Service of Hunger

June 10th, 2013

Categories: Charity, Contests, Food, Help, Hunger

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, 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?

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8 Responses to “Service of Hunger”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    Millions have been starving for centuries, and these eating contests are tacky events of no benefit to anyone. Stopping them would probably not help the situation, but it’s the principle involved. Scarfing down unnecessary mouthfuls is tantamount to laughing in the face of the suffering. In short, it’s both shameful and disgusting.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    A drop in the bucket for certain, but the food wasted on such contests could be donated to City Harvest and food banks in the towns and cities where the contests normally take place. These businesses attract millions of people a year. There might be a way for someone buying a hot dog, for example, to pay for a second one to be given away.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Nice idea, but not realistic. The food saved may be needed miles away. Best way to raise consciousness, is not to hold these events in the first place, and hold a fund raiser instead. Proceeds may then be sent to areas where they are most needed.

    What’s really sad is that given the much advertised wolves howling at millions of American doorsteps, these guzzlers, their promoters and fans might think of such things on their own, and they don’t. It’s enough to make one lose ones appetite.

  4. Scott Ossian Said:

    I grew up at a time when there was, first, world wide depression and, second, world wide war. “Waste not, want not.” was in vogue. And then, there were incessant reminders from household authority about the starving Armenians, Chinese or whatever.

    We actually lacked for little, however, consumption rules were not only firmly in place, but also enforced. If you took too big a helping of whatever was being served, you had to finish it. Plates went back to the kitchen clean. After a belly ache or two, you soon learned, “Don’t take more than you can eat.”

    Given this background, it’s no wonder that I’ve always been more than a little sickened by the very idea of food eating or drinking contests. I don’t propose that they be banned, but for me, they fall at the lower end of the range of “to be avoided” popular entertainments such as TV wrestling, pit bull fighting and motorcycle riding.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    My bet is that people go hungry within a few miles or less of the lower east side of Manhattan and Coney Island Brooklyn where the hotdog contest takes place and that the contest food would be a welcome treat at a senior or child day care center. I fear that there are hungry people tucked in all over the country–within miles of country fairs as well.

    While those who benefit from fundraisers welcome the support, I would imagine that a local business such as Katz’s wouldn’t want to send money far from its home base, which is why it honored the Henry Street Settlement with the money from its Seder celebration. I’ve not been shopping for food outside NY State and don’t know if Nathan’s hotdogs are available nationwide, but if so, then a company like this could benefit hungry people anywhere in the US.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You bring up a crucial subject I totally neglected: Drinking contests.

    I think that the ones involving alcohol should be banned. I know a family that lost a son to one of these. His body couldn’t tolerate the amount he drank and he died. I suppose you could also die from too much food at once but I haven’t heard of such a death.

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    It seems to me that food eating contests should be obsolete in view of the incredible inequality in access to and distribution of food with the prevailing socio-economic and geo-political realities. We cannot claim to not be aware because we are inundated with visual as well as written information.

    The contests are also unhealthy and in incredibly bad taste. They serve only to reinforce the prevailing carelessness about the importance of food as sustenance and failure to curb the national spread of obesity. They do not make for very appealing viewing for non-participants.

    Any efforts by charities or businesses to maximize efficient distribution of enormous excess or our portions and supplies of intact left-overs of foods, fresh and industrialized, within our own borders is an important goal. A wonderful example of such activity is Panera’s Pay What You Want experiment. Ron Shaich, founder, chairman and co-CEO of the company calls this option “The Meal of Shared Responsibility.” He thinks it may possibly be expanded to all of the chain’s 1,600 bakery-cafes country-wide. This seems a wonderful and pro-active antidote to food contests.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Thanks, Martha, I didn’t know about Panera’s Pay What You Want and read an AP article about one of the Panera restaurants in St. Louis that launched one selection–turkey chilli in a bread bowl–in a standard restaurant using that concept. You pay what you want for the chilli and the standard price for everything else.

    The article by Jim Salter noted “Panera isn’t alone. A restaurant known as One World Everybody Eats in Salt Lake City adopted the pay-what-you-want idea a decade ago. Cafe Gratitude, a small vegan cafe chain in California, offers a single payment-by-donation menu item each day.” The article:

    Salter also quoted one of the founders as saying they weren’t promoting the concept or putting advertising money behind it, but that they were counting on publicity to promote/test the idea.

    I think it’s a great idea and should be successful as long as the people who take every advantage of everyone and everything don’t abuse the offer to pay nothing when they could well be one of the ones to pay $100.

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