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.