Fascinating post from Kottke...I wish I could say I was more shocked, but the sad thing is I'm not even surprised: Michael Moss is a Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist for the NY Times and he's written a book called Salt Sugar Fat.
From a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at The New York Times comes the explosive story of the rise of the processed food industry and its link to the emerging obesity epidemic. Michael Moss reveals how companies use salt, sugar, and fat to addict us and, more important, how we can fight back.
Every year, the average American eats thirty-three pounds of cheese (triple what we ate in 1970) and seventy pounds of sugar (about twenty-two teaspoons a day). We ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt a day, double the recommended amount, and almost none of that comes from the shakers on our table. It comes from processed food. It's no wonder, then, that one in three adults, and one in five kids, is clinically obese. It's no wonder that twenty-six million Americans have diabetes, the processed food industry in the U.S. accounts for $1 trillion a year in sales, and the total economic cost of this health crisis is approaching $300 billion a year.
Moss researched the book for four years, interviewing hundreds of current and former processed-food industry employees and reviewing thousands of pages of industry memos. This weekend's NY Times Magazine has a lengthy excerpt from the book that's well worth a read.
Eventually, a line of the [Lunchables] trays, appropriately called Maxed Out, was released that had as many as nine grams of saturated fat, or nearly an entire day's recommended maximum for kids, with up to two-thirds of the max for sodium and 13 teaspoons of sugar.
When I asked Geoffrey Bible, former C.E.O. of Philip Morris, about this shift toward more salt, sugar and fat in meals for kids, he smiled and noted that even in its earliest incarnation, Lunchables was held up for criticism. "One article said something like, 'If you take Lunchables apart, the most healthy item in it is the napkin.' "
Well, they did have a good bit of fat, I offered. "You bet," he said. "Plus cookies."
The prevailing attitude among the company's food managers - through the 1990s, at least, before obesity became a more pressing concern - was one of supply and demand. "People could point to these things and say, 'They've got too much sugar, they've got too much salt,' " Bible said. "Well, that's what the consumer wants, and we're not putting a gun to their head to eat it. That's what they want. If we give them less, they'll buy less, and the competitor will get our market. So you're sort of trapped." (Bible would later press Kraft to reconsider its reliance on salt, sugar and fat.)
And this is classic processed food as molecular gastronomy right here:
I brought him two shopping bags filled with a variety of chips to taste. He zeroed right in on the Cheetos. "This," Witherly said, "is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure." He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff's uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. "It's called vanishing caloric density," Witherly said. "If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there's no calories in it... you can just keep eating it forever."
The King's Breakfast The King asked The Queen, and The Queen asked The Dairymaid: "Could we have some butter for The Royal slice of bread?" The Queen asked the Dairymaid, The Dairymaid Said, "Certainly, I'll go and tell the cow Now Before she goes to bed."
The Dairymaid She curtsied, And went and told the Alderney: "Don't forget the butter for The Royal slice of bread."
The Alderney said sleepily: "You'd better tell His Majesty That many people nowadays Like marmalade Instead."
The Dairymaid Said "Fancy!" And went to Her Majesty. She curtsied to the Queen, and She turned a little red: "Excuse me, Your Majesty, For taking of The liberty, But marmalade is tasty, if It's very Thickly Spread."
The Queen said "Oh!" And went to his Majesty: "Talking of the butter for The royal slice of bread, Many people Think that Marmalade Is nicer. Would you like to try a little Marmalade Instead?"
The King said, "Bother!" And then he said, "Oh, deary me!" The King sobbed, "Oh, deary me!" And went back to bed. "Nobody," He whimpered, "Could call me A fussy man; I only want A little bit Of butter for My bread!"
The Queen said, "There, there!" And went to The Dairymaid. The Dairymaid Said, "There, there!" And went to the shed. The cow said, "There, there! I didn't really Mean it; Here's milk for his porringer And butter for his bread."
The queen took the butter And brought it to His Majesty. The King said "Butter, eh?" And bounced out of bed. "Nobody," he said, As he kissed her Tenderly, "Nobody," he said, As he slid down The banisters, "Nobody, My darling, Could call me A fussy man - BUT I do like a little bit of butter to my bread!"
