My Quest to Rebuild America’s Pride, One Unchewed-Mouthful at a Time

I read earlier today that a Ukraninian man tragically died shortly after winning a dumpling eating contest (for the record, he polished off 10 dumplings and a one-liter jar of sour cream in 30 seconds). A few hours later, the 77-year-old Ivan Mendel was dead, and I haven’t stopped laughing since.

I know, I know, but I can’t help it. Besides, I’m not a completely soulless human being, and I feel really bad for Mendel, his family, and whoever has to keep a straight face while typing up the obituary. I really do. At the same time, you have to admit that, with so many people around the globe literally starving to death, there is a Zen-like irony to someone dying from eating way too much. Either way, his death was not in vain as news of Mendel’s passing has stirred in me a nationalist pride I haven’t felt so strongly since Rocky kicked the crap out of Ivan Drago and stole that Russian bastard’s wife in the process.

And if you got that joke, you really love the 80s.

It’s not just that Mendel was from the Ukraine (which, despite the fall of the U.S.S.R., is reason enough for any of you born before 1978 to hate him) because it turns out that, in recent years, many would-be contenders have died shortly after or during competitive eating contests. In fact, since 2008, at least four other competitive eaters have died while shoveling food down their gullet. Two were Russian, one was a 34-year-old man from Wales, and during an annual bun-eating contest a 23-year-old Taiwanese student died in what can only be called…Hell, I don’t know. What do you call it when someone dies from eating a frigging bun? A rib-tickling tragedy? A sobbing-my-ass-off hoot? A grieving-so-hard-I-can’t-breathe masterpiece?

Either way, if you’re taking notes: The wiener goes in the bun, not the other way around.

To be fair, this list of competitive-eating fatalities is not to be viewed as complete or exhaustive in any way, but I’m going to go ahead and say it is in order to declare, with great pride, not one of those casualties was an American.

In fact, not only have no Americans died during eating contests, but for four complete seasons Brooklyn-born Adam Richman has hosted the Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food, and he ends each of those episodes by taking on a timed eating challenge that would clearly kill anyone not reared in a culture of complete indulgence and gluttony. After four years of gobbling down six-pound burgers, pizzas the size of truck tires, and pastries larger than your average French automobile, not only is Richman still alive, he’s a perfect picture of health.

Of course, if you’ve seen the show then you know my description of Richman’s physical condition is based on a very liberal understanding of “health,” as the man looks perilously close to death at all times. But my point is that he’s still alive, and I’m personally inspired to follow the trail Richman’s blazing—and based on his diet, his is a trail that’s easily followed. In any case, I’m formally announcing my decision to honor America’s intestinal fortitude by becoming a competitive eater, as opposed to simply an overindulgent one.

While the sport may not be the most popular, can you think of another competitive endeavor that so embodies the true spirit of the American people and our ability to adopt lifestyles that are so patently offensive to the rest of the world? Seriously, there’s only one thing that says America more than apple pie and that is the act of jamming 12 of them down your throat in five minutes, then vomiting up the entire steaming mess into a dumpster a half-hour later.


Now, competitive eating requires a disciplined approach to training. Sadly, I’ve never been much of an athlete. I didn’t really participate in team sports in school or, for that matter, outside of it. I also eschewed most of the individual sports, opting instead to follow a rigorous program of exerting the absolute least amount of energy I could while still receiving a C in gym class. And even to this day, if it doesn’t involve a lot of sitting and naps I’m just not that interested. Seriously, my greatest daily feat of athleticism is flushing.

And yet, thanks to Peter Piper Pizza, I feel as if I have been preparing for this moment all of my life. Now, if you’ve ever been unlucky enough to run into me during Peter Piper Pizza’s lunch buffet, you know three things about me: One, while I have impeccable tastes in pizza I can also be extremely cheap; two, there really isn’t anyone I’m not willing to cut in front of or knock over to get at the last slice of hot pizza; and three, I can eat my weight in pepperoni before the disturbing sight of me doing so forces you to look away.

And you will look away. They all do.

I wouldn’t normally be proud of any of these facts, but in today’s world Americans need something they can hang their hats on. I mean, we’re a vehemently divided nation, one that’s mired in two questionable wars with no end in sight. Nearly one in five Americans is unemployed—one in three if you exclude drug dealers and whores. And the only thing that sucks worse than our economy is Two-and-a-Half Men with Ashton Kutcher (and hey, at least we know Kutcher’s run on prime-time is a shotgun-blast of pain that will end soon).

It is true that life is harder in other parts of the world, more demanding and challenging, but here in the States we’ve been sucking the teat of plenty for over 40 years. We’ve gotten used to living better, thinking better about ourselves, indulging in all this world has to offer—the keyword in that sentence being “all.” It will take a while to adjust to a new standard, but in the meantime is it really that absurd for us to take some pride in the remaining “fruits” of our four decades of decadence, even if the only “fruits” left are an iron-clad stomach and a gag reflex that would make Jenna Jameson blush?

I think not. So come on America. We’re fucking pigs. Let’s own it with pride. I mean, are you really going to passively watch while some Korean dude’s plowing through 63 Nathan hot dogs in 12 minutes? You gonna sit back and let some old Ukrainian eat himself to death while you nibble a salad and remain mindful of your carb intake? Come on people, Mendel might have died a Ukrainian, but he was born a Russian. And while the Cold War might be over, Red Dawn lives forever.


So the next time you see the American flag waving proudly, what will you do? When you next hear “The Star-Spangled Banner” being hummed by someone who only knows the words that rhyme, where will you be?

Well, you know where I’ll be: trampling dozens of small children at the birthday party seated next to me at the Peter Piper, stacking my plate eight-slices high of pepperoni, and swallowing entire slices of pizza without chewing.

And then I’ll be at the emergency room getting a blood transfusion and about 327 stitches because the razor-like sharpness of Peter Piper Pizza’s crust will have done an O.J. Simpson on my esophagus. But that’s the price of patriotism, and it’s one I’m willing to pay. What about you?

Until next time my fellow Americans, god bless the portion of America that’s in the United States, good eats, and don’t think the fall of the Berlin Wall and the death of Osama bin Laden means you can’t keep rubbing it into the world’s face one 5,000-calorie meal at a time.*

*Check back in a few days for the top 10 ways to make competitive eating the most popular sport in the world. Or, at the least, in the 3:00 a.m. time-slot on ESPN 3.

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