I've eaten nine pounds of hot dogs, two 24-inch pizzas, 76 chicken wings, three pounds of steak, 11 pounds of burgers, five pounds of Jewish sliders, 12 pounds of burritos, and five cupcakes. All told, in the course of five months and 17 separate challenges, I've ingested more than 55 pounds of food. Through it all, I've managed to maintain a winning record (10-7). I've won two T-shirts, $150, and a grinder for my weed. I have my name or picture on seven separate walls of fame.

Through it all, I've managed to keep my girlish figure (6 feet, 6 inches, and 220 pounds of awesome) through a strict exercise regimen and a relatively low-fat diet, competitions excluded.

And I've only just begun.

Barney's Boathouse Anchor Pizza
Barney's Boathouse Anchor Pizza
These things have nothing on the ghost chili.
These things have nothing on the ghost chili.

Details

Think you can eat as much as an elephant eats? Visit any of these Valley restaurants to try your hand at the challenges Zach has attempted.

Barney's Boathouse's Anchor Pizza
• The challenge: One giant calzone, shaped to look like the anchor of a boat and hefty enough to weigh one down.
• Prizes: The pizza's free and you get a spot on the wall of fame.
• Where to go: 222 E. University Dr., 480-967-7744
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Buffalo Wild Wings' Blazin' Wings
• The challenge: 12 wings coated in BWW's Blazin' sauce and six minutes to finish them.
• Prizes: A T-shirt and a spot on the wall of fame.
• Where to go: 705 S. Rural Rd., 480-858-9464, buffalowildwings.com
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Hawg 'n Dawg Express' 3-Foot Junkyard Dog
• The challenge: Three foot-long, half-pound hot dogs nestled delicately inside a three-foot loaf of French bread and topped with a full quart of chili along with pulled pork, bacon, cheese, onions, and French fries. It totals eight pounds and must be finished in one hour.
• Prizes: $50 and your picture on the "Wall of Wieners," plus you get the meal free.
• Where to go: 12020 S. Warner/Elliot Loop, 480-961-3647, hawgndawgexpress.com
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Heart Attack Grill's Quadruple Bypass Burger
• The challenge: A two-pound, 8,000-calorie cheeseburger.
• Prizes: One of Heart Attack's sexy nurses will roll you out to your car via wheelchair.
• Where to go: 6185 W. Chandler Blvd., heartattackgrill.com
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Durant's 48-Ounce Porterhouse
• The challenge: A three-pound, three-inch-thick steak that must be eaten in a single sitting.
• Prizes: Induction into the Porterhouse Club, for which your name will be emblazoned onto one of the plaques adorning the steakhouse's walls.
• Where to go: 2611 N. Central Ave., 602-264-5967, durantsaz.com
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Chik-a-Rib's Lava Jumbo Buffalo Wings
• The challenge: 10 wings that have been deep-fried and coated in a gooey sauce made from four different types of peppers — one of which is the dreaded ghost chili. All 10 must be finished in 10 minutes, and you're not allowed to drink anything until time runs out.
• Prizes: A free meal and a spot on the wall of fame.
• Where to go: 1830 W. Glendale Ave., 602-759-8521
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Chompie's Ultimate Sliders
• The challenge: A five-pound plate of 12 Jewish sliders (brisket, jack cheese, and a potato pancake inside a mini challah roll) and onion strings that must be finished in 30 minutes.
• Prizes: A T-shirt, your picture goes on the wall of fame, and the meal is free.
• Where to go: 9301 E. Shea Blvd., 480-860-0475, www.chompies.com
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Venezia's Party Pizza
• The challenge: A 24-inch pizza with the toppings of your choice that you and a partner must finish in one hour.
• Prizes: A T-shirt and your photos on the wall of fame.
• Where to go: 33 E. Southern Ave., 480-858-1660, www.venezias.com
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Lobby's Three-Pound Burger
• The challenge: Nine third-pound hamburger patties, nine slices of American cheese, and toppings between a sesame seed bun that must be finished within 10 minutes.
• Prizes: A T-shirt, your picture on the wall of fame, and the meal's free.
• Where to go: 3141 S. McClintock Rd., 480-897-1113, www.lobbysbbd.com.
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Eating a metric ass-ton of food once a week isn't an easy habit to keep up, but I've had practice. As a swimmer in high school, my meals after training were no joke: a glass or two of milk, two loaded sandwiches, a Costco muffin the size of a beanbag chair, tortilla chips with salsa, and an apple (to keep things healthy). The quality of the food I ate meant far less to me than the quantity; as long as I met meals that kept me full, I stayed satisfied. Plates full of food at restaurants were always picked clean — mine and everyone else's. It was an understanding among family members that leftovers would be sent my direction to be disposed of without mercy.

With this pedigree, I agreed to become New Times' resident food fighter. I apparently chose the right time to do it; eating's never been more fashionable. While Man v. Food fills the TV screens of thousands each night, the sport of competitive eating is spreading across the country.

