- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2002

It is a consuming passion: They eat for sport, chomping and chewing while audiences howl, judges watch for style and bystanders well, they stand back.
Chicken wings, matzo balls, pickled quail eggs, cannoli, hot dogs, jalapenos, sushi, pancakes, oysters, mince pie it's all fair game to competitive eaters who have their own federation, regulations, world records and yes, competitive eat meets where less is definitely not more and the best professional gurgitator wins.
"It's not about gluttony. It's about competitive eating. This is a sport. We train, we compete, we have strategies and disciplines," said George Shea, chairman of the New York-based International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE).
"And it's global America, Russia, Thailand, Canada, England, Scotland, Germany," Mr. Shea said. "This is a sport of the everyman, because every man can understand it. A good eater is a good athlete."
America gets its first real taste of competitive eating when Fox broadcasts "The Glutton Bowl" on Thursday, a two-hour special that features 40 contestants competing for $25,000 "in a challenge to see how much or how fast they can consume," according to the network.
The qualifying round alone features mayonnaise, beef tongue and butter, among other things. Fox plans a surprise delicacy for the finale, which they promise is "not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach."
In March, the Discovery Channel will explore mega-eating phenomena in a documentary called "Gut Busters."
But it's not quite as crass as all that, Mr. Shea insists. An IFOCE mandate specifies safety and age regulations, careful record-keeping and uniform procedures for those moments when one man will consume 2 pounds of mince pie in 30 seconds.
That feat was accomplished by England's Peter Dowsewell two years ago, and it still stands as a world's record.
There are points for "neat eating," a newsletter called "The Gurgitator" and official T-shirts which read "Nothing in Moderation" and come in sizes up to XXXXL. Competitors share training methods like learning to stretch their stomachs by drinking a gallon of water at one sitting.
The IFOCE also finds sponsors for sanctioned tournaments year-round.
Come November, the group plans a competition that will feature an entire Thanksgiving dinner.
A short history at the group's Web site (www.ifoce.com) maintains that competitive eating has been around since prehistoric times, and while American eaters dominated the early 20th century, the Japanese now set "record after record before stunned crowds."
Indeed, the all-time record for hot dog-eating is held by one Takeru Kobayashi, who ate 50 weenies "with buns" last year, in 12 minutes. The competition, held every year since 1916 at Nathan's Hot Dogs on Coney Island, is what the Mr. Shea calls "the litmus test of patriotism for eaters of all nations."
The group is not above reproach from those who are grossed out, offended or simply don't get the finer points of the craft.
"Small-minded people might think this is a mockery of the real starvation that's out there," Mr. Shea said. "What they don't know is how much fund-raising we do, how many charity events for Meals on Wheels and other groups that we do."
The sport is not limited to large men. Top "eaters" include hamburger champ Moses Lerman, who is 5 foot 8, weighs 185 pounds and can drink a gallon of water in two minutes.
And yes, the ladies compete, including "Lorain-a-saurus" Lipsitz, who is married to world pickle-eating champ Kevin Lipsitz.
The pair met at a singles event, married and decided to double-team it on the competitive circuit.
"It was my mother-in-law's worst nightmare," Mrs. Lipsitz observed.

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