-- A A Milne
What has become of the birthday party? I used to love a good birthday get-together. Some other kid's parents are picking up the tab for an afternoon of bumper bowling? There might be a Cookie Puss from Carvel? Fire up the Datsun, Mom, we're going to be late!
I'm told that when you're a legitimate grown-up—with a spouse and kids of your own—birthday parties are once again events you look forward to. You leave the munchkins with a sitter and go to the Johnsons' for an evening of cocktails and casserole. Maybe an animated game of Taboo breaks out. Sounds delightful. But in the moment between earning your college degree and signing your first mortgage, the birthday party transmogrifies into something else. It becomes the birthday dinner.
For me, it happened in my late 20s. As my friends moved from graduate programs and entry-level positions into decent-paying jobs, a birthday meet-up at a dive bar to pound SoCo-and-lime shots started to feel a shade déclassé. Yet everyone was still living in small studio or one-bedroom apartments—no place for a proper cocktail party. The compromise: People started celebrating their birthdays by inviting friends out to dinner, typically at a moderately fancy restaurant. The kind of place that frowns on bringing your own candles and Cookie Puss but isn't averse to sticking a sparkler in a crème brûlée.
Seems like a nice idea, the birthday dinner. It is not. It is a tedious, wretched affair. It is also an extravagantly expensive one. In these wintry economic times, we need to scale back. I hereby propose that the birthday dinner go the way of the $4 cup of coffee, the liar's mortgage, and the midsize banking institution. Advertisement
Consider, for example, the birthday dinner I attended not long ago in honor of my friend Simon. In the past, Simon's birthday parties have been rollicking good times. His 25th, celebrated at a Manhattan club, ended memorably, if abruptly, when Simon was ejected from his own party by a bouncer who'd discovered him taking an indiscreet catnap on the bar. For his 30th, Simon, now a brain surgeon, organized a more civilized affair: dinner for 10 of his closest friends at an upscale Tribeca steakhouse.
Everything that can go wrong at such a dinner did. A maitre d' led us to a giant oval table, where I was seated a country mile from the man of the hour. Could I have hit him with a strenuous toss of a French roll? Yes. But polite conversation was out of the question.
Instead, I found myself wedged between Simon's high-school friends and his college friends. Feeling more of a ken for the high-school side of the table, I tried to orient myself in that direction, but the effort required a socially and anatomically awkward craning of the neck. I was left in a no man's land—on the fringe of two conversations, an active player in neither. Had we been at a bar, I could have maneuvered my way out of such a quagmire by excusing myself to order another round of sweet, sweet SoCo and lime. Thus escaping, I could have muscled my way over to the guest of honor and given him a good birthday noogie. But mired in the middle of this dinner table, the only way I was going to get Simon's attention was by faking an aneurysm, and I just wasn't feeling up to it.
I busied myself by studying the menu, looking up in time to catch a nefarious glint in the eye of our white-smocked waiter. I understand from friends who've waited tables that serving a large party can have its annoyances: It's hard to get anyone's attention; you've got to extol the virtues of the soup du jour four times over. But a seasoned server knows how to work the situation to his advantage, and this guy proved to be positively au poivre.
Given the built-in gratuity for a party of our size, our waiter clearly realized there was nothing to lose by making the hard sell. He was getting 18 percent of whatever he could push on us, so he might as well give it a healthy shove. For an appetizer, he vigorously recommended the frutti di mare platter — an item accompanied on the menu by the dreaded "market price" designation. Working each flyleaf of the table separately, he managed to sell us three of these massive, adjustable-rate heaps of shrimp and lobster tail. One would have sufficed. I can't lay all the blame at the feet of our conniving server, however. As is often the case at birthday dinners, several different tax brackets were represented at the table, with humble grad students and servants of the Fourth Estate alongside deep-pocketed bankers and lawyers. Members of the latter group, accustomed to large, expense-account-financed lunches and dinners, were not going to let a few uneaten crustaceans slow them down. When our waiter returned to take our entrée orders, one of their number reached for the wine list—round of bubbly for the birthday boy! Ouch. It was time to think strategy.
