A Taste of the World of Competitive Eating

Karenna Warden, Assistant Sports Editor

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut stands at 6’1″ and 230 lbs. The 38-year old Illinois native holds 46 world records (a world record in itself), according to ESPN. In what, you may ask? Competitive eating, one of the most ferocious and animalistic sports known to mankind. Chestnut has been a part of the competitive eating world since 2013, according to Chestnut’s personal website. As a hungry and broke college student, Chestnut saw competitive eating as a means of breaking from his comfort zone and harnessing his talent for eating quickly.

Major professional contests in the sphere of competitive eating are held by the organization “Major League Eating,” according to Major League Eaters. They are especially known for their annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest each Fourth of July in Coney Island. Major League Eating considers this hot dog eating contest “our Masters, our World Cup, our Super Bowl.” However, Major League Eating holds scattered events across the country at all other times, “whether its oysters in New Orleans or wings in Buffalo.” 

Chestnut has won Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, the pinnacle of competitive eating events, seven times. In 2021, Chestnut broke the resting world record, consuming 76 hot dogs in 10 minutes, according to NBC New York. Chestnut now holds records in Twinkie, cheeseburger, shrimp cocktail, egg, asparagus and burrito consumption. With these great accomplishments, Chestnut now ranks first in the world by Major League Eating. Chestnut, like many great competitive eaters, saw his life transform when he entered the sphere.

Chestnut’s personal website reads, “even in his first contest, the 21-year-old began to transform on stage from quiet and reserved into the legendary eater we know today. Although he saw competitive eating as a strange concept: eat as fast as you can on stage with people screaming at you, he and his family accepted the bizarre sport and never looked back.”

Chestnut is one of many greats in the sphere of competitive eating. Matt Stonie, a 29-year old from Las Vegas, is also a stand-out within the competitive eating world. Stonie stands at 5’8″ and 134 pounds. He is ranked number four worldwide by Major League Eating, having risen to fame and acclaim through his YouTube, Instagram and TikTok presence.

On YouTube, Stonie has 15.3 million followers. Here, Stonie’s most watched titles include “Most Korean Fire Noodles Ever Eaten (x15 Packs),” with 126 million views, and “Epic Chili Cheese Fries!! (10,120 calories).” On TikTok, Stonie posts short clips of him trying different snacks and eating meals under timer. Stonie entered the world of competitive eating in 2013 through YouTube, posting a video where he guzzled a gallon of blue Gatorade in 37 seconds. Stonie now holds records in key lime pie, burger and hot dog consumption.

At Colgate, an accomplished eater lives in our very midst. On Feb. 24, 2022 at the Colgate Inn, senior Kiera Fleming snatched her position in the competitive eating world. Six other seniors sat beside her, all readying to chug milk and crunch cookie pieces for the Colgate President’s Club annual Alumni Cookie Pie Eating Contest. Redemption from a difficult childhood loss in a food-eating contest fueled her involvement. 

“I entered a competitive pie eating contest when I was four years or five years old. I don’t know how I ended up in it. You might think it was like a little kid pie eating contest. No, I was up against frat kids. Everyone was 18 and over except for me. I put my head in; I gave it my all, and lost miserably. My stomach hurt, my throat was scratchy – because it was a banana pie and I’m allergic to bananas.”

With this experience in mind, Fleming fought viciously for her cookie position.

“I entered; I didn’t eat for the entire day. I got there, and just gave it my all.”

The first bite of the cookie was easy for Fleming. She relished the crunchy baked dough and bittersweet chocolate chips after a day of  deprivation. Then, consumption gradually became more challenging. Fleming began to have doubts. She thought that she could not continue; she felt she could consume no more chocolate chip cookies. Nevertheless, she persisted. 

“I had a bunch of my friends there, they were all screaming at me to keep eating. I took one last huge bite and just kind of held it in my mouth and had some milk and swallowed it down in the last ten seconds. It was a tough last ten seconds — I was so full at that point.”

Fleming’s experience embodies what the sport of competitive eating, like all sports, are about at their core — fun, hard work and community. From Joey Chestnut to Matt Stonie to Kiera Fleming, it’s important to celebrate all the greats in all sports, whether Nathan’s Hot Dogs, Korean Spicy Noodles or chocolate chip cookie cakes are involved.