonous mess. But what do you think? Are these competitors athletes who deserve our respect? Is it all a bit of fun? Or is the frantic scoffing of hot dog and burger hard to swallow in an era of ballooning obesity? Let's take our time, ruminate, and chew it over together.


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