74 years ago, a man by the name of Bob Middleswarth started making potato chips in his home, a sort of comfort food for a particularly uncomfortable time in human history. The potato chip auteur grew from making them in a kettle to owning a 40000 sq foot building in 30 years. You can find Middleswarth chips throughout the eastern side of Pennsylvania. There are 11 different varieties, the most popular being their barbecue chips. Middleswarth(pronounced Middles-worth or Middle-swarth depending on who you ask) barbecue potato chips are the second most sought after thing by people who move away from Eastern PA, next to the low cost of living.
Competitive eating has likely been around for centuries. America started the MLE, or Major League Eating in 1916. Today when we think of competitive eating we think of the Coney Island Hot Dog contest. We think of Kobayashi and wonder where all of those calories go. Competitive eating, in a sense, feels like the most American of events; an organized game combining the fruits (though not literal) of capitalism and gluttony into one stupendous ball and swallowing it whole like a python.
Where Middleswarth and competitive eating meet is Sabatini’s Pizza in Exeter. The event was hosted in Sabatini’s Beer Bar, which was formerly one of those inflatable bounce houses for kids. I guess the building tried to grow alongside me. I went to the event with my girlfriend Danielle, arriving 10 minutes early, to watch our friends participate. There were about 30 contestants, most of which were most likely there because the proceeds went to charity and why not get 2 bags of Middleswarth chips and a t-shirt? The host of the event made the rules clear: 5 minutes on the timer, eat as many as you can, and do not crush the chips inside the bag. This ruined my strategy, had I entered, of crushing the bag of chips into a fine powder and letting it slide down my throat like coarse crushed ice. The timer was set and the contestants were off.
If you ever need a reminder that humans are animals and that there is a thin line that keeps us from returning to our bases, you need not look further than a competitive eating competition. Sure there was laughter but the laughter was easily drowned out by crinkling bags and people practicing how to breathe through their noses. And yet everyone had a different strategy. Our friend Amanda tried to hold on to civility and ate with her mouth closed. Our friend/her husband Brent alternated between eating the chips off a provided plate and clawing the bag for as many handfuls that could fit in one’s mouth. The strategy that appeared to work best as evidenced by the winner, a man wearing a light tan DO YOU EVEN EAT shirt, was to keep the bag as close to your mouth as possible to diminish the distance between hand to chip to mouth and essentially beat the chips into your mouth. I would presume keeping the bag close had a second use in case the eaten chips decided to return to the surface.
5 minutes came and went, and the host had the contestants leave the table while the judges walked around a muddled table covered in crushed chips, taking the bags and placing them in a scale. A few minutes later the results came back. The Middleswarth bags provided were 10 ounce bags. The average amount eaten was about 4 ounces. The winner, DO YOU EVEN EAT shirt, ate a little over 12 ounces. He was awarded a little trophy and an interview with the local entertainment press. Unfortunately for me, I was not awarded nor did I seek out a press pass for this event, but The Weekender won’t come out until Wednesday so I’ll have the jump on them this time. Danielle grabbed me a bag of barbecue Middleswarth for the road.
And so here we are, at the conclusion. It is about here that I’m supposed to leave you with something to think about or something to take away from this. Instead, I’ll leave the link to order Middleswarth chips online.