The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - SEVEN DAYS | GOING OUT - Aoife McElwain

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 (

“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

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.

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