Some of you may have wondered what happened to the grilled cheese sandwich on which appeared an image of the Virgin Mary some years back It was auctioned on Ebay for $28,000 and then seemed to vanish. If you had supposed it had been retired to a place of private veneration, you were wrong. It resurfaced "in the Atlantic Magazine":http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200605/competitive-eating last month, in an article on competitive eating, called "Horsemen of the Oesophagus" (being American, they can’t spell "Oesophagus" but we will overlook that).
It is one of the nicest pieces of journalism I have read all year. Here is the pitch man introducing a show:
bq.. Shea has sensitive features, an aristocratic nose, and neat black hair. He’s good-looking, compact. Perfect posture. His voice is melodious but powerful—precise, all syllables enunciated, with the pitch control of a cabaret singer and the gestural excess of a dinner-theater Hamlet.
"It is the bane of our species," he says, "that we are warped most when we know it the least, ladies and gentlemen. It is time to put aside the pursuits that push us through our day, because this change is here today as an athletic and religious experience. TODAY WE HOLD THE GOLDEN PALACE-DOT-COM WORLD GRILLED CHEESE EATING CHAMPIONSHIP! An all-you-can-eat contest that will stand as an homage, as a recognition, a dramatic illustration of the message delivered [to] us by the Virgin Mary Grilled-Cheese Sandwich!"
The music softens. Shea ushers onstage the representative of GoldenPalace.com, Steve Baker. In November 2004, Baker bought the sandwich for $28,000 on eBay, hoping to use it for promotional stunts like this one. Wearing a grubby sweatshirt, jeans, and two-day stubble, Baker raises the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese above his head and proclaims, "The Passion of the Toast lives!"
Baker steps down into the crowd, now a sea of limbs holding digital cameras and angling for a keepsake shot. He parades the sandwich, which Shea calls "the culinary version of the Shroud of Turin," into the throng, and then places it on an easel at the side of the stage to make way for the eaters.
p. and here is one of the competitors in "America’s fastest-growing sport:
bq. Ed, pushing 400 pounds, was also trying to lose weight. The day I talked to him, he was pondering an upcoming cannoli contest. He was the cannoli champ but was thinking about not defending his title. "It’s rough on the body," he said. "One, you’re eating eleven thousand calories. Two, there’s no money. Three, all that said, the bottom line is: What am I doing this for? I’m basically putting eleven thousand calories into my body with the chance I could get hurt. What for? There’s gotta be a cause."
Actually, the question that I feel needs answering is "What the hell are Cannoli?" But it hardly matters. The eaters will eat anything, providing there is enough of it. The equivalent score to a par in golf is apparently twenty Nathan’s hot dogs – two kilos of solid food and 6,180 calories, washed down with as much water as you like – all consumed in twelve minutes.
The other nice thing to emerge from the article is that the really outstanding performers are mostly foreigners, and all thin.