Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Golden Plunger Awards (3 page)

BOOK: Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Golden Plunger Awards
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Did we say sport? You bet we did. Nathan’s hot dog–eating contest is broadcast on ESPN, and the competition is overseen by the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE), whose contests are supervised and have strict rules:
• Any vomiting during the match results in immediate disqualification.
• Liquid can be used only as a dip to help the food go down more easily.
• Competitors can eat items individually—in other words, eat the hot dog and then the bun—or together.
In the 2007 contest, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, of San Jose, California, scored a major upset against six-time champion Takeru Kobayashi of Japan. Chestnut, a relative newcomer to the competitive eating field, has managed to become a major player in just a few years. Not only did he win in 2007, but he also set a new world record: 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes. In 2008, he claimed top honors in two other contests: 78 matzo balls in 8 minutes in Houston, Texas, and 241 chicken wings in the Wing Bowl (held before
the Super Bowl) in Philadelphia. In all, he holds 16 world records in competitive eating, from waffles to pulled pork to asparagus, and is currently the top-ranked gurgitator—that’s what contest participants are called in the field.
THE REIGNING QUEEN
Chestnut isn’t the only hungry champion to make a name for himself. Sonya “the Black Widow” Thomas of Virginia is currently ranked fifth in the world and holds the record for women in the Nathan’s Famous hot dog-eating contest (37 hot dogs in 12 minutes). At 5’5” and weighing just 100 pounds, Sonya holds several world records:
• 48 soft chicken tacos in 11 minutes
• 46 crab cakes in 10 minutes
• 44 Maine lobsters in 12 minute
• 65 hard-boiled eggs in under 7 minutes
• 11 pounds of cheesecake in 9 minutes
• 552 Acme oysters in 10 minutes. (This is the record she says she’s most proud of.)
That’s a lot of food for such a small person. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that physically active women between 31 and 50 years of age should have from 2,000 to 2,200 calories a day. A Nathan’s Famous hot dog has 309 calories, meaning Thomas had 11,433 calories on the day she ate 37 of them (or nearly a week’s worth of calories in one meal). Thomas says that she thinks she can handle up to 18 pounds of food and liquid overall and that her body digests her large feasts in 8 to 12 hours. She maintains that she doesn’t get sick after a contest.
THE STAKES (AND STEAKS) GET BIGGER
In the sport of competitive eating, as moderated by IFOCE, timing is key. Events are monitored, and the battle is over in a set amount of time. But amateur eating contests go on all over the world, usually sponsored by restaurants, and they often don’t limit contestants on time. For their troubles, the eaters usually get the meal free—and sometimes a T-shirt. Consider these (there are thousands more):

AJ’s Steakhouse in Grinnell, Iowa:
The restaurant regularly offers an 80-ounce (five-pound) steak challenge, but to celebrate its one-year anniversary in 2001, AJ’s served up a 205-ounce sirloin. No one was able to finish it, but one man, Denny McNurlen, got down 155 ounces.

The Kestrel Inn, Staffordshire, England:
The Kestrel Inn offers a record-setting 220-ounce steak. (That’s almost 14 pounds!) A sign warns people who order it to “Bring a doctor.”

Roma’s Pizza, Augusta, Georgia:
Anyone who can eat a 28-inch cheese-only pizza in 90 minutes or less gets $200.

Charlie Parker’s, Springfield, Illinois:
The restaurant serves pancakes in a 16-inch pizza pan, but the contest is to eat a big stack: four of them. Do it and the pancakes are free.

Mr. Bill’s, Las Cruces, New Mexico:
A six-pound burger with all the fixin’s is the challenge here, and it must be finished in 30 minutes or less.

Swingbelly’s Beach Side BBQ, Long Beach, New York:
This challenge is big. It includes not one but five barbecue items: a slab of ribs, a quarter pound of pulled pork, a quarter pound beef brisket, four chicken wings, and three rib tips. But wait, there’s more: contestants also have to eat two side dishes and a piece of cornbread.

