Major League Eating: The Latest 'Sport' To Hit The US

Major League Eating has taken the U.S.A by storm. As it prepares to break into Europe, Martyn James tries to beat one of its long-standing records...
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Major League Eating has taken the U.S.A by storm. As it prepares to break into Europe, Martyn James tries to beat one of its long-standing records...

Before me sat eighty chicken nuggets. They were warm, greasy and slightly soggy. They sat in a bowl, piled high like poultry Jenga blocks. I could smell them; that nauseating, plastic, not at all food-like scent that burps out of McDonalds. Next to the bowl of nuggets was a 2-litre bottle of water, another bowl (the barf bowl) and enough kitchen-roll to mummify a large dog. I had five minutes to consume the whole lot.

Eighty chicken nuggets doesn’t sound like many but after part-swallowing ten, I was struggling. My stomach had swelled to the size of a small planet; I was bloated, full of gas, air and acid. As each chunk of pulp slipped down my throat and into my gut, I felt an overwhelming need to throw up. I was in pain. I was sweating like a bastard. I just wanted to give up. But then I thought of the record and battled on. Eleven. Twelve. And then I got to fifteen in four minutes.

I knew the record was out of reach, I knew I wasn’t as finely tuned, trained and practiced as the MLE professionals. But in a moment of English pride and glory, I wanted to get through as many as I could. I wanted to prove that when the MLE made it’s way to England proper, we would put up a good fight. I munched on. Each nugget became harder to swallow; I found myself concentrating on how full my stomach was. I was convinced I was going to explode.

Four and a half minutes had passed and I was on eighteen nuggets. In a last ditch attempt I put the pain and discomfort to the back of my mind and delved deep into the oily depths of the bucket. When the five minutes were up I had eaten nineteen chicken nuggets. That’s nineteen mechanically removed gobbets of slippery, slimy budget battered chicken pieces. Quite a feat, if I’m honest.

But what is Major League Eating and where does it come from?

“Major League Eating is professional competitive eating,” says Richard Shea, President of the MLE. “In a prior job, my brother handled publicity for Nathan's Famous and fell in love with their annual hot dog eating contest. As a labour of love he made it bigger; I joined him in his efforts and saw there was a need for a governing body, an archivist, a group to advance the sport safely and maintain its integrity. That's why we founded the League.”

The MLE has grown substantially over the last ten years and has become a big sport in America. Richard and the MLE have secured large sponsors and as a result, have increased the number of events and prize money on offer. They have also secured television deals that have seen MLE events broadcast around the world. “I think its become popular,” says Richard, “because we are all competitive people and are fascinated when we see our fellow man achieve great things.”

One of these men is Patrick Bertoletti, ranked world #2 in the MLE. Patrick rose to fame after eating the Sasquatch Burger in just over eleven minutes; the first person to complete the challenge. “It's a giant burger tipping the scales at 7.5 lbs plus fries,” explains Patrick. “I went on a road trip to New Orleans and stopped to take it on. I took my time and approached the burger very seriously as I didn’t know what to expect. I went back recently and ate the burger in 7 min 20 seconds.”

Patrick first realised he could eat more than most when he was a young boy. “I’ve always eaten more than normal people, all the way back to childhood,” says Patrick. “When eating with friends I would painstakingly hold back so I wouldn't look like an animal. I was always the first to finish my dinner.” However, despite his natural ability to eat more than most, Patrick still has to train to compete in the MLE.

“We've done meat pies and fish and chips in the UK, bratwurst in Germany, Haggis in Scotland. I am eager to do more and would jump at an opportunity to sanction and host events in Europe.”

“Over time I have been able to quadruple the amount of food I can consume. The body can adapt and be trained to do more than you can imagine. You must train your body to relax and contain upwards of 20-24 lbs of food and liquid. I practice with the food at hand and recreate the competition at home.”

Patrick entered his first professional eating competition at the age of 19. “I always wanted to show off my eating prowess, but found most people were bored or annoyed by my talents. In the end I decided to enter a professional competition. I ate roughly 5 lbs of pizza in 15 minutes, finishing in 4th place.” Since then Patrick has entered hundreds of contests, collecting31 world records and 2 Guinness records. One of Patrick’s greatest moments was eating 263 pickled jalapeño peppers in 15 Minutes.

“I'm pretty good at jalapenos but they are near the bottom of my list of least favourites. They are one of the most difficult foods as they call upon capacity, heat and vinegar. I cower in fear en route to these events but keep coming back for more, perhaps I'm a capsicum junkie.” For Patrick, the worse part of a jalapeno event is the first few hours afterwards. “I was quite ill after that one, about two hours after I was touring the Alamo and had an incident. Two hours after that I was sitting on a homebound flight, white knuckling my seat.”

Patrick is considered one of the young guns of the MLE; a new breed of eater who take the competition seriously and treat it like a sport. For Richard Shea, it’s eaters like Patrick who are going to help him take the MLE to Europe. “We’ve already done a couple of events outside of the U.S,” says Richard. “We've done meat pies and fish and chips in the UK, bratwurst in Germany, Haggis in Scotland. I am eager to do more and would jump at an opportunity to sanction and host events in Europe.”

Despite these events, the MLE has yet to reach the same levels of popularity in Europe as it has in the States. However, professional eating has found platform from which to launch. The Good Food Channel and, in particular, the Man v Food program it airs, has seen the interest in professional eating soar. Combine this with Richard and his brother’s hard work and determination to see the MLE expand globally, professional eating will soon be a major sport here in the U.K.

Richard does have one word of warning though. “We encourage as many people to get involved with the MLE as possible. However, when it comes to the actual eating, be careful. MLE competitions have EMTs present and are structured with rules, time limits, etc.” So trying to beat a record at home is pretty stupid then?

Bugger.

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