Friday, 7 December 2012

Eating Challenges: Are They Really Too Much?

I remember the first time I saw Man vs Food on the Dave channel. It was a warm, summer evening, about two years ago, when I flicked on the telly to avoid doing some ironing. And I ended up transfixed, as Adam Richman single-handedly wolfed down pizzas, burgers, plates of oysters and burritos that would comfortably feed a family of six. It was funny. It was, in a way, fascinating. He sat, tears streaming down his swollen, red cheeks as he tried to finish 'the hottest wings in the world', while fellow diners whooped and cheered and took it in turns to kiss him on the cheek. 

Now, eating challenges are everywhere, and all over the UK, too. You can try the 'world's spiciest burger', spiked with Scotch Bonnet Chillies and Ghost Chilli extract, in Bristol. Or the 'Mile High Burger' challenge in Southsea - a 24oz burger, topped with onion rings, fries and served with a thick milkshake. Or how about, in North Scotland, the Ashvale Whale challenge: a haddock fillet that weighs one pound. Finish it and you can have another one for free, or a free dessert, if you prefer (I know which I'd choose...).

There's even one eating challenge in my local town - at Mission Burrito, on the riverside at Reading. In fact, there are two: the 2lb El Doble is basically two burritos made together - it costs £10 to try and if you finish it you get to put a sticker on the wall. But the 3lb El Triple - that's three tortilla wraps, piled with meat, plus beans, rice and whatever salsas, salads or cheese you want from the counter. When you finish that, you get a T-Shirt and a sticker on the 'wall of fame'. Local reporter Mike Pyle finished it last summer and wrote of his triumph: 'I felt similar to what our Team GB heroes must have been feeling over the last week and a bit.' 

The thing with me is, when I'm full, I'm full. I don't want to force down the equivalent of two days-worth of food and then be lying on the sofa afterwards, groaning and swigging down spoonfuls of Gaviscon, wearing my crumpled T-shirt of Victory.  I have eaten meals (mostly at TGI Fridays) that were too big for me to manage and it always ended badly. And you know what? No one cheered me on, or queued up to kiss me on the cheek. The waitress just cleared away my plate without even a blink and my husband eyed me, with an embarrassed stare across the table for 'being greedy' and wasting 'all that food'. 

The Mans vs Burrito challenge at Mission Burrito... 

Some people don't agree with eating challenges because there are people starving in Third World countries and it's a shameful waste of food. I don't fully agree with that argument - just go to the back of any supermarket near closing time and you'll see bins full of discarded foods where the packaging has split or giant, three-quarter wheels of cheese binned just because their time is up on the deli counter, even though, if they were sitting in your fridge, they'd be perfectly safe to eat. According to Love Food Hate Waste, UK households throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food each year. I doubt that eating challenges were to blame for much of that.  

Eating challenges are fun and they promote the restaurants that run them. Think of all the people that pay the £25 to try a burger challenge and fail. It brings in business. Fair play to them. And no one's forcing you to eat it, anyway. But I have to say, they're not for me. No wonder Adam Richman declared on his Twitter bio, after four series of Man vs Food, that he was 'quite done with food challenges, thank you.' 

Have you ever tried a food challenge? What do you think of them? Just a bit of fun, or an extravagant show of gluttony? Let me know in the comments below...


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