March 18, 2018 | ° F

Competitive eating: More than a pre-game pastime

Photo by Photo Illustration by Shirley Yu |

The Rutgers Homecoming game Saturday featured its annual Wing Bowl, where Eric Reitzel, not pictured, ate 25 wings in two minutes. Competitors were given a Rutgers bib, a bottle of water and an aluminum tray filled with chicken wings.

Thousands of devoted fans gathered at High Point Solutions Stadium on Busch Campus Saturday to witness the Scarlet Knights face off against the University of Houston Cougars in the Rutgers Homecoming game. Unbeknownst to many, a more unusual competition took place just outside the stadium prior to the football game.

The annual Rutgers Wing Bowl was held at the R Block Party in Athletes Glen outside High Point Solutions Stadium. The event gathered three participants — one from Highland Park, one from Manalapan and Rutgers alumnus Eric Reitzel from Ewing.

Competitors were given a Rutgers bib, a bottle of water and an aluminum tray filled with chicken wings. Their mission was to consume the most wings possible in only two minutes. The clock started and the hungry contestants began digging into the trays of wings in front of them.

It’s no surprise that Reitzel emerged the victor. While his two opponents ate their wings at a steady and conventional rate, Reitzel distinguished himself with his speed and managed to inhale 25 wings.

“I was just trying to go for the flat wings and just rip the meat right off of it as fast as possible,” Reitzel said.

Reitzel, Class of ’94, has competed in past Rutgers Wing Bowl competitions. He discovered his ability to speedily consume chicken wings during his first year at Rutgers.

Reitzel’s residence hall president in Clothier Hall held a wing-eating contest with dangerously hot “thermonuclear” wings from Cluck-U Chicken. Although Reitzel won the competition, it took three long hours before the burning sensations he felt in his mouth wore off.

With only three competitors, the 2013 Rutgers Wing Bowl drew a very small crowd of spectators — likely a mixture of the participants’ family and friends along with a few curious passers-by. This scarcity of interest largely reflects the public’s attitude toward competitive eating.

People generally do not perceive competitive eating as a sport. Many view eating contests as disgusting, offensive and ultimately repulsive. Nevertheless, if competitive eating really is a sport, then the Rutgers Wing Bowl is the equivalent of a Little League baseball game.

The World Series of competitive eating is the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. This past Fourth of July, eater Joe Chestnut broke the world record at the Nathan’s competition, consuming 69 hot dogs in only 10 minutes.

But Chestnut is not the only figure in competitive eating who has been making news recently. Matt Stonie, a 21-year-old competitive eater, downed 111 Twinkies in six minutes at the World Twinkie Eating Championship last Saturday in Tunica, Miss. Chestnut ate 121, winning the competition.

On Oct. 12, female competitive eater Miki Sudo devoured 1.687 gallons of chili at Ben’s Chili Bowl World Chili Eating Championship in Washington, D.C., coming in third place after two men.

Rutgers can even claim to have fostered its own big-time competitive eater — alumnus Jonathan “Super” Squibb.

The three-time victor of Philadelphia’s annual Wing Bowl competition, Squibb, has repeatedly impressed his audience by consuming more than 200 wings in 30 minutes at each competition. His winning streak was broken in 2012 by Japanese competitive eating legend Takeru Kobayashi, who consumed a total of 337 wings.

Squibb registered to participate in the 2013 Rutgers Wing Bowl, but was placed on the waiting list.

Accomplishing such exceptional feasting feats is an enduring task. To better their performance in competition, professional competitive eaters push their bodies to the limit through rigorous training, just like any athlete would.

Many dedicated competitive eaters stretch their stomachs to hold greater capacities of food by regularly drinking a gallon of milk or water in a single sitting.

As stated in a Sept. 29, 2005 article by Brian Alexander of the Seattle Times, competitive eater Eric “Badlands” Booker claimed to have prepared for a wing eating competition by chewing up to five sticks of gum at a time to strengthen his jaw.

Whether or not competitive eating is a sport, concerns regarding the effects of pushing gastric limits remains a controversial topic for the general public.

In an article by Richard Sine of WebMD, Milton Stokes, nutritionist and spokesman for the American Dietetic Association, denounced competitive eating. He believes eating contests could potentially spread attitudes of indifference toward the dangers of excessive food consumption.

One would assume that overeating leads to weight gain, but surprisingly, many of the best competitive eaters remain slim and trim. The website of the competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi lists his weight as only 128 pounds — unexpected for a man with the ability to down 13 grilled cheese sandwiches in only 60 seconds.

There’s much more to the world of competitive eating than just three men eating chicken wings out of metal trays before a Rutgers football game. Like traditional athletes, professional competitive eaters train to achieve higher goals and perform to the best of their ability.

To many, the activity might seem unpleasant, but the truth remains — competitive eating has a serious side, beyond leisurely eating contests at county fairs and tailgating parties.

By Matt Mikolay

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