Second Harvest has declared the first Wednesday in June as National Hunger Awareness Day. According to the USDA, 4.2 million US households are experiencing hunger (and this was in 1995--things are worse now). At the same time, obesity is now at epidemic proportions in the United States. In light of all this, it seems the perfect time to write about pie-eating contests and gluttony events in general.
You know, I start writing these essays with an angle in mind and as often as not this angle turns out to be completely bogus. For instance, this time I was going to have the "uniquely American" angle and then end with something pithy like "and you wonder why they all hate us." Well, competitive eating is not uniquely American, though it had its genesis in the USA. Japan, England, and Scotland, among others, are all guilty of enthusiastic participation. If I want to use my original idea for an ending, I guess I could change it to "and you wonder why the French hate us" but I could use that ending on any number of essays.
Back to the topic. I did a search for "history of eating contests" and came up with the site of the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE). I was positive when I stumbled across this site that it was a surprisingly non-commercial parody. I was wrong. It's for real. The IFOCE seems to realize that it is funny as evidenced by its official heraldic emblem bearing two standing lions facing each other, each holding one end of a footlong hotdog in his mouth (there's much more to the seal), but it is still for real.
The IFOCE is the brainchild of New York brothers and PR guys Richard and George Shea, no slaves to political correctness, who formed the IFOCE in order to formalize a kind of overeating circuit for folks who believe in fame at any price. Nathan's Famous [Hot Dogs] hired the Shea firm around 1996 and the IFOCE was a natural offshoot.
Nathan's Famous can also be blamed for the entire eating contest thing. In the year Nathan's first opened, 1916, they held the first July 4th Nathan's Famous eating contest on Coney Island. As if that weren't enough ignominy, Nathan's is also credited as being the Home of Fast Food.
Anyway, there are now hundreds of overeating events all over the world. You can probably find one for almost every food. You can probably find one or two almost every weekend of the year. In fact, this year you can celebrate Hunger Awareness Day on Wednesday and then stuff yourself full of grilled cheese sandwiches competitively in Las Vegas three days later. What a world.