Afterthoughts: Meet the Chow-lenge

Is Hawaii ready to enter the cutthroat world of competitive eating?

Photo: Linny Morris

Most of us are grossed out by competitive eating events. They’re unhealthful, gluttonous and disgusting … yet, like a car wreck slathered in barbecue sauce, we can’t turn away. The most renowned is in New York: Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, a frenzy witnessed by 40,000 Coney Island spectators. In case you missed it, Joey Chesnut won, again, taking home $10,000, the Mustard Yellow Belt and a scorching case of heartburn.

While Hawai‘i has shown remarkable restraint so far, speed-eating here is gaining popularity. In July, Stortos Deli on Waialae held its first Annual Submarine Eating Contest (challenge: two subs, with all the fixings, as fast as you can, winner takes home $300). September marked the inaugural Rice Festival, featuring a Spam Musubi Eating Contest (challenge: as many musubi as you can eat in three minutes, winner gets $50 and free rice for a year. And in Hawai‘i, that could be a lot of rice.)

Then I learned that there was a local champion right here in my office: Jason Ubay, managing editor of Hawaii Business magazine and winner of this year’s JJ Dolan’s Second Annual Pizza Eating Contest. He powered through 12 slices, or a pizza-and-a-half, in 10 minutes. When asked to describe his technique, Ubay says he fielded two slices at a time, dipping them into a glass of water, then flipping them cheese-side out, so they would go down easier. “And breathe through your nose.” Ubay will be one to beat at our company potluck, which will, for the first time, feature a “how fast can you eat three hot dogs?” game.

Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong

Actually, hot dogs seem kind of banal, once you hear about all the other competitive-eating opportunities out there. Major League Eating oversees more than 80 events, with professional eaters gorging on ribs, gyoza, rocky mountain oysters, Mars bars and pickles. There’s the scarily titled “Baked Beans: Long Course.” The record holder for that is Sonya Thomas, who, given 10 minutes, can and will consume 8.31 pounds of Vienna Sausage or 11 pounds of cheesecake. She’s adorable, and weighs 105 pounds. She’s also single, possibly due to all those beans.

In fact, in the current top 10 of the Major League Eating rankings, two of the champions are beautiful women in their 40s, both hovering around 100 pounds. Most sports have men and women competing separately, but not the competitive-eating world. Nope; it welcomes female gluttons to chow down with the dudes, vying for the same thousands of prize dollars—or, even better, the illustrious Pepto Bismol Cup.

In fact, there’s a whole sector of competitors that haven’t yet been tapped for this nascent sport: women in their second trimester of pregnancy. I know from experience that one simply cannot eat enough during this phase. I am ferocious, not above stabbing my husband with a fork for trying to sample my cupcake. And food-obsessed, mistaking a picture of a stone bowl for a chocolate doughnut and a box of Swiffer sweeper cloths for a carton of Wheat Thins. Luckily, I discovered my error before consuming any dusters.

Two pieces of birthday cake at a party? Please, I could go through eight bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. A breakfast of egg and cheese on a roll was followed by a brunch of egg and cheese on a biscuit, a Coke and hash browns. “You’re going to eat all that?” my husband asked, to which I snarled, “Don’t say that to a pregnant woman!” (May I suggest, instead, “More napkins, honey?”)

Ooo, speaking of napkins, gotta run. I have to go meet Sonya at the Garcia’s World Burrito Eating Championship. Albuquerque, here we come!

For more of Wagner’s writing, see her online column, “Guilty Pleasures”.