Food challenges have captured our imagination in a big way, with shows like Man v Food and restaurants hosting their own eating competitions. But in an age dominated by selfies and gym culture, what’s our obsession with consuming extreme versions of meals?
In a recent article for You and Yours, the BBC spoke to food challengers about the appeal and how they got into this bizarre business. Andrey Sidorov has taken part in somewhere between 40 and 50 eating contests, but only as a hobby.
He says: “When I first started I was like, ‘This restaurant’s saying if I do this I get to eat their food for free, and in some cases get a cash prize – sounds good to me!'”
So, part of the appeal is getting a free lunch or even some sort of financial compensation, but it’s also about the fame and notoriety. Gluttony is no longer seen as one of the seven deadly sins, as long as it’s followed by leg day at the gym.
Kate Ovens, who also speaks to the BBC, has become a full-time food challenge blogger after tackling a giant burger at uni. And the reason why it’s actually a job is mainly down to video-sharing sites like YouTube and Ladbible.
Without the means to watch such feats on the internet, Kate simply wouldn’t have an audience. One video – where she ate a 3kg kebab, which is the equivalent of two whole roast chickens – got 250,000 views on YouTube and that’s on top of her 600,000 Instagram followers.
Like many trends, the competitive eating scene started off in the States and has come across to the UK. According to Andrey, who runs a food challenge website, there are 2,500 contests on offer across the UK.
You can scoff down giant burgers, inhale pizzas of mind-blogging proportions and consume breakfast big enough to feed a small – or even large – family. Often there are incentives and in many cases, a wall of fame for the victors.
Usually, there are certain rules and time limits to contend with, but it’s not all about how much you can eat; there are also elements like spice to contend with. This has opened up areas for professional eaters to specialise in things like hot wings.
Kate says that she’s learned all the tactics to competitive eating over the years. These range from drinking water to help you chew to consuming the bun and meat separately in hot dog challenges.
She makes her money from paid sponsorships with brands and restaurants, showing that there really is an appetite (pun intended) for seeing someone face off against a massive mound of food. The benefit for eateries is immense, as it creates a buzz, mainly on social media, around a place.
Those of us watching from the sidelines mainly fall into one of two categories. The first is thinking that we can take on the challenge ourselves and the other is the extreme disbelief that someone as slight as Kate can battle against so much food and win.