Editorial: The spectacle of eating

From a young age I have had a deep affection for eating. Whether it is trying new cuisines or discovering how specific ingredients can lead to specific flavours in dishes, food has been an important part of my upbringing. Across the country it is easy to see how much people love food.

Marketing for restaurants and food items is pervasive, and the number of options consumers have is practically limitless. Peanut butter and jelly donuts: you got it. Jalapeno raspberry jam: absolutely. You can get just about anything you want deep-fried, including butter and Coke.

I don’t have a problem with people wanting to try new things. If someone wants to have a heart attack-inducing cronut burger, go for it.

I’m not even bothered by the idea of biting into a stick of butter coated in oil. My issue is with the spectacle of eating. Food becomes a commodity through which consumers are controlled. At first glance this doesn’t seem like a bad idea — a mere marketing ploy for people to buy goods. However there is an issue of what food turns into when it becomes a spectacle.

Eating contests are a prime example of how the spectacle of eating can be an issue. The beloved Philadelphia Wing Bowl was founded over 20 years ago under a simple idea: eat as many chicken wings as possible within a specified time limit. Participants gorge their faces deep into platefuls of chicken wings to emerge victorious. We should take a step back and realize how these acts of gluttony reflect back on us, whether we are participating or observing.

The values that we push by promoting such events are highly questionable. At this past Wing Bowl, retired wrestler Mike Foley was caught cheating. How did he cheat? By stuffing chicken wings into his fanny pack, which he stated was a precautionary method to avoid getting sick, but he did not want to tarnish his “legacy” at the event.

His morals were loosened all in the name of eating. Foley is by no means the only culprit of this, but his actions are becoming more normal for people trying to eat like a chowhound.The all-time record for most wings eaten at the Wing Bowl is 444 in 26 minutes — a record set this year.

Consider for a second that the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in 2009 that one skin-on chicken wing coated with batter and fried has close to 159 calories. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that the health risks are tremendous in this competition and many like it. Not just in terms of calories and fat, but choking is a reasonable concern.

My biggest fear with making spectacles out of eating is that this simply isn’t a passing fad. Over the past 20 years, the Wing Bowl has spent over a billion dollars and the winners are rewarded handsomely for their efforts.

2015’s winner Patrick Bertoletti won a 2015 Harley Davidson motorcycle and $10,000. Many people around the world, including people in our own country, cannot even afford to buy food. People are starving while others are making a competition out of stuffing their faces for sport, not for sustenance.

Eating competitions like the Wing Bowl demonstrate how people are willing to let go of values in the name of a competition.

There needs to be a reconsideration of these events and how they can be justified.

 

 

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