Perhaps you haven’t heard but the Super Bowl is this weekend. If you live in the United States you know that the super bowl is bigger than most holidays excluding perhaps only Christmas. We are, without a doubt totally addicted to the spectacle of football. Here in the greater Philadelphia region, it has been 2 weeks of non-stop Eagles coverage since they won the NFC Championship against the Minnesota Vikings. The news and sports outlets have been airing stories 24 hours a day about the teams, the players, the coaches, the fans, the friends of fans, the dogs of friends of fans, and the fleas on the dogs of the friends of fans. The Eagles fight song has become a permanent ear worm and has been sung by every grade school student, orchestra, barber shop quartet, and mime in Pennsylvania and most of New Jersey. Yes, the super bowl is this weekend and the Eagles are playing! It doesn’t happen often and Eagles fans are rightfully joyous.
Of course we will celebrate the super bowl like we celebrate most things: By eating! In fact, according to the USDA Super Bowl Sunday is America’s second biggest day of indulgence after Thanksgiving. Food choices will usually be healthy. Most super bowl parties will include a diverse choice of fruits and vegetables, a platter featuring a mixture of ancient, whole grains, perhaps some grilled chicken breast, and ice water for hydration. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Can you imagine!? In reality most will feature pizza, beer, hoagies (or sub, or grinder, or po’ boy or whatever a giant sandwich full of processed meat is in your local lingo), wings, cookies, candy, caramel popcorn, etc. Somewhere there will be a neglected fruit tray fermenting untouched in the corner. In fact Americans will consume, on average, 2400 calories at Super Bowl parties. That is an entire day’s worth of calories including 1.3 billion chicken wings!
Speaking of wings, another enormous local tradition in the Philadelphia area is Wing Bowl. In this barbecue bacchanalia, twenty thousand people gather in an arena to watch people eat wings. This year’s winner ate 501 wings. That is the wings of 250.5 chickens! That’s a lotta chicken.
Every year when I see this event and the throngs of people that show up to watch contestants gorge themselves I can’t help but wonder where we went wrong? Why do sports that thrive around the rest of the world languish in the US while food fests like Wing Bowl pull in spectators by the thousands and the winner walks away with a new car and $5000.00?
What is perhaps more disturbing is when one spends just a brief amount of time researching competitive eating a couple startling realizations jump out.
- There really is competitive eating. Complete with it’s own professional organization.
- The competitors are labeled as “athletes”.
- Payouts are obscene with contestants winning more money than most actual athletes in many other sports that require athleticism.
- These events are ridiculously popular.
The last observation is that when reviewing a list of some of the top competitive eaters, the names are overwhelmingly American. Where we once dominated sports like triathlon and distance running we now are the best at eating. Perhaps the American obesity epidemic isn’t such a big mystery after all.