There are three approaches to ordering at a birthday dinner. I actually didn't know that the first approach was possible until this particular outing. Early in the evening, I noticed Simon's friend Justin, a legendarily frugal graduate student, engage our waiter in an extended colloquy. After dinner, I sidled up to Justin to complain about the exorbitant bill, knowing my outrage would fall on sympathetic ears. Instead, he flashed a wicked grin and revealed that he had "seceded from the check, Jefferson Davis-style." That is, having realized things were getting out of hand, he had worked out an understanding with the waiter whereby he would order on a separate tab that would include only his appetizer, entrée, and beverages. It was a brilliant stroke, though it required Justin's unabashed cheapskatedness, which, like his taste in metaphor, is rare indeed.
On to the more subtle approaches. The first is to order as inexpensively as possible, in an attempt to foster a norm of fiscal conservatism at the table. This strategy is rarely successful. You order a house salad and the chicken and roll the dice that the guy next to you will feel too embarrassed to order an entrée called "steak for two." Such restraint cannot be counted on in a large, salary-diverse group.
The other approach, the one I favor, is to order offensively. Your typical birthday dinner is around 10 guests strong. Given a group of this size, you can safely assume there will not be an itemized accounting of who ordered what come bill-paying time—it requires too much math and is usually adjudged to be not in keeping with the celebratory nature of the event. Armed with this knowledge, the only way to order is with abandon. If I'm going to be subsidizing the sybaritic corporate lawyer at the end of the table (who, I happen to know, wouldn't think of ordering a beer unless it was brewed by a Trappist monk), you'd better believe he's going to be paying for a tract of my baked Alaska.
I developed this system after too many birthday dinners where I went home poor and hungry. This way, at least, you get the food you want. But the victory is pyrrhic. Tradition holds that the birthday boy make a perfunctory swipe at the check before it's whisked from his grasp. In the case of Simon's party, not only was the man of honor off the hook for his portion of the bill, but at the suggestion of a chivalrous spendthrift who I'd have kicked in the shin had the table not been so vast, the group exempted Simon's girlfriend as well, since she'd undertaken the arduous task of sending out the Evite. A check that would have been a hardship split 12 ways now was to be split by 10.
Simon is one of my oldest and dearest friends; I like to think I'd do just about anything for him. But sitting here looking at a charge for $168.51, I find myself wondering how good a friend he really is. $168.51! Do you know how many Uno's individual deep-dish Spinoccolis that would buy? Seventeen. That's two-plus weeks of dinner.
In a way, though, it is I who owe Simon. The piles of jumbo shrimp floating on seas of melted ice; the untouched beds of creamed spinach; the endless rounds of marked-up Beck's Dark — they flash before me now whenever a birthday dinner invitation comes my way, and I can't bring myself to RSVP yes. The excesses of Simon's dinner were what I needed to find the social gumption to swear off such affairs entirely. Throwing a party for your birthday? I'll gladly attend the festivities. Point me to the bowling shoes and buy me a few frames. Cook me dinner — I'll bring the Taboo. Otherwise, see you next year, pal.
[vimeo https://vimeo.com/49445992 w=700&h=390]
Supported by Edwin, but not overly obviously so...nice job. I like the way they all have really hilariously blokey Bowie knives and stuff, and use them to eat tinned sardines.
These bonkers photos are by Alan Sailer, who likes nothing more than to take some sausages to his garage, set them up with some pretty lighting on a nice background, and then shoot them. He sets up a camera and a high-speed flash (ased off an article from a 1974 volume of the Scientific American), and then shoots them with an air rifle or blows them up. The pictures are taken as early into the impact/explosion as possible.
He has hundreds of images on his Flickr page, where he also chats about the process - which is often very very funny.
The eating utensils, known as EaTheremin, create a complete electrical circuit when they come into contact with human body moisture. That in turn creates sound, duly celebrating the food party in your mouth.
