Two newspaper headlines on opposite sides of the same page reflect our conflicted world view. On page A9 the banner headline read: “U.N. warns of starvation” (in Syria) and on page A10 the headline read: “Chestnut downs record 70 hot dogs in eating contest.”
The story about the ongoing civil war crisis in Syria breaks my heart. Anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million people are trapped in 18 areas classified as besieged. The U.N. warned of starvation in four towns where 62,000 people are trapped and demanded immediate and unconditional access to them. Can you imagine people having to burn blankets and clothes in their cook stoves because they ran out of fuel? (Quad-City Times, July 5, 2016).
I get irritable when I’ve gone seven or eight hours without eating. It’s hard to think about anything else — such as job or chores — on an empty stomach. What must these trapped Syrians be experiencing?
Then I turned to the weather page where a color photo caught my attention. It showed a man shoveling food into his mouth during a hot dog-eating contest in New York on the Fourth of July. A woman in a polo shirt stood behind him preparing to change a flip card that read “69.” Joey Chestnut, 32, consumed 70 hotdogs and buns in 10 minutes. Last month, he downed 73-1/2 hotdogs and buns in “a qualifying event,” the Associated Press reported. The guy who finished second apologized for his loss and commended Joey’s accomplishment. Really?! The story also identified the woman who successfully defended her title in the women’s contest. She ate 38-1/2 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes.
Joey doesn’t look like he’s having much fun in the contest. He looks like he’s in pain, which made me think about the pain the desperately hungry Syrians must be enduring. Joey moves on from the International Hot Dog Eating Contest with accolades and the memory of the cheering crowds. The Syrians are trapped, stuck in a civil-war-induced food fast. Where’s the justice?
Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that we will be judged on how we treated others; how we responded to the needs of the hungry and the oppressed. Food-eating contests set a bad example for humankind. While I may feel helpless to stop starvation in Syria, Africa or elsewhere around the world, I can do something about food-eating contests: boycott them. Just don’t go. I hope many will join me in protesting and avoiding attendance at food-eating contests — whether the International Hot Dog Eating Contest or a pie-eating contest at the local fair. Without an audience, food-eating contests will cease to exist.
In December 2013, Pope Francis invited each of us, “as one single human family, to give a voice to all of those who suffer silently from hunger, so that this voice becomes a roar which can shake the world. This campaign is also an invitation to all of us to become more conscious of our food choices, which often lead to waste and a poor use of resources available to us. It is also a reminder to stop thinking that our daily actions do not have an impact on the lives of those who suffer from hunger firsthand.” (Video Message of Pope Francis for the Campaign against Global Hunger Launched by Caritas Internationalis.)
I will continue to protest food-eating contests and “all-you-can-eat” specials, and to advocate for legislation that alleviates hunger at home and abroad as ways of responding to Pope Francis’ request. Another way is through prayer. When I pray for the hungry, it keeps them on my mind.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at email@example.com.)