MADFOOD COMPETITIONS On a recent holiday in the UK, I drove through Gloucestershire with a friend who is from this beautiful part of England.
“We’re quite near Cooper’s Hill,” she said as we drove through the countryside. “That’s where the Cheese Rolling competition happens every year. People race-roll down a really steep hill after a wheel of cheese. People get injured and everything.” Um . . . what?
The Cheese Rolling on Cooper’s Hill is an annual event where people do indeed throw themselves down an intensely steep hill in pursuit of a seven to nine-pound wheel of Double Gloucester cheese, in a series of men’s and women’s races, often raising funds for charity.
There’s a laugh-out-loud video, aptly called Insanity in HD, of the Cheese Rolling on Cooper’s Hill in 2013 (http://bit.ly/cheeserollingvid).
“I came here last year and ran in two races,” says one participant. “I was stupid enough to come back,” he says before lining up with a group of lunatics preparing to hurtle down the hill after the rolling wheel of cheese.
The origins of this race are uncertain; it may have roots in pagan traditions. In 2010, as its popularity drew bigger and bigger crowds, the local council queried the organisers’ health and safety plan for the races, and advised charging a spectator entrance fee to control crowd numbers.
There was a backlash from cheese-roll-loving locals who wound up taking over the event themselves in 2011, and the roll has continued since then with no official management but also without major injuries. It still draws crowds of hundreds and even thousands, and participants from all over the world. This year’s roll is on May 30th; you can keep in touch with this unsanctioned insanity on cheese-rolling.co.uk.
The world of competitive eating is another world altogether. It’s a curious scene, and the food waste incurred at some of them, such as La Tomatina in Spain, is downright distasteful. Then there is challenge eating, with a goal to consume great quantities in a limited time, such as at the annual Yorkshire Pudding eating competition in an English pub in Thailand; or to eat something prickly, such as at the World Nettle Eating Championship in Dorset.
Joey “Jaws” Chestnut holds the record at Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, a hot dog and bun (HDB) eating competition in Coney Island that celebrates its centenary on July 4th. This is the Super Bowl of eating competitions, and Chestnut appears to be the Tom Brady of this world. In 2013, he ate 69 HDBs in 10 minutes, beating former champ Takeru Kobayashi’s previous record of 59.
Chestnut holds other world records, including from the Deep Fried Asparagus Eating Championship in Stockton, California in May 2014: Jaws ate 12.8 pounds of crispy spears in 10 minutes.
Chestnut has talked about the preparation and training for competitive eating, and how eating hot dogs challenges both his mind and body. “Every time you learn you can do something, you can go a little bit faster next time,” he told NY Magazine. “And I was able to push myself.”
Like any competitive person, Chestnut appears to be driven by being the best in his field, with a training regime that reportedly includes bouts of fasting and stretching his stomach with milk, water and protein supplements, and participating in a “sport” that presumably has serious consequences for his health.
Breaking records through excessive consumption is against everything I believe in, food-wise. In my world, food is precious and should be savoured.
I enjoy the odd binge on junk food as much as the next food enthusiast. I may overeat when I get excited about a dish or an ingredient (I once made myself ill from eating 16 oysters in one sitting). But my stomach is turned by competitive eating’s inherent endorsement of senseless gluttony.
But the thought of a person hurtling down a Gloucestershire hill after a rolling wheel of cheese is more palatable than someone eating 141 hard-boiled eggs in eight seconds (another Chestnut record). As food races go, the senseless hilarity of the cheese rolling on Cooper’s Hill is quite a spectator draw. But you’d have to be crackers to compete.