“They vomit so that they may eat and eat so that they may vomit.” – Seneca, Roman statesman and philosopher
In the Moral Epistles, a collection of letters on philosophical and moral issues related to Roman life, Seneca, (circa 4 BC – 65 AD), Roman statesman, philosopher, and advisor to Nero, describes dining etiquette: “When we recline at a banquet, one (slave) wipes up the spittle (vomit) while another, situated beneath (the table), collects the leavings of the drunks.”
At least Roman eating and purging at banquets was based on pleasure enhancement. In America, the new Rome, the ceremonial practice of gluttony is a garish theatrical spectacle known as competitive eating.
This year’s exercise in bulimic stupidity, brought to you by the annual Nathan’s Famous hot dog-eating contest on Coney Island, adds a chauvinistic, sexist dimension to cultural depravity.
The Nathan’s Famous hot dog-eating contest has always had mixed competition, but this year it will separate the men from the women. George Shea, chairman of the annual event’s sponsor, Major League Eating, says that with more women competing, it was the right decision to make.
“There was a feeling that what woman have done is nothing short of fantastic, but they were being overshadowed by the men,” Shea said.
Understood, but then why not pay both sexes the same prize money? This year the men’s competition will feature a grand prize of $20,000 and the famous championship belt, but the woman’s purse will be $5,000.
Shea’s lame and feeble explanation for the disparity is that the overall prize money will eclipse that of past years and that although the money is meaningful, the instant celebrity for the first female hot dog-eating champion will make up for the shortfall.
The International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE), which established eating as a sport in the 1990s, annually sponsors over one hundred “Major League Eating” events worldwide.
The IFOCE awards hundreds of thousands in prize money and attracts big time corporate sponsors like Alka-Seltzer, Johnsonville Brats and Krystal hamburgers.
IFOCE produced a three-hour elimination tournament on ESPN called the Alka-Seltzer U.S Open of Competitive Eating, a series of 30-minute television shows, “Eats of Strength,“ and Spike TV runs a series of one-hour Major League Eating events featuring the the world’s top eaters.
In 2010, reigning champion Joey Chestnut took home the championship belt for the fourth year in a row after rifling down 54 hot dogs and buns. The leading female contender for this year’s event is Sonya Thomas, who downed 36 hot dogs in the co-ed 2010 contest, falling short of her personal best of 41 hot dogs in 2009.
In 2009, Sonya Thomas, a 98-pound competitive eater from Alexandria, Virginia, downed 250½ jalapenos in nine minutes to win the La Costena Feel the Heat Jalapeno Eating Championship.
Competitive eaters take themselves and these inane competitions very seriously, with many of them actually comparing themselves to world-class athletes.
A couple of years ago, Nathan’s set up a “Man versus Beast in Coney Island Bun-eating Contest” in which three individuals were pitted against three elephants from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in a grotesque hot dog bun-eating contest.