As the video above demonstrates, the noises produced vary depending on the resistance generated by the food that's being eaten. The sound is also affected by conductivity, so the wetter your mouth, the noisier the result. Indeed, as the human body is between 55 and 60 percent water, you can put the EaTheremin pretty much anywhere to make a sound.
Munching grub that blends textures (like the fried chicken in the video) will create the most interesting results, and the stretchy chicken skin can create a vibrato effect. Unlike the video, however, all your food doesn't have to be compressed into cylinders.
Furthermore, the researchers are keen to expand beyond musical forks to spoons and cups. Utensils used to deal with liquid would make different sounds, and if the electrodes were divided between two objects at once then you could have your own mini food orchestra during lunch.
EaTheremin already has the potential for duets and even more. Reina Nakamori says, "Several people can use this if they eat together. With the current system, I think it would be fun if a special sound could be created when two people make the same sound as one person."
For years we've exported dark chicken meat to Russia—but that market is drying up. So what shall we do with the rest of the chicken?Taken from an interesting piece on Slate.com by Nadia Arumugam - click here to read the full article (I've edited this version).
There's no question that Americans overwhelmingly prefer white chicken meat to dark. They eat chicken almost 10 times a month on average—according to data from 2007— but on less than two of those occasions do they choose chicken legs, thighs, or drumsticks. Magnify this preference millions of times over on a national scale, and the imbalance could, theoretically, lead to canyons of perfectly edible chicken going to waste.
Historically, Russia has helped keep this hypothetical from becoming a reality. Through a miracle of yin-and-yang cultural predilections, Russians actually like gamier dark meat. And since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, they have imported it in stunningly large quantities. In 2009 alone Russia doled out $800 million for 1.6 billion pounds of U.S. leg quarters. Recently, however, the Russian appetite for our chicken legs has waned. Last January, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin barred U.S. chicken from Russian shores...likely that Putin simply wants Russia to become less reliant on imports. (In fact, he's said publicly that he intends for Russia to be fully self-sufficient in chicken production by 2012.)
But why are Americans are so enamored of white meat to begin with. Why do they treat dark meat—perfectly edible dark meat, savoured abroad—as a waste product?
Up until 50 years ago, retailers sold chicken almost exclusively in the form of whole birds. This practice began to change in the 1960s, when federal inspection of poultry slaughterhouses became mandatory and chicken producers realized they could save money by recycling substandard carcasses into bits and pieces rather than simply discarding them.
The most popular cut—then as now—was the breast. According to several food scientists I interviewed for this article, this preference developed in part because of the perception that chicken legs are tough. This may have been the case in our great-great-grandparents' day, when chickens were almost exclusively free-range and regular exercise resulted in muscular legs. With factory farming, these muscles atrophy, and the legs become quite tender. Nevertheless, the habit of rejecting legs in favor of breasts seems to have been passed down from one generation to the next.
Tenderness isn't the only reason Americans reach for breasts above all other parts; color also shapes this choice. According to Dr. Marcia Pelchat of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, consumers unconsciously perceive dark meat as dirty when compared to the breast, perhaps because it's situated at the back and bottom of the animal. There's nothing actually harmful about dark meat: The brown hue comes from a compound called myoglobin, which helps transport oxygen to the muscles so that they function efficiently. As chickens spend most of their lives standing, their legs are full of it. Inversely, since chickens don't fly, as ducks or geese do, their breast muscles contain only a negligible reserve of myoglobin resulting in significantly lighter meat in their upper bodies. Of course few people care to study up on chicken biochemistry before dinner.
The catch is that when it comes to fat and calories, there is very little to distinguish between boneless, skinless chicken breast and boneless, skinless thighs. According to the Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of the former contains 0.56 grams of saturated fat and 114 calories, and the latter 1 gram of saturated fat and 119 calories. Dark chicken meat is also nutrient rich, containing higher levels of iron, zinc, riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamins B6 and B12 than white meat.