Bubi’s Awesome Eats, Windsor, Ontario, Canada:
A big challenge and a big prize—anyone who can eat an eight-pound burger with four toppings in 90 minutes or less wins $1,000.
A note from Uncle John: Anyone thinking of trying one of these contests would do well to remember that health professionals also recommend against it. Consuming so many calories isn’t healthy, they say; plus choking and damaging the stomach by overfilling it are risks.
THAT WAS DELICIOUS! WHAT’S NEXT?
Food-eating records range from some delicious foods to some truly questionable choices. Ukrainian gurgitator Oleg Zhornitskiy once ate 128 ounces of mayonnaise in eight minutes. Don Lerman indulged in seven quarter-pound sticks of butter; he also ate 120 jalapeño peppers in 15 minutes and seven pounds of cow brains (in a different contest, which he didn’t win). Yum.
THE TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE AWARD
Diet Scams
If you’re ready to lose weight, put down that brownie and
hit the gym. But if you’re ready to lose weight while eating
everything you want and not exercising at all, read on.
FAT AND PROUD OF IT
In 1866, the Fat Man’s Club of Connecticut was formed for tubby guys to show off. If you could afford to gain weight, you must be doing something right. But by 1903, the club had to close. In just 37 years, American eating habits had changed so much that weight gain was no longer seen as a status symbol of the wealthy. That opened the door for the diet scam industry to gain prominence in the nation.
THIS DIET IS KILLING ME
A rush on diet products ensued at the turn of the century, and pills were particularly popular. Pills promising rapid weight loss hit the market, and even though they were largely viewed as “snake-oil” treatments, they were popular with overweight Americans for decades. It was easier to market fad pills and drinks in the early part of the 20th century because there was no effective Food and Drug Administration oversight until 1930. Prior to that, there was an agency that would become the FDA (it had been established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906), but it was severely hampered by poorly written laws.
In the 1930s, dinitrophenol—previously used to make dyes and explosives, and also an ingredient in weed killers—was introduced in pill form as a diet aid. Approximately 100,000 people tried it out. So many deaths and injuries were attributed to the drug that it was banned in 1933 by the FDA. Even so, the drug found a
home on the black market—particularly in image-conscious Los Angeles—despite the fact that it had been linked to blindness, cataracts, nerve damage, heart disease, and death.
THE WORM TURNS
Probably the most famous rumor associated with diet pills is that they had tapeworms inside them. It especially gained popularity in the 1950s, but there is no evidence that tapeworms were used in a pill available then. However, there is some evidence that between 1900 and 1920, tapeworms were included in diet pills and that those early ads resurfaced in the 1950s, giving credence to the rumor. (Web sites that debunk rumors also note that verifying whether or not tapeworms were actually included in these early pills is still difficult because ads for early medical miracle cures often contained false claims.)
THE SKINNY
In America alone, 50 million people go on a diet every year. More than 15 percent of those people—about 8 million—try to do it in a structured program with supervision. The only real solution is simple: eat fewer calories, exercise more, and lose weight. Nevertheless, if someone offers a way to avoid a sacrifice that dieters don’t want to make, people have a tendency to believe less-than-logical explanations. As one person said, “I think it’s enticing. It’s the microwave effect—you want to have instant results.” And it’s just that attitude that fuels the diet industry, which rakes in about $40 billion per year from Americans alone.
THE SCAMS
The following are typical diet scams:

Calorie-burning or metabolism-boosting pills:
The pills typically contain herbal ingredients, which are not regulated by the FDA. They claim to speed up your metabolism so that you burn fat faster, but doctors say they may increase your chances for a heart attack because the pills often raise blood pressure.

Carbohydrate- and fat-blocking pills:
These pills interfere with the body’s ability to process important nutrients, and bloating, gas, and diarrhea are all side effects.

Herbal weight-loss teas:
Caffeine is a main ingredient in many teas, not just weight-loss teas, and it is a diuretic. Losing water may result in a temporary weight loss, but it is not the same as losing fat.

