From trick or treating and school proms to coffee culture and the use of z instead of s, we Brits are only too keen to embrace American traditions. But it seems the latest arrival on our shores is more of a health hazard than most.
The continual quest to be better, faster (and ultimately bigger) has now found an outlet via the unsavoury world of competitive eating, as revealed in last night’s ITV1 documentary All You Can Eat.
Although perceived to be an American invention, however, the concept of eating as much as possible in as short a time as possible isn’t entirely new to the UK.
We are introduced to the 72-year-old Grandfather of Gluttony Peter Dowdswell who demonstrates, with all the art of a magician doing a disappearing trick, how to eat a plateful of sausages in a matter of minutes.
Later he eats ten hard boiled eggs in just over a minute, all in aid of charity.
How does he do it? He makes his throat like a ‘conveyor belt’ apparently. Impressive. And much less messy than the Americans we later see stuffing chicken wings and hot dogs down throats that are less like conveyor belts and more like blocked drains.
Strange eating traditions are also discovered in Whitstable, where we see contestants taking part in the annual oyster eating festival, downing six oysters and a glass of beer as quickly as they can, and Dorset, where the traditional nettle-eating championship is taking place.
As weird as they are, both somehow manage to retain a genteel air and a quaint English eccentricity which makes them seem tame compared to their American equivalents, where the big prize money and glory of winning see any manners or concern for health and well-being disappear faster than the food.
There, the competitors, like ‘Deep Dish’ Pat Bertoletti and the formidable 7st force of nature that is the Black Widow, are the true ‘weapons of mass digestion’ and think nothing of downing 20,000 calories worth of hot dogs (with the bread dipped into pop to make it go down easier) in ten minutes in order to win the coveted first place.
Back in the UK, we see three friends take on the challenge of eating a restaurant’s 72oz steak in return for the £49.99 bill being waived. Only one of them manages it, but he ‘hits the wall’ as he tries to finish off his chips and bread and butter.
Only here do we get any insight into why on earth they would do it when there’s no real prize at stake. One of them says: “It’s about being a man.” In his eyes maybe, but I would beg to differ.
Another competitor later points out at as he prepares for a chilli eating contest in Brighton he is taking part “because I’m an idiot”, which seems slightly more accurate.
Even the Guinness Book of Records refuses to recognise what it considers gluttony records, presumably in recognition of the damage to health that could arise.
But it doesn’t deter those that consider it their vocation to be a big eater. Brit Lewis Richards, whose five-a-day consists of chicken, beef, pork, lamb and turkey, is one such ‘career eater’ and ventures across the pond to play the Americans at their own game by joining in a chicken wing eating contest.
But it appears he has bitten off more than he can chew and he is beaten hands-down by most of the other competitors, including the Black Widow, who eats 144 wings to his 54.
In the world of competitive eating, gluttony and gorging leads to glory and greatness, but the reality is a host of sweaty, sticky contestants turning to the sick bucket before staggering off stage with unknown damage to their health.
This American tradition might be big, but it’s not clever and it’s certainly not pretty.