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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Case For Competitive Eating

"Crazy Legs" Conti poses with cannolis after winning the eighth annual Little Italy Cannoli Eating Competition on September 10, 2009 in New York City. He devoured 20.5 cannolis in six minutes. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

“Crazy Legs” Conti poses with cannolis after winning the eighth annual Little Italy Cannoli Eating Competition on September 10, 2009 in New York City. He devoured 20.5 cannolis in six minutes. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Running out of summer entertainment ideas? Why not check out the Joey Chestnut Vs. Joey’s All-Stars Fish Taco World Record Challenge, or the Day-Lee Foods World Gyoza Eating Championship?

Or are you horrified by the idea of competitive eating?

Crazy Legs Conti is a defender of the “sport,” as he calls it, and a long-time Major League Eating (MLE) competitor.

Conti got his start by eating 34 dozen oysters, after learning that if he beat the 33 dozen record, the meal would be free. That took place in New Orleans during Superbowl 2002 and took him most of the game.

Since then, things have changed.

“My personal best is 32 dozen in eight minutes,” Conti told Here & Now’s Robin Young. That’s a lot of oysters — 384 to be exact.

“It’s really mind over stomach matter. The stomach has an expansion limit, but the mind does not.”

However, Conti knows there is only a specific time and place where that is possible — both physically and mentally.

“If I was at a barbecue and someone said, ‘Here’s a platter of 25 hot dogs and buns. Take all afternoon and eat them,’ I don’t think I’d want to. Nor, maybe, would I be capable of it,” the competitive eating champion revealed. “But when you tell me it’s a 10-minute contest and I have to beat the eater to my left and right, something else takes over.”

The key to competition, Conti said, is to enter a zen-like mode where the food moves in a robotic fashion. Eating crawfish can be like flipping cards.

“It’s got to be quicker and quicker — like I’m a Vegas blackjack dealer,” he said. “It’s really mind over stomach matter. The stomach has an expansion limit, but the mind does not.”

The former nude model now holds world records in string beans, pancakes, bacon, beef brisket and Twinkies.

Like any athlete, the training that happens away from the table is, perhaps, most important.

“I’ve run the New York Marathon, I’ve run the Boston Marathon, I jog,” Conti said. “Everyone has a way to correct the overconsumption by eating healthily outside of competitive eating.”

Video: Corn-eating strategies on display

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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