A cafe in Portishead has hit the headlines by challenging customers with a 59-item platter.
I suppose I should be grateful for a counterpoint to the dieting bilge filling the media this month, but actually I am not. I would sooner endure a January kale cleanse (fat chance) than celebrate the sport of competitive gorging that has made headlines this week.
In case you were too busy juicing to catch it, a cafe in Portishead, near Bristol, has launched an 8,000-calorie, 59-item gut-busting Monster Mega Breakfast challenge to entice the punters. Anyone who can finish off the heaving £15 platter in under an hour will be added to the wall of "champions" and receive a free breakfast voucher. If you ask me, this is a pyrrhic victory for a winning stomach that might no longer be capable of taking solids, but there you have it.
So far, no one has managed to lick this breakfast plate clean, which isn't surprising - 8,000 calories is the daily requirement for a Royal Marine on Arctic survival training. But what is baffling is the way this combination of mindless gluttony and PR stunt has been played out as an amusing gustatory lark. I thought the demise of the appalling Man v Food show marked last orders for pigging out as a spectator sport. It seems I have been living under a rock.
Not only has the Monster Mega Breakfast tale been eagerly devoured by news outlets from here to Lahore, it has spawned mine-is-bigger-than-theirs follow-ups and shone a light into the bilious world of competitive eating, which I am sad to discover is thriving in the UK.
In the US, of course, watching people eat until they puke is a long-standing tradition and professional gluttons style themselves as sports stars, travelling the land to gorge themselves publicly for a living. According to the International Federation of Competitive Eating (debauchery has its own governing body in the US) there's a crust to be made from overconsumption and waste. Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, the world's most successful gurgitator, earned almost $60,000 last year by pushing food down his neck faster than anyone else. His many achievements include the record 66 hot dogs he downed in 10 minutes in the legendary Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, an event broadcast on television to a rapt audience of millions. Chestnut attributes his prowess to a rigorous training regime of fasting and stretching his stomach with milk, water and protein products.
For some reason, I thought that here in the UK we were too straight-laced to put our appetites on the line so publicly. It seems not. The UK has its own calendar of competitive eating events and websites dedicated to revolting food showdowns. Some of these events involve meals that make the Monster Mega Breakfast look like an amuse bouche. From a 2.2kg Goliath steak challenge to a burger face-off so gargantuan it requires the signing of a legal waiver, there is plenty to tempt the Creosotes out there.
In my humble opinion, it's just all kinds of wrong. I am not so concerned with the physical harm these speed eaters do to themselves by necking so many calories in one short sitting - risks such as obesity, elevated cholesterol, gut perforations and stomach paralysis. It's the depiction of gluttony and waste as harmless fun at a time when obesity is epidemic and hungry people are queuing at food banks that doesn't make sense. Why aren't we all repulsed? We aren't we concerned that competitive eating fuels a culture of overconsumption and food waste? At a time when we are all supposed to be eating less meat and embracing the concept of quality over quantity, why are we amused to see it treated like a cheap commodity with so much chucked in the bin?
We would ban our kids from the X-box until hell froze over if we found them scoffing a packet of chocolate biscuits as fast as they could. At least I would. Or do I just need a double helping of sense of humour with a super-sized side of chill?
Photo Credit: Breakfast for one, please: the Monster Mega Breakfast on offer at the Corner Cafe, in Portishead, near Bristol. Photograph: SWNS.com/Adam GraySWNS.com