Fagone, Jason. Insatiable: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream

Welcome to America’s flabby underbelly.

“Reading that’ll make you angry,” said my mate when he saw this book’s title. But reading Insatiable didn’t make me angry. It just made me sick.

Insatiable tracks a year spent following the competitive eaters’ circuit: from grilled cheese sandwiches through pizza, oysters and sushi, to the salute to tits-and-white trash that is Philadelphia’s Wing Bowl.

The International Federation of Competitive Eaters (IFOCE) is like the WWF of competitive eating, and just as classy.

IFOCE “eaters” include Takeru Kobayashi (world hot dog eating champion), 105-pound “Black Widow” Sonja Thomas (champion of baked beans, cheesecake, meatballs, oysters, hamburgers, fruitcake, and much more), Timothy “Eater X” Janus (day trader one day, tiramisu eating champion of the world the next). The volume of food eaten is outrageous. Twenty-six large cannoli in six minutes. Eleven pounds cheesecake, nine minutes. Eighty chicken nuggets, five minutes. Forty-nine glazed doughnuts, eight minutes.

Eaters declare competitive eatingAmerica’s fastest growing “sport”. A sport with unique health repercussions, like spontaneous gastric rupture. But Fagone wants to find heroes in his hoi polloi, and genuinely seeks the nobility of “Coondog”, “Eater X”, “The Black Widow”, et al. You’ll find no criticism of food excess within these pages, save a few bizarre lines of comparison with golf (courses squander water), NASCAR races, and equestrian Olympic events, which Fagone deems equally wasteful.

Fagone writes like an undergraduate who got too close to his subject, and too sure his book is riding a big wave of popular culture. A big wave in a filthy ocean. The book’s yuck factor is high, with detailed mechanics of competitive eating (and associated body functions) next to profiles of  “horsemen of the oesophagus”, delivering a pretty ugly slice ofmiddle America.

Although subtitled “Competitive Eating and the American Dream”, Insatiable chokes when it should analyse what all this eating means in contemporary culture.