There are plenty of controversies in the world of competitive eating, like with any other professional sport. Fortunately, we’re not talking about regulated eaters using performance enhancers to eat more hotdogs. But there is a battle of style — of competitive purity — going down, and a line in the sand has been drawn.
Some eaters are speaking out against the “transformation of the molecular structure” of a particular food item. Yes, that’s right, there’s a movement out there that believes the only way to actually compete is to not dunk your hot dogs and buns — or any food for that matter — in a cup of water. Competitors should eat as they traditionally would at, say, a picnic. This is where the idea of ‘Picnic Style’ competitive eating comes from.
One of the champions of this eating style is Dave “Coondog” O’Karma, a one-time competitor in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest, back in 2001.
O’Karma, in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, made his stance plain and simple. “Can you think of anybody except the guys on stage in the Nathan’s hot-dog-eating contest saying, ‘Mmm, mmm, I can’t wait go get a hot dog and then dunk it in my beer before I eat it’?” he said. “Why have buns if you’re going to dunk ’em, because that’s not really a hot dog-eating contest. It’s a pudding-eating contest. Wieners and pudding.”
Photo Credit: Theo Zierock/AFP/Getty Images
On the other hand, the top competitive eaters in the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE), the sport’s governing body, will tell you that the concept is simple: take the food and ingest as much of it as possible, as quickly as possible, by any means necessary. Those are the rules, so that’s how they compete.
The IFOCE clearly states in their rules that an eater can “dip his or her food in a liquid to make it softer.” So, if that’s a rule from the longstanding governing body of professional eating, how can one blame the competitors for taking advantage of the tactic to soften their food?
One argument in favor of ‘Picnic Style’ rules is that when you pour water all over your food you are essentially creating a giant mess. Some of the buns may fall on the floor or get so sloppy that, in the end, they never get ingested. Hence, you’re not eating a full bun.
Arnie “Chowhound” Chapman (Photo Credit: Monika Graff/Getty Images)
That point was raised by another competitive eater, Arnie “Chowhound” Chapman, who once said that he prefers ‘Picnic Style’ because of its historical and cultural adherence to eating. Traditionally, he says, we “eat our food as is without it being transformed.”
Not to mention that mashing and mutilating food can be off-putting and, well, gross to look at.
At the end of the day, there are rules in place for sanctioned eating competitions. And those rules state that an eater is allowed to dip and dunk their food. Until those rules are changed — and there is no indication that any changes will be considered any time soon — the battle between the purists and the rule followers will continue on.
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Tom Lorenzo is a freelance sports, entertainment and pop culture writer from New York City. You can follow him on Twitter @TomLorenzo.