A lot of people have come to view stunt eating as simply the process of jamming as much of one particular food into themselves over a prescribed (usually fairly brief) period of time. How many hot dogs, oysters, Twinkies, or bull testicles can you force yourself to consume before the buzzer goes off? I blame "Fear Factor" for that last one. The sight of these competitions is becoming more frequent on cable outlets like USA and ESPN2, but it's only a matter of time before NBC feels the void of professional football and seeks to fill it by becoming the world-wide leader in Sport Gorging. What is missing from all of this intense mastication is an element of style.
For years now, I have been quietly building my resume as a stunt-eater of a different sort. Don't get me wrong, I have shown some prodigious skill in the quantity department, but the ability to ingest shouldn't be relegated to simply the number of french fries you can eat by unhinging your jaw and shoveling them in. It should be just as interesting to see what you put on those french fries before they are eaten. Anybody who has had a moment to spare while eating their McDonald's knows that a very tasty combination can be made by dipping your french fry into your chocolate shake. After age twelve, you start to forget that flavor, and you can shock and amaze a sizable group by doing just that.
The reaction is really what I'm after. I won't eat things that aren't food in the first place - no detergent or plastics (unless you count the frosting on Hostess cupcakes). I have a friend who continues to support me in these endeavors with these words: "I'll give you a buck if you eat..."
That's about all it takes, really. Sometimes there is a bit of haggling over the price, generally it depends upon how quickly it will end the meal that we are consuming at the time. I have eaten a bowl of Cocoa puffs swimming in Coca-Cola (great for staying awake at parties). On a few separate occasions I have helped myself to large amounts of pickle relish. For the delight of both bride and groom at my friend's wedding reception I swallowed an entire tube of decorator frosting (good enough for a collected seven dollars).
When did this all begin? My clearest recollection is high school. One food feat that stands out from these early years was when I ate an entire order of Red Barn fried chicken, bones and all. My reasoning was this: the chicken had been cooked sometime during the past week, and had been sitting in and around grease, slowly deteriorating. The bones were more like chalky balsa wood by the time I gnashed them up in my molars. I did consider the fact that I had been told never to give chicken bones to our dog, since they might splinter and injure his digestive tract. But, I was a junior in high school, and no one could tell me different.
A similar leap of faith resulted in one of my greatest triumphs. By fifth or sixth grade, my brothers and I had discovered (much to my mother's dismay) that we could easily mash an entire McDonald's cheeseburger into our mouths: the one-bite cheeseburger. As a senior in high school, I found that a cheeseburger no longer impressed my peers, so I needed to kick it up a notch. What makes the cheeseburger so easy is that it is mostly bun, and that bun is mostly air. A Big Mac has three buns (counting that middle bun-coaster), and all that left me with was the two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions. The patties were the same size as the cheeseburger standard that I had mastered in my youth. The rest was just a matter of keeping the mass moving. I performed this trick twice in high school, to the astonishment of my friends. The challenge with something like this is that once someone has heard the story, they will generally react this way: disbelief followed almost immediately by the insistence that I prove it. I am proud to say that since then I have eaten a Big Mac in one bite on three other occasions. The last time, I made a point of having pictures taken. This not only commemorates the event, but allows me to retire from this event with my pride intact (more or less).
In recent years, I have made a few forays into stunt-eating, but I confess that being a father tempers my enthusiasm just a little bit. I am at least responsible for the reaction my wife gives me in front of my son. My son, bless him, has seen his future - and it is a Hostess HoHo dipped in cheese fondue.