Bon appétit (not!)

Like some people who watch hockey mostly for the fights or those who watch motorsports for the crashes, it’s possible that at least some people watch competitive eating for the gross-out factor.

While categorizing competitive eating as a “sport” is debatable, there’s no denying it can be pretty disgusting to watch.

Case in point is the annual deep-fried-asparagus eating contest at the annual Asparagus Festival in Stockton. The standard technique that the top “eaters” use is grabbing a fistful of asparagus then breaking them in half with both hands and then ramming them forcefully into their mouths, vigorously chewing all the way.

I don’t know what it’s like for the contestants, but watching them can be downright stomach-turning. The lesson that your mom taught you of chewing with your mouth closed does not apply here. The chewing is so fast and furious that little bits of food can either fly off into the air or get stuck to their faces. Their food-stuffed maws get stretched and distended giving them a vaguely chimpanzee-like look. The whole scene not only can put one off from not only eating asparagus but eating at all.

Top eating competitor Patrick Bertoletti, who holds a number of eating records, goes one better than his opponents on the gross scale. Each competitor gets a number of cups of water to help wash down their mouthfuls of asparagus. Bertoletti adds a red mix to each cup. As the 10-minute contest wears on, his hands and lips become stained with the red stuff. Soon it runs down in long bloody drips down to his elbows. By the contest’s end Bertoletti, who’s already distinctive with his spiked Mohawk hairstyle, looks like a vampire who’s just finished a feeding frenzy.

As long as I’ve covered the contest Bertoletti has always been an also-ran the competition coming in second to world-record holder Joey Chestnut. This year he came in third behind Chestnut and the diminutive Matt Stonie, who was second. But as far as the gross-out factor is concerned, Bertoletti has to be No. 1.

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