Once Americans signaled a clear preference for breast meat in the '60s and '70s, producers needed an outlet for the dark meat that wasn't selling domestically. They knew that foreign markets, notably in Asia, prized the moist, succulent, and richly flavored leg meat. (In Asia, it's the breasts that end up in bargain buckets.) And so they worked to convert a domestic waste product into a profitable export. American chicken legs were purchased eagerly by Asian importers, and for a while a happy equilibrium was struck. Yet in the 1980s, when chicken consumption in the United States increased at a phenomenal rate, the poultry industry needed new outlets to absorb the growing numbers of discarded legs.
It was most fortuitous, then, that the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, resulting in the relaxation of trade restrictions that had hindered commerce with the formerly Communist state. U.S. chicken exporters, eager to exploit this fresh market, were able to underprice virtually all other animal protein produced in Russia, and American dark meat flooded the country. The chicken legs became so popular that locals endearingly nicknamed them "Bush legs," after President Bush Sr. In 1975 the United States was exporting less than 140 million pounds of chicken globally. By 1995 this figure reached nearly 4 billion—with nearly 1.5 billion going to Russia. Now though, this is drying up.
But aside from finding new markets, what can be done? One option would be for fast-food companies to save the day by carrying a dark meat product, which, despite everything you've just read, might actually happen in the not-too-distant future. But only because science has managed to transform dark meat into white. Some 10 years ago, when the chicken industry was in a similar state of crisis due to the collapse of the Russian Ruble, the USDA provided funding to find new uses for the much-maligned cut. Dr. Mirko Betti, a professor of nutritional science, embraced the challenge while completing his Ph.D. at the University of Georgia and developed a product similar to surimi, the synthetic crabmeat found in Asian eateries. The production process is simple; excess water is added to ground dark meat and the slurry is centrifuged at high speed to remove the fat and myoglobin. At the end there are three distinct layers: fat, water, and the extracted meat. The first two are discarded, and the third, which resembles a sort of meaty milkshake, is where the money is. It promises endless commercial applications (in nuggets, burgers, and other processed products) for businesses that can both fulfill demands for "white meat" and exploit the favorable supply-side price of dark meat. Betti, who's currently at the University of Alberta, is confident that in just a couple of years his meaty milkshake will be featured on a menu near you.
Despite the loss of the Russian market, the ever-resourceful chicken industry is still some way off from dumping dark chicken meat in landfills, and no doubt it will continue to mine this discarded commodity for profit—no matter how meager. Or maybe the industry will find a more permanent solution to the American taste imbalance. Since the 1970s, poultry producers have been altering the ratio of breast meat to dark meat through strategic selective breeding—with great success. Thirty years ago the yield of breast meat from an average chicken was 36 percent of the bird's total retail weight; today it's more than 40 percent. The cellophane-wrapped boneless, skinless chicken breast halves ubiquitous in grocery stores used to weigh 4 ounces in 1980; today they weigh nearly 5.5 ounces. Birds with all breast and no legs—pure science fiction or a future reality?
THE INGREDIENTS: 4 large courgettes (not enormous though - if you're American you won't call them courgettes either, you'll probably call them zucchini or something) 1 big-ass egg 1 fresh red chilli (deseeded and finely chopped) 1 heaped tablespoon of flour a handful of fresh mint 1 lemon, zested and quartered a good handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese sea salt (Maldon of course) and some pepper olive oil half a tsp of cumin
Optional extras: maybe a bit of tinned sweetcorn or some bacon bits that are nice and crispy but not too big
THE METHOD: Thick-grate the courgettes (scoop out the middles if you are up to it). Then put them into a clean tea towel and wrap them up and wring them out - loads of water will come out. You want this to happen. The more you can squeeze out the better. Plus it's really satisfying.
Separate the egg and put the white in one bowl and the yolk in another. Add the courgette, pepper, flour, chilli, mint, lemon zest and parmesan to the yolk and mix it up with your hands. Don't be shy. Get really stuck in. Whip the egg white up with a pinch of salt until stiff. Carefully that add to courgette mix (for fluffiness, you see, otherwise it gets dense).
Put a good couple of glugs of olive oil in the pan and put 5 or 6 fritters into your favourite big frying pan. They'll be about a serving-spoon size each. The heat should be sizzly but not burny. They should need about 2.5 min on each side to go golden. Pop them on a bit of kitchen paper to degrease. Eat them up with maybe some creme fraiche or something. Bit of nice crisp salad.
