If you ask a group of people to name the most popular sports in America, you would undoubtedly expect to hear sports like football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. However, one thing you never hear is competitive eating. The sport in which a person tries to eat as much food as humanly possible in a given time frame. While most people would argue that competitive eating is not a sport, I disagree and see modern day competitive eating as a contemporary American sport and pastime.
To prove competitive eating as a contemporary American sport I suppose I must delve into its history. Filling one’s stomach to its capacity has existed for centuries. There is even a 13th century Norse myth that tells of an eating contest between a God and his servant. In addition, local amateur eating competitions are a staple of the
United States. You cannot have a county fair or carnival without some sort of pie or watermelon eating contest. Most Americans have been brought up on county fairs and carnivals and thus have somewhat been brought up on competitive eating. Although, these amateur lowly regulated eating contests have existed for hundreds of years the modern concept of competitive eating is relatively new.
According to Major League Eating (MLE), the sport’s governing body, the first competitive eating contest was held in 1916 as the first Nathan’s World Famous Hot Dog Eating Contests. Held on the fourth of July, it was originally a competition between four immigrants to see which one was the most patriotic. However, these beginning contests were not just limited to hot dogs. For example, in 1919 New York Yankees outfielder Ping Bodie competed in a pasta eating contest against an ostrich, who passed out after his 11th bowl while Bodie continued eating. Additionally in 1958 a Soviet and American weightlifter competed in a contest that had them each eat eight lobsters and 6 sqab.
From the 1960s to the 1990s the sport of competitive eating seemed to fall off the map and was almost completely irrelevant until two brothers, George and Richard Shea, took over the publicity department at Nathan’s Famous (The hot dog company that holds the annual fourth of July competition). They revamped the annual hot dog eating contest and turned it into a spectacle by having it televised and increasing attendance from the hundreds to the thousands. By doing this they made competitive eating popular again.
Not only has the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest changed, but the whole landscape of competitive eating has changed as well. Multiple leagues and governing bodies have been created including Major League Eating and All Pro Eating, who each hold about 80 to 100 competitions a year ranging from hot dog to clam eating.
These organizations have pushed the sport of competitive eating into the forefront by giving it the governing bodies it lacked and needed to compete with popular American sports like football, basketball, and baseball. In addition, to these domestic organizations there has also been the creation of the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) which organizes and supervises eating contests around the globe. One can draw comparisons between the IFOCE and FIFA who organizes and supervises international matches in soccer.
Additionally, with great time comes advancement in the technique of sport and the one that is most notable in competitive eating has to be the dunking technique. This involves the eater dunking his food in a liquid of choice. By making the food soggy it allows for the food to slide down his gullet easier and allows the eater to swallow faster and thus, eat more food. Also many professionals have developed rigorous training regiments in order to prepare their bodies for competition. The training often combines eating low calorie foods with drinking copious
amounts of water in order to build stomach elasticity. Other eaters chew large amounts of gum to build up jaw strength.
With all the advancements and strides made it is almost impossible not to call competitive eating a sport. When compared with a popular American sport like football they meet all the same requirements. Both sports have a governing body, both have rules, both are available to be played by the public, both require pushing one’s body to the limit, both are televised, both have rivalries. The only thing that separates competitive eating from football, baseball, and basketball is its popularity which, if it keeps growing at the steady rate we have seen in the past few years, will eventually catch up.
In conclusion, what is more American than stuffing one’s face with food in the name of sport?