I once remember a group of dads standing around talking about the various athletic abilities of their kids – all 11 year-olds like me.
My dad bragged about how fast I could run – especially from yard work.
Carl Lardner said his kid could throw a football through a tire swing from 20 yards away. He didn’t mention that it was a tractor tire 20 feet away.
Max Flordendorkner claimed his kid could make 90 percent of his free throws. He also claimed Max Flordendorkner was his real name.
Then it was Jim Arbogast’s turn. He was silent for a long time before finally and proudly declaring, “My boy Tim can out-eat any of your kids!”
The group of men chuckled – but it was true. Tim was a legend in our school. He had the heart of a gladiator – and the stomach of a blue whale. In fact, Tim probably could have defeated any pod of them in a krill-eating contest.
Remember when moms used to admonish their kids to “Slow down when you’re eating – and chew each bite 21 times before swallowing?” (The magic number varied)
My mom was a stickler about the 21 times chew number, which made conversation impossible during dinner for fear of losing count.
She even thought pudding should be chewed 21 times. That, of course, is absurd. Fourteen times is plenty for pudding.
Seventeen for soup.
But today, competitive – or speed – eating contests are everywhere – where the goal is to shovel quickly and efficiently, unlike Big Bertha.
One of the biggest contests was held just last week on Coney Island: Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. (Not to be confused with Mercer Island’s Famous Fourth of July Brie Eating Contest.)
Nothing truly celebrates American independence like tossing 61 wieners down the hatch in 10 minutes – which is just what Joey Chestnut did to win the Coney Island match. (Chestnut is the Babe Ruth of eating.)
Our country didn’t win the World Cup in soccer this year, but we’re still the best on the globe when it comes to unbridled mastication. (Joey Chestnut is also the Pelé of eating.)
There is probably not a food that doesn’t come with a contest these days. There are burger-eating competitions, pies, melons, pancakes, crab cakes, chocolate cakes, asparaguses, chicken wings, ribs, okra, lobster, baked beans, eggs and oysters.
There’s even a vegan hot dog contest – a chance for more health-conscious folks to eat 61 of them in 10 minutes.
So far, there is no fruitcake-eating contest due to lack of interest.
There is a Slugburger eating contest in Corinth, Miss., each year – actually a burger made from pork and beef, and not actual slugs. Disappointing, eh? Experts say if you ever do find yourself in a contest featuring bonafide garden slugs, the key to winning is to use lots of salt.
Like any great athletic endeavor, the path to victory in an eating competition is training. It is said that the great, retired eating champ, Ed “Cookie” Jarvis, trained – not by eating cookies – but by consuming entire heads of boiled cabbage. The cabbage extended Jarvis’s stomach, if not his popularity, since it also created more gas than Exxon Mobil.
Jarvis generally trained alone.
Pat Cashman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at his podcast at peculiarpodcast.com.