Most people, at some level, feel that professional eating is wrong. It’s one thing to get a bunch of civilians together at a county fair, see who can eat the most pies, and then watch the hilarious and inevitable results. It’s another entirely to commodify an “athletic event” that can destroy the human body from the inside out in the name of popular spectacle. (Insert your own thoughts on boxing here.)

Over at Slate, William Saletan writes about the “depravity” of Major League Eating, the 13-year-old organization that makes a buck—or many, many bucks, to be more accurate—by organizing and monetizing circuses of gastronomic endurance around the country.

The article is pinned to six-time hot-dog-eating champion Takeru Kobayashi’s recent civil disobedience and arrest, but provides a hell of a good window into the broader and less-than-pretty workings of an already revolting career. Saletan looks at the language of the contract that MLE participants need to sign, which binds them exclusively to MLE events and states:

“‘IFOCE shall also be Performer’s sole and exclusive representative with regard to obtaining and/or negotiating on Performer’s [behalf] for any revenue opportunities,’ including ‘personal appearances, merchandising, licensing, advertising, film, television, radio, internet and all other media.’ For this, the ‘performer agrees to pay IFOCE 20% of the gross amounts payable to performer under said agreements.'”

Saletan also looks at some of the government sanctioning of this stuff, and recounts the horror show of bad things competitive eating can do to one’s body. It’s not an entirely cheerful read, but it should make you think twice before watching the next Nathan’s hot dog contest … or at least put the spectacle in context.

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