Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Competition has expanded into China. The world renowned eating event - which gives contenders 10 minutes to scarf as many hot dogs as they can - took place at Haidian's Wanliu Mall last Saturday and attracted a large crowd, including many of my colleagues and acquaintances.
Afterwards they phoned me to say how much fun they'd had at this sporting event (yes competitive eating is now classed as a "sport") and how "awesome" it was to watch the fastest eater in the world Joey "the jaws" Chestnut - a trim Californian, who can dispatch 103 hamburgers in 480 unfastidious seconds - in action.
However rightly or wrongly, I can't say I share their stance… No disrespect to Chestnut or any of the Chinese competitors who participated in last weekend's event, but integrating eating with traditional sports such as swimming, tennis, badminton and football is for me, very hard to swallow.
I shed tears of joy last month when Chinese tennis ace, Li Na, triumphed at the French Open to bring Asia its first Grand Slam singles win but I can't imagine getting emotional watching someone frantically scoff hot dogs. Rather I find competitive eating events like the Nathan's Famous competition simply too hard to stomach. Tell me: Where's the fun in watching contestants racing to devour food at a time when obesity (childhood obesity in Shanghai is now higher than the world average) in China is on the rise?
What's more, in my mind, the competition isn't only gluttonous, it's dangerous. Japanese competitive eater Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi, who held the world record for hot dog eating for nearly six years, developed arthritic jaw ahead of Nathan's Famous 2007 Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. However, perhaps Kobayashi should consider himself lucky, for the fact of the matter is that competitive eating claims as many lives as motorsport. The stats speak for themselves: In October 2010, a 23-year-old Taiwanese student choked to death after scoffing two rice and cheese filled steam buns too quickly as part of a competitive eating competition while a couple of years ago, a British student died after gorging on five fairy cakes. Then there's the tragic tale of a Californian woman who died after drinking almost two gallons of water in a competition sponsored by local radio... I could go on.
But risk and the glorification of gluttony aside, my biggest beef with competitive eating contests like Nathan's is that they are just plain distasteful. How can the capital really celebrate the swallowing and scoffing of ridiculous amounts of hot dogs in mere minutes when large swaths of China - especially western China - remain mired in poverty? Instead of stuffing our faces with sausages, wouldn't it make more sense to distribute the hot dogs to the truly hungry? As food historian Barbara Haber terms it, competitive eating is "incredibly decadent. Wasteful. It's calling attention to a body function that should be limited, that should be convivial, that should represent positive qualities - family, friends, pleasure." Where's the sport in that?
Chew it over all you want but the bottom line is this: It's time China had its fill of competitive eating competitions.