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Food Politics

Politics of the Plate: Xtreme Eating

The season for competitive consumption is underway—but why sign up for an eating contest when you can scarf several days’ worth of calories in just one meal at your local chain restaurant?
extreme eating

Xtreme Eating season kicked off last Saturday when Takeru Kobayashi—the legendary Japanese competitive eater whose feats include devouring 57 cow brains in 15 minutes—upset American eating champ Joey Chestnut by downing five and three-quarters Pizza Hut P’Zones in a six-minute bout in Culver City, CA. Chestnut came in a quarter-P’Zone behind, at five and a half.

Hot on the heels of that event, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) revealed the winners of its 2009 Xtreme Eating Awards, which are handed out to restaurants rather than individuals. “America’s restaurants seem to be in a race to wow—or perhaps stun—their patrons with bigger and badder appetizers, entrées, desserts, you name it,” Jayne Hurley and Bonnie Liebman write in the report announcing the winners. “The economy has taken a hit, so fewer diners are eating out. Maybe restaurants are selling oversized, over-the-top platters to give customers their money’s worth. Their motto: Go for the jugular (or any other major blood vessel that’s available).”

According to the CSPI, this year’s hands-down champion was The Cheesecake Factory, standing out in three of nine categories. The Factory’s winning dishes included deep-fried macaroni and cheese, delivering 1,570 calories and 1,860 milligrams of sodium per serving. But that wasn’t what pushed it over the top—it packed 69 grams of saturated fat—three and a half days’ worth. “You’d be better off eating an entire stick of butter (57 grams of sat fat and a mere 800 calories),” said the CSPI.

The Factory also took honors for its chicken and biscuits (2,500 calories per serving—more than a day’s worth) and for its Philly-style flatiron steak, which has 2,320 calories (a day’s worth), 5,340 mg of sodium (three days’ worth), and 47 grams of saturated fat (two and a half days’ worth). Each of these entrées packs roughly as many calories as an entire nine-course tasting menu at Per Se with all the trimmings (wine, bread and butter, amuses and petits fours).

Other winning main dishes included Chili’s Big Mouth Bites (“mini” burgers) at 1,580 calories for a serving of four, and Applebee’s Quesadilla Burger (1,820 calories with fries).

Round out your “appetizer” and entrée with one of Uno Chicago Grill’s Mega-Sized Deep Dish Sundaes (2,800 calories and 74 grams of saturated fat), and you’re frighteningly close to the number of calories ingested by the great Kobayashi in Culver City—he won the title with an intake of roughly 7,245.

Kobayashi will meet Chestnut on the Fourth of July for a rematch at Coney Island, where the annual competition centers on hot dogs. Chestnut won that tournament last year in a tiebreaking round, after he and Kobayashi—who had held the world record in hot-dog eating for six years—had each gobbled 59 dogs in ten minutes. But we won’t know until this time next year (when the CSPI announces the results of Xtreme Eating 2010) whether any restaurant can manage to unseat The Cheesecake Factory.

If you want my opinion, it won’t be worth the weight.