AND FOR THE MUSIC: [audio http://dysonology.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/bergensere_0.mp3] Norway’s nu disco king Bjørn Torske. Low slung disco vibes with percussive change up and and bubbling bass lines give us a window into the type of tunes his new album has in store. Out on Smalltown Supersound on November 15th you can find out more here.
I've followed the rise of speed-eating with morbid (yet relatively distant) fascination. I first found out about it when someone sent me a few links showing Takeru Kobayashi (below), a skinny Japanese guy who held the world hotdog-eating record for over six years, and who once ate 100 roast pork buns in 12 minutes, demolishing hotdogs by the dozen.But earlier this week he was arrested. Couldn't quite work out what he'd done. Seems he'd stormed the stage at Nathan's Famous (the big eating competition - all the big guns go) and had to be hauled away by the cops. Turns out he was making a protest.
I'll hand over to William Saletan now. He has written this excellent article on the way a one-time game (who doesn't remember the barf-o-rama from Stand By Me with affection?) has turned into some thing much more serious:
Major League Eating, founded 13 years ago as the International Federation of Competitive Eating, began as a lark. The P.R. men who run it, brothers George and Rich Shea, gave it a comic Latin motto that meant "In gorging, truth." They called their members "Horsemen of the Esophagus" and "weapons of mass digestion." For this year's hot-dog contest, they outlawed vuvuzelas. But MLE is no longer a joke. In the last year, it has organized 85 contests with nearly $600,000 in prizes. It has secured sponsorships from Coca-Cola, Harrah's, Netflix, Orbitz, Pizza Hut, Smirnoff, and Waffle House. This year, it recruited Pepto-Bismol, Old Navy, and Heinz to sponsor the hot-dog contest. In addition to MLE's TV programming for Fox, SpikeTV, and other networks, ESPN now pays the league to broadcast the hot-dog contest, with 40,000 spectators on hand and another 1.5 million households watching.
Success has given MLE the swagger of a monopoly. It compares itself to the NFL and boasts exclusive representation of "the world's top competitive eating stars." On Monday, MLE President Rich Shea told CBS, "If you want to be in the Super Bowl, you have to be in the NFL. If you want to be in the Super Bowl of competitive eating, which is the Nathan's contest, you have to be a Major League Eater." Outside MLE, he scoffed, "I don't know where else you go."
Hence the contract dispute. Years ago, Kobayashi and others entered the hot-dog contest as amateurs. Then MLE introduced contracts. This year, MLE barred Kobayashi because he refused to sign its contract, which restricted his freedom to earn money from activities outside MLE, such as endorsing products. Kobayashi's description of the league's demands resembles a purported standard MLE (IFOCE) contract that has been posted online by a rival league, All Pro Eating. Under the posted contract, the "performer agrees to participate solely and exclusively in organized competitive eating events, exhibitions and appearances … which are sanctioned and approved by the IFOCE." Furthermore, "IFOCE shall also be Performer's sole and exclusive representative with regard to obtaining and/or negotiating on Performer's [behalf] for any revenue opportunities," including "personal appearances, merchandising, licensing, advertising, film, television, radio, internet and all other media." For this, the "performer agrees to pay IFOCE 20% of the gross amounts payable to performer under said agreements."
On Sunday, when Kobayashi stormed the stage, Rich Shea dealt him MLE's worst insult: "unprofessional."
But competitive eating has become more than professional. According to Kobayashi, it's now government-sanctioned. "I recently received a O-1 visa to work in the United States, a visa granted to athletes judged to have 'extraordinary ability,'" he reports. "In my case that ability was competitive eating." Such visas are officially reserved for people with "extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics."
In fact, U.S. political leaders seem divided. While the U.S. immigration service gave Kobayashi his special visa, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg all but endorsed Kobayashi's chief rival at last week's "weighing-in ceremony" for the hot-dog contest. Standing beside MLE star Joey Chestnut, Bloomberg hailed the contest as "the World Cup of eating up," dismissed Kobayashi as a coward for not participating, and saluted Chestnut for "eating an amazing 68 dogs … in just 10 minutes."
