Maria vs. Food
Maria Edible says that competitive eating is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.
I’m arranging a meet-up with competitive eater Maria Edible when she e-mails me: Craving wings and beer. I start to perspire. I skip lunch to make room for pounds of flesh; I pack my pencil, pad, and Mylanta; I call my mother and tell her I love her.
Going against every voice in my head (and the actual one of my mother) I show up at Lansdowne Road, a bar in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, that serves the fabled Scruffy Duffy’s Buffalo wings and scan the joint for Edible. If this were a sitcom I would walk by the pint-sized girl in the pantsuit and sit with a larger woman before the tiny lady waved me back over; this isn’t a sitcom, but that did still happen.
Edible lists herself at 5’5″, 125 pounds, but she must be rounding up. “Were you expecting someone bigger? Or is it my work clothes?” she asks. “I hate dressing like this but when you work in an office…”
It definitely was her size. Over the first beer she explains that competitive eaters have to work out to keep their metabolism up in order to burn off the insane number of calories. In my notes, I have a question about her size underlined and ending with several question marks—the first for punctuation, the next few because I’m not sure how to bring up something that should never be discussed at a restaurant. Luckily, the fourth-best female competitive eater in the country (29th overall) broaches the subject on her own. “I know when people think about what I eat and how I look—they believe I run to the bathroom after, but I don’t,” she says. A few of her competitors might, but she says that’s akin to a baseball player taking steroids or a cycler doping. “It’s competitive eating—not competitive purging.”
STUDMUFFIN Vest; NOIR Necklace; PATRICIA FIELD Top; AMERICAN APPAREL Bottoms.
The waitress comes by and prods us to look at the menu. I stall and ask the woman who averages just under a cheesesteak per minute how she came into the world of competitive eating. “When I was depressed I would eat a lot,” she says.
“To fill the void of something missing?” I ask.
“No, to hurt myself,” she says and then pauses before continuing. “But it turns out I could really eat.” And the negative became a positive. “I started to go to places that would give you a free big burger if you finished it or a t-shirt if you ate some huge dish,” she says. “I have a lot of t-shirts.” Now she gets paid to eat at Major League Eating contests.
The waitress is back, and very persistent. I defer to the woman who has consumed more than half a gallon of chili in six minutes and 48 cupcakes in eight. I plan to match her wing order no matter how many dozen she requests. “I’ll take 12, mild,” she says. Done.
PATRICIA FIELD Top; AMERICAN APPAREL Bottoms.
Edible sees my look of bewilderment followed quickly by relief and says, “I’m not currently in training.” I feel like a doofus who took a porn star on a date and expected something more than a kiss good night. “Leading up to a competition I eat whatever the competition food is. But if we ate like that all the time we would be broke or dead.” She writes off her grocery receipts when she does her taxes and bemoans the cost of certain foods now that she’s moved away from her parents’ house in suburban New Jersey to an apartment in New York City—the land of few supermarkets. “My parents don’t like competitive eating,” she explains. “So you know how some kids smoke in their rooms? I was cooking hot dogs on a hot plate in my bedroom.”
Then Edible commits sacrilege: “To be honest, I don’t like the taste of hot dogs.”
Her current personal high with meat in tube form is 20 in 10 minutes, but she thinks she’ll be able to take down 25 next Fourth of July at the Nathan’s Famous contest. “That’s the biggest event,” Edible says. “I travel to other contests on the weekends, but Nathan’s is the only one that is nationally televised.”
Edible has also been seen on television while not stuffing her face; she received her “Edible” stomach lettering from Tim Hendricks on NY Ink. “I just love my eater name, so I got it,” she says of the moniker she adopted to join the world of Eater X, Gravy Brown, and Crazy Legs Conti. Whenever I see a young woman with a stomach tattoo, I wince and think of her future. But Edible says, “I look like I’m pregnant after every competition and the ink hasn’t stretched.”
She started getting tattooed with the classic gateway piece, a tattoo stamped in the center of her lower back. I ask if her initial tattoo was provoked by the need to feel pain during a bout of depression, but she says that wasn’t the case: “I just thought tattoos were cool.” And she continues to get inked for the same reason. There is no philosophical weight behind her pieces—from the hypnotic portrait of Rasputin on her left thigh to the masquerade party going on across her back to the colorful sleeve of diner foods. “I just think those things are cool,” she says.
The wings are set on the table and we both dig in. “Is eating a sport?” I ask.
“I’d say so,” she says and takes a bite. “You are certainly using your body in competition.” She takes another bite as she gathers her thoughts. “You have to be strong physically and mentally to win.” While she’s telling me this, she is also showing me. Her hands and mouth work in synchronicity, like a pitcher going through the windup. She has a system of eating wings with flawless precision. Effortlessly, she strips a wingette (the more difficult, two-boned variety) clean quicker than I can dip a stick of celery into blue cheese dressing. And, like a gold-medal diver who finishes a rapid, technical dive without a splash, her face remains pristine in the wake of hot sauce. Her moist towelette remains in its foil package, unopened.