Now, a distinction must be made between people who take on food challenges and those who eat competitively. A food challenge pits man against food: a one-on-one battle for T-shirts, notoriety, or a free meal. Competitive eaters take on vast amounts of food while racing against other eaters, often for cash prizes. While confronting food challenges is a purely recreational activity, competitive eating is nearing legitimacy as a professional sport.

I've faced off against competitive eaters and gotten my ass thoroughly handed to me, which is to be expected. Competitive eaters train with the dedication of world-class athletes and have the corresponding intestinal fortitude of a grizzly bear — far beyond that of the average human.

A snapshot of four of the world's top eaters in September: Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas ate 181 chicken wings — 4.86 pounds of meat — in 12 minutes on September 5 at the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, New York. She's 5 feet tall and weighs 105 pounds. A week later, Thomas was edged out by Pat Bertoletti, who ate nearly six pounds of pickles in six minutes at the Isle Casino Racing Pickle Eating World Championship. On September 25, Joey Chestnut won $2,500 by eating 39 slices of pizza in 10 minutes at the Upper Crust World Pizza Eating Championship in Boston, while across the country in Lewisville, Texas, Tim "Eater X" Janus was busy consuming 59 tamales in 12 minutes at the World Tamale Eating Championship. He holds the current world record of 71.

All these events were sanctioned by Major League Eating, the international body that oversees professional eating contests. The MLE conducts about 80 events annually, allowing eaters to compete in virtually any discipline — from asparagus to turducken, Spam to Philly cheesesteaks; pig's feet, waffles, oysters, and matzo balls to ice cream, grits, funnel cake, and butter.

Though it's taken years for competitive eating to earn legitimacy in the sporting world, spectator interest has never been a problem. ESPN began broadcasting the Nathan's International July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest — the largest spectacle in competitive eating — in 2003. This year, the live broadcast of the contest drew 1.67 million viewers, and an estimated 50,000 people witnessed the event in person.

The fringe sport's popularity has reached such levels that an eater can actually make a decent living off his or her meals. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the top earner in eating, Joey Chestnut, took home more than $40,000 in prize money for 2.3 hours of work in 2009 — an hourly wage of more than $17,000.


Though their eating abilities are miles above my own, that isn't to say that we don't face the same challenges. Our eating exploits bring us together on a basic level: the struggles of dealing with the aftermath of a food contest.

To properly understand the trials undertaken by an eater, you must first know that most food challenges come in two parts. Part one — the actual act of eating — is easy. Part two is a pain in the ass.

Heartburn. Stomachaches. Violent vomiting. The novel sensation of being drunk on food. Constant and painful trips to the bathroom. The meat sweats. The human body was not made to process this amount of food in one sitting, and the downsides to overloading your system are numerous and foul.

The most deadly assassin of the intestinal tract I've encountered is the ghost chili. Foods made with this vegetable are the most volatile, dangerous, and painful I've ever had. Some background: About a century ago, the chemist Wilbur Scoville, filling a very specific scientific void, developed a system for measuring the spicy heat of a chili pepper. Your average jalapeño is rated between 2,500-8,000 Scoville units. The bhut jolokia, or ghost chili, has rating of over 1 million. It's a pepper so hot the Indian military recently approved its use in hand grenades. Seriously.

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8 comments
linaimai
linaimai

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Mike R. Meyer
Mike R. Meyer

Awesome story, man. I was going to say that I want to start a band now for the sole purpose of naming it the Meat Sweats, but a quick Google search showed that someone already beat me to it. Damn.

jackharrington
jackharrington

A very well written story on an interesting topic. Good work, Zack...Keep on knoshin'...

Jay
Jay

Well done, Zach! Your writing is great and your eating skillz are even better. Keep it up! You and Erica (just offal and bottom of the barrel) deserve raises.

Guest
Guest

So let's get this straight..children are starving in this country and the New Times is paying someone to stuff 5 lbs of food in his gullet?They put this on the cover the week before Thanksgiving?!Here's an article this morning in the Republic about how Phoenix area homeless children will not have enough food to eat this year because the food bank is $80,000 short...and this guy is getting paid to competitively eat?!http://www.azcentral.com/commu...

What is wrong with you guys? I always thought the New Times was about social justice.Guess I was wrong. It costs $25 to feed a family of 6, but instead they're paying someone to eat in excess.

SHAMEFUL!!!

Central Scruitinizer
Central Scruitinizer

So let's get this straight, there are horrid injustices being done all over the world, and you're wasting your limited activist wrath on a freebie paper with a puff piece on overeating?

What's wrong with you person?

SHAMEFUL!!!

Marcy
Marcy

There aren't any starving kids in Phoenix. Except maybe some whose parents sold their food stamps for more meth.

Now please sell your computer and give the money to some starving family.

 
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