Diet patch:
While patches have helped people quit smoking, no effective weight-loss drugs can be delivered through the skin.
STAYING SCAM-FREE
The Federal Trade Commission monitors weight-loss scams and false claims. Its Web site lists several warning signs of diet scams:
1. Claims of losing two or more pounds per week.
2. Products that promise you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight.
3. Permanent weight loss.
4. The ability to block fat or calorie absorption.
5. Weight loss of more than three pounds a week for more than four weeks in a row.
6. Claims that the product works the same for everyone.
7. Creams, patches, wraps, earrings, and things to be worn or applied to the body to lose weight.
Despite this, ads for weight-loss scams regularly appear on TV and in magazines, with most promising at least one of these results. Let’s back up a second here. Weight-loss earrings? Say that again?
It’s true. Companies sell magnetic earrings that supposedly work on pressure points around the ear to stimulate weight loss. Eyeglasses and other products that hang on the ear are also available. Not surprisingly, no measurable weight-loss results have ever been recorded from these in any scientific tests.
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors ate a very different diet. Grains, fruits, vegetables, and meats, for the most part, along with nuts and other legumes, were the norm. They didn’t need to be put on a diet. But if someone had tried to sell them magnetic earrings . . . well, they probably might have fallen for it, too.
THE THREE LITTLE PIGS AWARD, #1
South Dakota’s Corn Palace
The buildings of Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright
shouldn’t get all the glory, so Uncle John has singled out
three unique buildings for recognition. Here’s
the first one. A-maize-ing!
IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME
The town fathers of Mitchell, South Dakota, wanted to showcase the agricultural richness of their region to attract more settlers. Their idea: “corn palace”—a large building decorated with corn and other locally grown grains. The Corn Palace
has
succeeded in bringing tourists to South Dakota—as many as half a million annually—but there aren’t any statistics on how many people stayed because of the building’s grainy glory.
The original Palace was built in 1892, but it took two more attempts to get the right-sized structure. The third and current building was built in 1921 and is located right on Main Street. The actual structure isn’t made of corn; its foundation and walls are reinforced concrete. In the 1930s, architects added back the Moorish-inspired minarets and columns of the early palaces, making the whole thing look like something out of
The Arabian Nights
. Every June the corn, rye, and dock are torn off and the walls redecorated with locally grown corn. And it’s those fresh corn murals that draw the crowds.
GETTING GRAIN-ULAR
Farmers in Mitchell grow tons of maize every year, and the crop, often called “Prairie Gold,” rules the town. The local radio station’s call letters are KORN, and the town’s high-school team is the Kernels. And plus, the locals are so serious about their
corny Palace that they’ve failed to decorate it only twice in 116 years:
• In 1943, when building materials like nails were needed for the war effort.
• In 2006, when a drought decimated the crops. The citizens of Mitchell decided to leave the 2006 murals and decorations up through 2007, but after awhile, the effects of wind, sun, moisture, and critters had the Corn Palace looking faded and fragmented. Fortunately, the 2007 crop was normal, meaning a new 2008 set of ear-tastic art could be created.
CORN-BY-NUMBERS ART
The 2008 Corn Palace mural designer, Cherie Ramsdell, an Assistant Professor of Art at Dakota Wesleyan University, has been choosing themes and sketching “corn by numbers” art since 2003. Themes have included “Everyday Heroes,” “Lewis and Clark,” “Youth in Action,” “South Dakota Birds,” and “Space Exploration.”
Once the murals’ sketches are done, transferred to tar paper, and tacked to the concrete, construction begins. The initial design work starts in the spring, and installation begins in the summer. Common colors or shades of corn used in the designs: red, brown, black, blue, white, orange, calico, yellow, and even green. The assembly is a precision job: each corncob is carefully sliced in half with a power saw, the two halves are trimmed with hand axes as necessary for detail work, and finally, they are nailed in place.
IT’S FOR THE BIRDS
While corn is king, other grains are also used: wheat, rye, and sorghum. All this material doesn’t come cheap: it costs $130,000 each year for the thousands of bushels of grain and 100,000 corncobs. But the decoration costs are made back during August’s Corn Palace Week, which celebrates the end of the harvest. Once Corn Palace Week is over, local fauna are allowed to feast on the building, giving the Corn Palace the unusual designation of being the world’s largest birdfeeder.
BOOK: Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Golden Plunger Awards
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