Competitive Gluttony


This past Independence Day, I was treated to a jaw-droppingly disgusting sight. A dozen or so persons stood before a table piled high with hotdogs in buns. They proceeded to stuff, push, shove, and crunch, crush, thrust, propel, and otherwise cajole dozens of hotdogs into their ravening maws. (I’m sorry, “mouths” just didn’t seem descriptive enough.) A crowd of hundreds chanted and cheered them on. I believe the “winner” consumed 64 hotdogs in 10 minutes. All in all, the competitors together ate enough food to feed a large family for a month or more. I was appalled, to say the least.

It’s not that I was previously unaware of “competitive eating.” I’d just managed to avoid it. But while working out at the gym on an elliptical machine, Sports Center was on the TV in front of me, leaving me more or less captive as ESPN presented an extended montage of the Nathan’s 4th of July hotdog eating contest, complete with slow motion images of the face stuffing, of food tumbling from the lips of the force feeders, of hideous grimaces as they strove to inject that 39th hotdog down their gullets. Thankfully, the sound was off, so I didn’t have to hear what I imagined—based on the closed captioning—to be the mock gravitas in the announcer’s voice.

The juxtaposition of an eating competition with the dire hunger that is prevalent in so many places in the world is, of course, what sickened me. I think that even a starving person wouldn’t heedlessly scarf down food the way those competitors did. I wonder how someone with bulimia or anorexia would have felt watching them choose voluntarily to overeat, almost as if they were competing to do the best imitation of an eating disorder. I was offended just contemplating it.

I just don’t get it. How can a basic life function be the subject of a competition? Competitive breathing? (Actually, there might be competitive nonbreathing, people trying to hold their breath under water the longest.) Competitive sleeping? (I might be able to turn pro.) Competitive fingernail growing? (Ewwwww.) I’ll stop there.

Competitive eating strikes me as antithetical to compassion. Gluttony might be an antonym for compassion. Consuming far more than you need rather than sharing it with others is the opposite of what Buddha would have us do—which is, to give of what we have to those who need it. Bodhisattvas postpone their own passage into nirvana—the thing we all are working toward—in order to assist others in reaching enlightenment. It’s impossible to imagine a bodhisattva participating in an eating contest.

I am told that Nathan’s donated 100,000 hotdogs and buns to the needy. I’m glad to hear that, though it hardly compensates for the gluttonous spectacle they conducted. Let’s just hope those needy persons were given more than 10 minutes to eat the hotdogs.


5 responses »

  1. Let’s be careful about judging here.

    Do you have any idea how many beings are killed in the cultivation of the tea that you might drink? The animals pressed into service to carry bundles of tea where it’s picked? The greed and lying that may be involved in the buying and selling of the tea? The impact on the environment from transporting the tea between continents? The defects of samsara are ubiquitous, and cannot be escaped. No activity that any of us take part in is without karmic consequence. Before judging gluttony, take a look to see if you’re wearing any leather, or if you’ve swatted a mosquito. Patrul Rinpoche begins _The Words of My Perfect Teacher_ by saying that there isn’t a being that hasn’t from beginningless time, at one time or another, been our other and father. This means that the gluttons deserve our compassion as well as the malnourished.

    Furthermore, unless we’ve reached the first bhumi in our shamatha and have had actual realization, it’s a bad idea to try to compare anyone to a bodhisattva.

    I don’t see anywhere in the blog the mention of your compassion for those suffering in their gluttony. The language pretty severely seems to be dividing the world into “us” and “them”. You talk about how others might feel seeing their gluttony, but you don’t seem to be taking into account their own suffering. We should extend compassion, loving-kindness and bodhicitta towards all beings, without splitting them up into groups of good and bad. This is the work of a bodhisattva. Which I most certainly am not.

    I don’t want to fall into the same trap by being judgmental myself. I just want to point out that we shouldn’t feel too good about ourselves by juxtaposing our own distorted self-images as “good buddhists” against other’s bad behavior. Instead of being disgusted by them, lets see where we can find compassion for their suffering – which is of course our own suffering.

    “Not in the perversities of others, nor their sins and omissions, but his own misdeeds and negligence should the sage take notice of”. – Dhammapada

    Just wanted to throw my two pennies in. I could, of course, be entirely wrong.

  2. I’ve always wondered about the obesity of Hotei. His size seems incongruous with the normal depiction of a bhodisatva. I don’t mean to judge. Just curious.

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