This is the same Mayor Bloomberg who banned trans fats in New York restaurants and is now pressuring food companies, under the threat of legislation, to reduce their salt use. But 68 hot dogs? That's a feat worth celebrating. Perhaps the mayor is unaware that each Nathan's hot dog has 692 milligrams of sodium and 18.2 grams of fat, including 6.9 grams of saturated fat and half a gram of trans fat. This means that in the first 30 seconds of the hot-dog contest, Chestnut exceeded the U.S. government's prescribed "tolerable" daily intake of sodium, and within 45 seconds, he exceeded the limit of his recommended daily intake of fat. By the end of the 10 minutes, he had eaten 10 to 17 times his recommended fat intake (including 33 grams of trans fats) and 20 times his "tolerable" sodium intake. The mayor should have handed him a cigar—it would have done less damage.
Bloomberg isn't alone in glorifying eating contests. Scan the Congressional Record, and you'll find tributes from Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. These politicians, like countless others, stand foursquare against pornography, except when it involves deep-throating 68 wieners on ESPN.
If you've never seen the Nathan's contest, you can get your fill of it by watching ESPN's excerpt, a full-length video, or MLE's highlights from last year's show. It's an orgy of brown drool, flying debris, and masticated mush. You'll see fists and fingers pushing food down throats. You'll see contestants twisting their necks and shaking their bellies to make the food go down. "They work on their gag reflex," one ESPN announcer explains. Another praises a contestant: "He was blessed upon birth with an overactive gall bladder and not four but six first molars. He's a great eater." In case the frontal images aren't graphic enough, ESPN delivers close-ups through its "chew-view cam," along with a running "dogs per minute" stat.
Chestnut, who has won the contest for the past four years, explains his techniques to Esquire: "I drink massive amounts of water to make sure the muscles around my stomach are still loose and stretched. You can fool your body into accepting more—I'm jumping up and down to control my stomach and push the food through faster. It wants to settle in your stomach, but I'm getting the food to settle farther and farther down." He tells ESPN, "I've practiced ignoring the feelings of hunger and being full for so long, I don't even feel them anymore." Ten years ago, the record at the Nathan's contest was 25 hot dogs. Now it's 68, and Chestnut claims to have forced down 72 in a practice session.
The physical risks of this lifestyle are obvious. Three years ago in Slate, Jason Fagone, the author of Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream, recounted strokes, jaw injuries, choking deaths, fatal water intoxications, and other eating-contest tragedies. "Thanks to increasing prize money and media exposure, there's incentive now for competitive eaters to challenge the physical limits of the body," Fagone observed. They're "stretching their stomachs with huge volumes of chugged liquid," inducing digestive paralysis and risking "gastric rupture." A study published that year cautioned that "professional speed eaters eventually may develop morbid obesity, profound gastroparesis, intractable nausea and vomiting." Even MLE warns prospective contestants of the sport's "inherent dangers and risks."
But the contestants keep pouring in. Thanks to MLE, ESPN, and a growing stable of corporate sponsors, the fame and money become more attractive each year. One contestant has chugged 48 ounces of beer in less than six seconds. Another has wolfed down a 72-ounce steak in less than seven minutes. People weighing less than 100 pounds are eating one-eighth of their body weight in eight minutes. At the other end of the spectrum, more than a dozen elite competitors touted by MLE and All Pro Eating weigh over 300 pounds. One of them, 420-pound Eric "Badlands" Booker, crushed Slate's Emily Yoffe in a matzo-ball eating contest five years ago. Booker also makes rap CDs about competitive eating. You can buy them, of course, through the MLE Web site.
Fifty years from now, when historians are looking for a moment that captures the depravity of our age—the gluttony, the self-destruction, the craving for worthless fame—it won't be bathhouses, Big Love, or AdultFriendFinder. It'll be Joey Chestnut stuffing that 68th hot dog down his unresisting gullet, live on ESPN. Or, worse, it'll be the guy who broke his record.