Service of Hunger
June 10th, 2013
Joey Chestnut ate 68 hotdogs at Nathan’s July 4th 2012 contest and over the June 1 weekend this year, he scarfed down 25 half pastrami sandwiches, both in 10 minutes. The latter contest was to celebrate the Katz’s Deli 125th anniversary at the World Pastrami Eating Championship. Chestnut won both competitions.
In films about life in small-town America we’ve seen countless pie eating contests at charming country fairs. Paul Newman’s character, Luke Jackson, memorably ate 50 eggs on a dare in “Cool Hand Luke.”
We’ve always thought we were the land of plenty and these contests seemed like harmless fun. Yet according to nokidhungry.org, 16 million children in this country “don’t get the food they need.”
I read about Patty Stonesifer in Maureen Dowd’s opinion piece, “She’s Getting Her Boots Dirty,” June 2 in The New York Times. Dowd wrote about the executive whose new job is directing Martha’s Table, an organization in Washington DC that provides those in need with food, among other things.
“After serving as the highest-ranking woman at Microsoft, Stonesifer helped Bill and Melinda Gates start their philanthropy in an office above a Seattle-area pizza parlor in 1997,” wrote Dowd. Stonesifer, who works for free now as she did for the largest charity in the world, explains that Bill Gates taught her to think big. “So here, instead of simply figuring out how to move from providing 60,000 meals a month to 66,000, I want to think about how to end child hunger in D.C,” Dowd quoted her as saying.
About this philanthropist Dowd reported: “Her 89-year-old mother started a Bread for the World chapter in her retirement community in Indianapolis and, until just recently, continued to do volunteer work for St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic charity.”
She meets her clients and observes, as Dowd reports: “ ‘These folks are just waiting for a bag of food,’ Stonesifer marvels as she looks over the mound of bags filled with vegetables and fruit, cereal and soup. ‘They come early because they believe there won’t be enough. It looks like the Depression, this long line. And they’re not sitting on their butts, waiting for a handout. They’re scrambling to meet their basic needs.’”
I don’t believe that Katz’s or Nathans mean any harm or hurt by conducting these traditional American events because if I did, I wouldn’t identify them. Before its contest, Katz’s, that sells 20 thousand pounds of meat a week according to CBS NY, gave a fundraiser/Shabbat dinner to benefit the Henry Street Settlement, a charity in its neighborhood.
However, I question the validity and symbolism of food contests these days with so many millions of starving people here. The marketing/PR minds I know, if charged with the task, could design any number of other wonderful ways to celebrate and create new traditions for food businesses like these as well as for country fairs, at least until hunger is a memory and ours is, once again, a land of plenty. What do you think?