By Barb Arland-Fye
When 49 million Americans, 16.7 million of them children, struggle to put food on the table it seems sinful for our society to aid and abet eating as a competitive sport.
Last Saturday, the 10 p.m. newscast my family watches aired a story about a food eating contest in the Quad-Cities. The anchor congratulated the winner — a Major League Eating superstar who consumed 20 Maid-Rite loose meat sandwiches in 10 minutes.
On Sunday morning, the same story appeared in the metro section of our daily newspaper describing the winner’s technique and the fact that he came up short of the 2010 champion. This year’s winner and four runners-up received monetary prizes for the skill of eating fast.
This same newspaper last week inserted a brown paper grocery bag for readers to fill with nonperishable food for this fall’s Student Hunger Drive. Food-eating contests didn’t just begin yesterday (I recall participating in a pickle-eating contest in ninth grade for a girls’ group initiation). But I’d like to think that as a global village growing more connected every day we pay attention to the food crisis afflicting our brothers and sisters worldwide and do something about it.
My response, in this case, was to visit the Major League Eating website where I learned its “sanctioned eating contests provide dramatic audience entertainment and offer an unparalleled platform for media exposure.”
Try explaining that to families desperately searching for food in drought-stricken East Africa. A Catholic aid worker in Eritrea told Catholic News Service in July: “The children were too weak to talk, too weak to walk and so weak they could not even swat the flies flying around them.”
Meanwhile, one in eight Americans rely on Feeding America for food and groceries. The agency reports that its nationwide network of food banks is feeding 1 million more Americans each week than in 2006.
I sent this email to George Shea, a contact person for Major League Eating:
Dear Mr. Shea,
How does Major League Eating condone food-eating contests when so many children and adults in this world go hungry every day?
Major League Eating sanctioned the second World Maid-Rite Sandwich Eating Championship at the Quad Cities Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf, Iowa, on Saturday, Oct. 22.
Altogether, $5,000 was awarded to five finishers (two tied for third). The five consumed a total of 69 Maid-Rites. I don’t have figures on how much the other six contestants ate.
My point: Our community is in the midst of a Student Hunger Drive to collect food for the regional food bank that helps supply our food pantries.
My proposal: Why not donate a portion of the winnings to the food bank: River Bend Food Bank, 309 12th St., Moline, Illinois, 61265 — 309-764-7434, http://www.riverbendfoodbank.org.
I would also like to encourage you to find another way to celebrate eating — in healthy ways that direct us away from the excess that is rampant in our society.
Shortly afterward, I received the following response: “We do donate a significant amount of money to food charities, as do our sponsors and eaters, and I will take this request to our team and respond. Thank you.”
In a message delivered for World Food Day Oct. 16, Pope Benedict XVI said we need to modify our behavior and change our structures so that everyone has access to the necessary food resources and so that agricultural production has stability. Among other things, he urged moderation in consumption.
My prayer is that all of us, including Major League Eating, step up to the plate.