The TV presented a “news” program reporting on the “World Championship Barbecued Chicken Eating Contest.” At the same time I listened to a BBC short-wave radio broadcast about world hunger.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly one billion people – one in eight – do not have enough to eat. Either they suffer from severe malnutrition or starvation. 98% of these hungry people live in “developing countries,” which usually means somewhere in the southern hemisphere. There are nearly 600 million hungry in Asia and almost 300 million in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Meanwhile, the chicken eating contest took place somewhere in Texas. Most of the contestants and spectators wore cowboy shirts, cowboy boots and belts with enormous buckles. Red, white and blue banners and American flags decorated the auditorium. In the center of the floor several long tables had been set up for the serious, highly competitive eating.

The BBC report included comments from relief workers working in Africa. They described how the malnourished became vulnerable to diseases and infirmities, especially the children, which complicated relief efforts. “The children were tiny skeletons with distended bellies and flat, lifeless eyes.”

On the other hand, the contestants in the chicken eating championship had their skeletons well-padded; their eyes glittered within folds of roly-poly cheeks. These eaters came from all over the country – black, white, Latino, men and women. And there were cheerleaders – blond, chubby girls in tight, star-spangled uniforms.

All contestants were seated and ready to begin. Waiters in white uniforms carried in steaming platters of barbecued chicken cooked on several outside grills. This was not a timed contest, but based on how many platters of chicken one could eat. The whistle blew and contestants stuffed chicken into their mouths, their jaws working rhythmically – sauce, grease and saliva shining on their chins.

“Rebels and bandits hijacked our relief trucks,” said one relief worker. “We had to stop shipments for about six months. When we finally returned to the area, we found thousands had died and most survivors sick and dying. Most of the worse cases were among the children.”

Over 60% of chronically hungry people are women and children. Poor nutrition causes the deaths of nearly half of all children under five years old – approximately 8,500 children a day. A third of all childhood death in sub-Sahara Africa is from hunger.

Already a few chicken eaters fell out of the contest. The first to drop out had eaten four platters of chicken, about nine chickens. One by one, the chicken eaters dropped out until the eating field had narrowed to two eaters – an African-American woman from Philadelphia and a white, balding man from Texas. The woman was shaped like a bulldozer – low, wide, rectangular. The home-boy resembled a giant beach ball. I noticed he sat on two chairs.

The BBC went on to say that another one billion people tried to survive on two dollars a day. These people were not classified as “chronic hunger” because they had some resources – that is, something other than nothing. However, as wars, economic crises and weather changes continue, more and more people are falling into this category of abject poverty.

The cheerleaders and spectators gathered around the Texan chicken eater – the home-town favorite – and screamed at him to keep eating. He had eaten 9 platters and chewed more slowly now, but still looked determined. Finally, the woman simply stopped chewing and dropped her head, signaling defeat (or maybe she died from overdose). The crowd went wild, cheering and slapping the home-boy on his broad, meaty back. He smiled and shouted, his face and teeth stained with flecks of chicken. He was world champion barbecued chicken eater!

Donations and aid to areas of famine have dropped since the last economic crunch in 2008. Also, most energy and attention in the mainstream media.is focused on the “war on terrorism,” rather than worsening world hunger

I suggest a change in venue for the next World Championship Barbecued Chicken Eating Contest: Let’s hold it in sub-Sahara Africa, where the contestants could really benefit. This time, however, instead of seeing how many chickens one person can eat, we’ll see how many people we can feed.


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