Watching people eat has become a real spectator sport.
I came to this decision watching chef Anthony Bourdain on the Travel Channel this morning. It was about 45 minutes into a show which consisted of his eating his way through New York's boroughs that it dawned on me how many people I have watched eat over the last few years, living vicariously through so many other mouths. I am jealous of Bourdain's plate of giant crab legs, happy that I don't have to eat a squirming octopus while it dies on top of a plate of steaming sea food.
I watch Bourdain because he usually travels to interesting places and his irreverent observations on many things, as well as his colorful descriptions of food (and the many bleeps that cover up his naughty language) fascinate me. He speaks the way I would like to write, with the ability to bring a taste of another culture (or even this one, for that matter) forth so eloquently that I can almost taste it...and, thank goodness, don't have to taste some of it.
Bourdain's show is always followed on the Travel Channel by Andrew Zimmerman's "Bizarre Foods." I watched it a few times, but I think he relished one too many roasted animal testicles and fried dung bugs for me to stomach it any more (pun intended).
But if you enjoy food programs like I do, you are used to the looks of ecstasy on the faces of people eating foods. Paula Deen positively orgasmic about some calorie-laden dessert; Giada diLaurentis describing her dishes with such clarity that you can smell the spices and feel the texture in your mouth; Guy Fieri practically oozing grease as he teams up with diner cooks around the country; Perky Rachael Ray whipping up quick meals to audience applause and sharing some of them with some of her guests.
[I should mention that I od'd on each of these cooks in the last few years.]
And then there are those cooking contestants, vying to either get big money and exposure, or a time slot on the Food Network. The judges of "The Next Food Network Star" have almost become familiar friends in their own right because I've watched them over many years and many competitions. I watch them gingerly pick up a contestant's offering and bite into it, giving comment about it.
Bobby Flay conducts "throw downs" with cooks you've never heard of. Both chefs cook their signature dishes and serve to a restaurant full of patrons, who cheer them on while they cook. Then judges come in for a blind taste test and everyone hangs on their decision.
"Iron Chef" pits a star chef with a wanna be opponent where they deal with mystery ingredients and serve up beautifully presented foods which are judged by the ubiquitous panel of experts, whom we all witness tasting and either enjoying or not enjoying the presentations.
Then there is "Man vs. Food" with a guy (Adam Richman) who goes around the country trying to win food challenges. This always involves eating the biggest serving of what might be a good tasting thing, but which in gargantuan proportions is the subject of audience cheers and a medal at the end, if he is successful in eating all within a specified amount of time. A check of the web site reminds me that he has attempted a 72 oz steak in Amarillo, TX, a 5 lb grilled cheese sandwich in Butte, MT, 180 oysters in New Orleans, a 42" 30 lb pizza, five 24-oz malt milkshakes in 30 minutes, a 5 lb nacho challenge in Ann Arbor MI, a 12 lb hamburger in Boston...
...and "the biggest burrito in the West -- 7 potatoes, a pound of ham, 12 eggs, a whole onion, cheese and chili," to name but a few.
Now while a steak, a grilled cheese sandwich, nachos, hamburgers and burritos are good stuff...it amazes me that there is someone willing to eat enough of each of these foods to choke a horse--and have an audience cheering him on. (I don't watch it, as a general rule, but admit to watching it from time to time.)
The contests that bother me the most, though, are the hot dog eating competitions (or other such competitions) that seem to be a staple of fairs these days. Watching people stuff their faces as much as they can with whatever food is the food du jour. Food flies everywhere, people cheer them on as they would gladiators in the Coliseum.Then I look at my skinny Compassion kids and think how one hot dog or one hamburger of regular size would look to them. What an incredible waste of food...and how much of our baser instinct is displayed when we cheer these contestants on to victory.